Use Effective Language Constructs

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell, 1984

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with lillies and eight angels, Detail, c. 1478

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna with lillies and eight angels, Detail, c. 1478

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for properly crafting the perfect problem statement, but there are some language constructs that always help making it more clear:

1. Assume a myriad of solutions. An excellent way to start a problem statement is: “In what ways might I…”. This expression is much superior to “How can I…” as it hints that there’s a multitude of solutions, and not just one — or maybe none. As simple as this sounds, the feeling of expectancy helps your brain find solutions.

2. Make it positive. Negative sentences require a lot more cognitive power to process and may slow you down — or even derail your train of thought. Positive statements also help you find the real goal behind the problem and, as such, are much more motivating.

3. For example: instead of finding ways to ‘quit smoking’, you may find that ‘increase your energy’, ‘live smarter’ and others are much more worthwhile goals.

4. Frame your problem in the form of a question. Our brain loves questions. If the question is powerful and engaging, our brains will do everything within their reach to answer it. We just can’t help it: Our brains will start working on the problem immediately and keep working in the background, even when we’re not aware of it.

5. If you’re still stuck, consider using the following formula for phrasing your problem statement:
“In what ways (action) (object) (qualifier) (end result)?”

The positive reframing always can help in digging into the roots of our feelings. Positive reframing does not change the situation, but it can certainly reduce damage and put things into a healthier perspective. Therapists use it frequently as a technique to restructure cognitions. When done skillfully with humor, it can be a wonderful tension de-fuser. Try it and see how a well-placed positive reframe can make a difference in a difficult situation.


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