Book Review: Do One Thing Different…by Bill O’Hanlon

This book came to me at a good time (when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear). I was stuck in a rut and while trying to change course, old habits kept pulling me back into repeating old patterns.

By nature, I’m an introvert. I’m constantly in my head, thinking. A lot. Sometimes I think too much and this book gives sound advice for breaking out of patterns that aren’t serving you by taking action.

Problem-Oriented vs. Solution-Oriented Approach

The premise behind this book is that there are two basic approaches to problem solving. The standard one that most of us fall back on is a problem-oriented approach. The problem-oriented approach:

  1. stresses explanations (why you do/did something) not solutions what you need to do to solve the problem.
  2. focuses on what can’t be changed (the past or personality characteristics)
  3. encourages victim mentality
  4. sometimes it creates new problems

O’Hanlon advocates a solution-oriented approach. His methods fall in line with a lot of what I learned in my coaching training.

“Solution-oriented therapy is different: while taking into account that people might have a wide variety of problems – including biochemical, personality or thought disorders or traumas from the past – it focuses on discovering what people are doing that works and helps them deliberately use that knowledge to eliminate problems. It encourages people to move out of analyzing the nature of the problem and how it arose instead to begin to find solutions and take action to solve it.”

We all have patterns of thought and behavior. Some of those patterns serve us and some don’t. If you are trying to change, then there are definite steps you can take to do so:

  1. Awareness – to solve a problem you first have to recognize you have a problem
  2. Acceptance – what we resist, persists. Acknowledge your feelings and others feelings and point of view without judgment. Understand that the past shaped you but you do not have to let it DEFINE you.
  3. Change one thing – Patterns of behavior are merely habits. Analyze your patterns. how do you “do” X (gain weight, smoke, start an argument, procrastinate, etc) Now, do one thing different that deviates from your normal pattern. The more ridiculous or silly, the better to break the cycle.
  4. Focus on what WORKS – You can draw on similar problems that you worked out or times when you felt competent, ask “Why isn’t this worse?” or notice what happens when the problem starts or starts to end and use those actions earlier in the process.

O’Hanlon mentions that he gets a lot of feedback about how “positive” his approach is and wants to clarify that in the solution-oriented approach, you have to acknowledge you have a problem and then DO what you can to change it. He warns that positive thinking without action can just lead to more problems. It’s an ACTION oriented process.


Focus is really the underlying theme of this book. You get what you focus on and it’s the driving force of self-fulfilling prophecies. The book offers several tools to help you refocus (or reframe) to open up the channel of possibilities to be more productive:

  1. Shift your attention – search for aspects of the situation you never noticed before. We tend to focus on the negative parts, so look for the positive aspects.
  2. Focus on the present – the past can’t be changed, bring your attention to the here and now. Don’t project the past onto your present or future. Leave the past in the past.
  3. Focus on what you’d like to happen
  4. Focus externally if you are too internally focused. Get out of your head. Helping someone else is always good, whether it be helping a neighbor or volunteering for a good cause.
  5. Focus internally instead of externally. is your “busy-ness” a way to avoid a problem. The only way you can solve it is to admit you have one.
  6. Focus on what works or has worked. This is a major component of my coaching training. What worked in the past? What do you think will work? These questions get you moving and focused on solutions.
  7. Shift from thinking/feeling to action. Take small steps, any steps. In my training, one of my teacher’s mantras was “small and crappy”. Just do something, anything, because action builds momentum.
  8. Ask solution-oriented questions. “As a general rule, questions that ask why can lead you in the wrong directions, seeking explanations and going over the same territory again and again”. Why me? Why do I always do X? Why am I such an idiot? None of these questions do anything to move you forward, they shut you down. Instead ask what or how questions. What can I do to change this situation? How can I avoid repeating this? What am I doing to contribute to this situation? See how these questions open the door to possibilities? Don’t you feel different asking them? I’d also like to point out that you should avoid using words like “should”, “never” and “always”. They keep us in a problem-oriented mind set.


What we focus on has a lot to do with the stories we tell ourselves. Look at your stories. Are they compassionate and helpful or do they limit you? If our stories focus on blame (either ourselves or others), invalidate our feelings and thoughts (“I have so much, I shouldn’t feel this way”), are impossible (“I could never do that”) or leave you unaccountable for your actions (victim mentality) then it’s time to change your story. To do so:

  1. Acknowledge and describe it
  2. Find or create counter evidence
  3. Realize you are not your story
  4. Create compassionate and helpful stores.

One other thing I’d like to address about this book is the chapter on solution-oriented spirituality (not religion, though religion is certainly aspect). Spirituality is defined as a connection beyond yourself. I think this is an important chapter not only for helping us deal with our problems but to truly live a happy, purposeful life in general.

Spirituality can take many paths: connecting to your deeper self (meditation), connecting through your body (yoga and other forms of exercise), connecting to another (intimate relationships), connecting to community, connecting to nature, participating in or appreciating art and connecting to God or a higher power. The point of spirituality is to develop compassion, service and faith (the commitment to keep moving through difficult times).

I think the last paragraph of the book sums it up nicely:

“Solution-oriented therapy recognizes problems and barriers and keeps trying experiments until the desired results are obtained. In order to do this, it is important to both attend to results and focus on what works. In order to be solution oriented, you must be willing to make mistakes, to correct your actions to produce results, and to avoid the paralysis of perfectionism and always having to know why things are or aren’t working. You can’t be satisfied with merely having a good explanation of why you don’t or can’t get certain results. You can’t be attached to your beliefs or stories about yourself in the world if they get in the way of changing the things you hope to change. And you can’t even get too attached to a particular way of accomplishing the results. Stay open to new possibilities. When in a dilemma, do something different!”


5 Unproductive Habits to Quit Right Now

1. Quit thinking that help/advice is criticism.

I was not good at asking for help. And apparently I really SUCK at accepting it. So much so that people stop wanting to help me after I open my mouth.

I recently had a situation where a friend had a connection who could help me. When we met to discuss it, I stubbornly held onto the belief that what I was doing was right. Needless to say the conversation didn’t get very far. My friend later pointed out how defensive I was and it shut the other person down. She was right. I was defensive because until that very moment I hadn’t realized that I took help/advice as criticism. Of ME!


Old thinking patterns are hard to change. I spent the majority of my life assessing my own worth by other people’s approval. This thinking was deeply ingrained in my being. I’ve worked hard to loosen it’s grip, but it still rears it’s ugly head if I am not on my guard.

How do I combat it? There are two thoughts I try to be aware of. The first is that I am trying to improve, grow and be my best self. That means seeking  advice, help and feedback from others who have more experience or a different perspective than mine. And secondly, my worth as a human being isn’t tied to my being “right” or having people agree with me.

2. Quit asking why.

Why did this happen? Why me? In this context, asking why is not a productive question. What and how are better choices as in “How can I make this work?” “How can I use what I have?” “What can I do to make it better?”

3. Quit judging your work.

I spent a lot of time not doing my work (i.e pursuing my dreams) because I told myself that I didn’t have the experience or compared myself to others who usually had WAY more experience and practice than I did.

But you know what? Our work is not for us to judge. Sure, we can have an opinion about it but that should not stop us from doing our work. We are never going to improve if we don’t practice. Our job is to do the work to the best of our ability, put it out there, be open to feedback, evaluate and repeat process.

4. Quit blaming yourself.

I stubbornly stuck to a goal-setting system for years but rarely got started, much less completed, any goals when I used it. I thought I was the problem. I was lazy. I lacked will power, dedication, discipline, perseverance, passion, etc. I needed to dig my heels in, work harder, get more focused. In other words, I need to fix ME.

I finally realized I wasn’t the problem. My system was. It’s not like I NEVER achieved my goals. I have accomplished a great deal but in those instances I wasn’t strong-arming myself into submission with unrealistic demands. Running is a good example. I’ve been running regularly for about 8 years. If that isn’t discipline, I don’t know what is. I’ve added yoga to my repertoire and I’ve been doing it consistently for over 2 years.

Funny thing is I never set out to be a runner but I did have a desire to be healthier. I eased into it, one small step at a time. I started out walking. Then a co-worker “dared” the rest of us to join a boot camp. I never missed a class. And even though I said I hated running, once boot camp was over I didn’t want to lose what I had gained so I agreed to meet a coworker 3 mornings a week to run. And it wasn’t fun the first couple of months. But I kept at it because I wanted to be healthier and I had made the commitment to my coworker. She held me accountable. I didn’t want to be THAT person.

Same person, two different systems. One worked, one didn’t. If something’s not working, quit blaming yourself. It’s unproductive. Try something different until it does work.

5. Quit thinking it’s about you.

As I mentioned before, I thought my worth was dependent upon other people’s validation of me. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to prove myself and win “their” approval. Doing so while trying to pursue my dreams was counter-productive, to say the least.

I got nowhere.

It finally occurred to me that this hyper-focus on myself (“Do they like me?”) was getting in the way of what I really wanted – a life filled with meaningful work and relationships. So I shifted my focus from “me” to “you”.

The weird thing is, all that time all I really wanted was to be acknowledged and appreciated. And then it occurred to me that we reap what we sow. If I wanted appreciation then I should show others appreciation.

It stopped being about me and I took on the mantra of how I could be of service to others. I can’t even describe what this shift in thinking has done for me. It’s not about getting approval anymore, it’s about sharing my gifts, even if it’s just listening or smiling at someone.

If you find yourself stuck, see if any of these habits of thought are tripping you up.

Practice Makes Perfect – Process vs. Product thinking

When I set goals for myself, I used to make the mistake of focusing on the product, not the process.

So what is the difference between process and product thinking and why is one better than the other?

When you focus on the product you have…a product, a thing, an inanimate object, an end result.

When you focus on the process, it affects and changes you. You struggle, learn, practice, improve, grow. You come out of it a different person than going in.

If you have a goal, say to write a book, the writing it is the process, the book is the product. Most of us get caught up in the book. We want it to be good. We want it to sell. We want the prestige being an author brings. We want approval and adoration.

There’s nothing bad about wanting any of those things, but it doesn’t have anything to do with actually writing.

Most goals/dreams (however you want to label it) require knowledge and skill of some sort and the only way to get is it to do it. In order to learn and improve, you’re going to have to practice.

Let me remind you of the definition of practice (verb):

  • to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
  • Carry out or perform (a particular activity, method or custom) habitually or regularly.

That’s the process. It’s that simple and that hard.

So, to continue my writing analogy, if you want to write, quit focusing on the book and focus on becoming a writer. In the beginning you will probably be spewing out a lot of crap. That’s OK. Keep writing crap because if you’re focused on the process and try to improve (take classes, read books, ask for feedback) eventually you’ll write something good.

And one day you’ll be a writer who sells books.Or poems, articles, songs, plays..

The product ends, the process is ongoing. You never know where the process will lead you.

ACT your Dreams into Reality

I love writing speeches for Toastmasters. Writing has always been a way for me to work through problems and clarify my thoughts so it’s no surprise that with each speech I learn something new and gain valuable insight.

I had several epiphanies  working through Speech 3 that were so powerful that I wanted a way to remember them. Acronyms work and ACT fit perfectly.

I chose ACT because each point got me from planning to DOING.These ideas reframed my thinking so I could move past my fears and start but also keep me going when the novelty and excitement of my goals wear off.

So here is how you ACT your dreams into reality:

A – Accolades do NOT equal growth.

I got a lot of good feedback  and encouragement for my first speech and was riding high afterwards. I worked hard on my second speech and, in my mind, it was even better than the first. Not only did I think the content was inspirational but I thought I delivered it well. My head swelled with anticipation at my critique. While I got high marks, my evaluator did exactly what he was suppose to do. He pointed out both the good and bad (areas he thought I could improve on).  But there was no fawning, so I was deflated. I became unmotivated and it took me two weeks to recover. It was Speech 3 that helped me see what happened and change my perspective.

The reason I signed up for Toastmasters was to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, learn and grow. Accolades are great but can be a double edged sword. It’s wonderful to get feedback that you’re on the right path, doing a good job, that all your hard work has paid off BUT it can stunt your growth if you’re not careful. I focused on approval and when people (rightly) didn’t fall all over themselves to tell me how great I was…it stopped me in my tracks. But when I switched my focus to improving myself, my motivation returned.

The takeaway – Switch mindset from approval to improvement.

C – Create value.

I had a fear of being rejected. It was so big and ingrained in my belief system that I didn’t realize it drove every thought and action. Or more accurately, inaction. I wanted to do great things and be so much more but I rarely followed through resulting in frustration and self-incrimination.  Once I quit focusing on myself (“what do they think of me?” “I don’t have the right degree”, “I’m too old”, etc) and focused on creating value, something amazing happened. I was no longer paralyzed by fear because it wasn’t about me anymore (phew!). It’s about making a difference.

The takeaway – Albert Einstein said it best – “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

T – Tiny steps.

The buzzword in the goal-setting community is Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Dream big! And I whole heartily agree but I overwhelmed myself into couch potato status and the cycle of frustration and incrimination would begin all over again.

One of the cornerstones of the Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach model (where I received my certification) is small steps. The concept isn’t new and is based on ‘kaizen”, a Japanese word meaning continual improvement (weren’t we just talking about that?)

One aspect of small steps is committing to something for just 5 minutes (I’ll write for 5 minutes, I’ll exercise for 5 minutes…you get the idea). It works by overcoming the inertia or resistance we have to getting starting by being so ridiculously easy and non-threatening. If you become engrossed in the project, you can keep going or stop after 5 minutes and celebrate that you met your goal (these small successes keep us motivated and moving forward).

But thinking about small steps made me realize something else. Breaking a big goal down into little steps  not only keeps us from being overwhelmed, taking our goals one small step at a time helps us gain the knowledge and confidence we need to GROW into our Big Hairy Audacious Goals. My mistake had been thinking that I could skip right past “beginner” and be an expert. Growing into my goals was a game changer for me.

The takeaway – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Do any of these ideas resonate with you? What do you do to get started and keep motivated? I’d love to hear from you.