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.