One question. One simple little question that if answered consistently could be worth millions, not to mention improved happiness and health. It’s a fact that modeling a positive attitude reduces injury and sickness by thirty percent, and can even extend a person’s life by fourteen years.

We have heard the importance of being positive for years, but prior to this one little question, very few knew exactly how to be optimistic and positive. As a psychologist, I can say the truth is that our minds have a “negativity bias” and are built in a way that it is easier to focus on problems than to emphasize solutions. The good news is that most of us are already somewhat solution-focused. The path to greatness begins by becoming more solution-oriented until focusing on solutions becomes the norm. The key to optimism lies in the simple question:


What is one thing I can do differently that could make this better?

Be sure to follow a few guidelines when using the million dollar question:

  • The + 1 Concept: Focus on improving, not perfecting. You do not need complete resolution of the problem. You only need improvement. Consistent improvement over time leads to resolution. With this in mind, all problems have a +1 solution.
  • Be Relentless: Within sixty seconds, turn every problem thought into a solution focus.
  • Utilize the Socratic Power: The power of this tool lies in its use as a question. Avoid answering this question for another person. Encourage others to develop their own solutions by answering for themselves.

Expectancy theory states, that which we focus on expands. If we continue to allow ourselves to focus on problems, we will actually have more problems. Conversely, asking and answering the question—what is one thing I can do differently that could make this better?—within sixty seconds of a problem arising, literally causes our level of optimism and success to grow.

Any time you catch yourself thinking about what is going wrong in your life, be relentless about asking this question (what is one thing I can do differently that could make this better?). Keep asking until you identify a potential solution to your problem.

The mere identification of a potential plan for a solution is helpful, as it breaks the negative cycle of thought. You will obviously need to put energy into the execution of the solution, but the essential first step in getting started is realizing that something can be done to improve any situation.

Dr. Jason Selk LPC, NCC is the Director of Mental Training for the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals, and author of 10-Minute Toughness and the newly released book Executive Toughness, The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance (McGraw-Hill, Nov 2011).

For more on Jason you can also visit his WEBSITE.