September 2012

Do you know the number-one mistake most people make when encountering a problem?

They don’t solve the problem before the problem.

Now, you may be asking yourself, What’s John talking about? How can there be a problem before my problem? My friend, I assure you that there is, and I’m going to tell you what it is and how to solve it.

The problem you must solve before your problem is one of attitude. Whenever you encounter a challenging situation, you have a choice: What attitude will you have about it?

You see, most of us naturally see a problem as something negative: An obstacle, a pain in the neck, or even a disaster. I mean, let’s be honest – most people don’t look at a problem and say, “Oh boy!” Most of us look at a problem and say, “Oh no!”

And that’s the problem.

Your Problem Is Not Your Problem

A negative attitude toward a problem only makes it worse. That’s because negative thinking is an amplifier: It takes small issues and increases their emotional weight. It can “make a mountain out of a molehill,” so to speak. And when small problems get amplified, we can tend to become overwhelmed or even paralyzed. We don’t know what to do, where to turn, whom to call on. This can create a downward spiral, in which our attitudes and our problems both get worse and worse.

The only way to break that cycle is to choose a positive attitude at the onset of the problem.

Choosing to see a problem in a positive light – as a possibility or even as an opportunity – helps you in several important ways:

A Positive Attitude Tempers Your Emotional Response

Emotions have tremendous power. But casting a problem in a positive light at its outset can weaken a negative emotional response. By not seeing a problem as a disaster, you are more likely to stay calm. Instead of watching your fears run away with you, you can master your fears. The ability to keep a calm head in the face of a problem is the first step toward a good solution.

A Positive Attitude Fosters Creativity

How you define a problem makes a huge difference in your ability to solve it. That’s because seeing a problem as an opportunity does more than calm your emotions; it opens your eyes to options. And clarity about your options results in greater creativity. After all, when we see a problem as just another fork in the road, we can see more clearly all of the possible routes that might lead to a solution. Creativity makes you a better problem-solver, and a positive attitude increases creativity.

A Positive Attitude Empowers You to Take Action

Think of a positive attitude as a momentum-builder. Positivity about the problem combats paralysis and gets you moving past fear. Creatively exploring options keeps you energized and making progress. And with all of that forward momentum, the only thing left is to begin trying out solutions. By removing obstacles like fear or tunnel vision, a positive attitude clears the way for you to make decisions and act to solve the problem.


A member of my team recently shared a story of how his daughter solved the problem before her problem. One afternoon, the young girl left her lunch box at school. So her parents told her that the next day she would have to eat the school food for lunch. The next morning, all the way to the bus stop, the little girl complained about how terrible the school food was, and how she was going to starve, and how unfair it all was.

Finally, her father said, “You’re making this worse than it is. All of the school’s food can’t be horrible – you need to change your attitude and look for something you like, or else lunch will be a disaster.”

The girl glumly nodded her head and said she’d try. That afternoon when she got off the bus, she was beaming. Surprised by his daughter’s positive outlook, her father asked her, “So, how did lunch go?”

“It was great!” the little girl replied. “They had chicken and waffles, and they were so yummy!”

“But I thought you said all the school food was awful,” her father said.

“Well, it was awful – but I chose to have a good attitude about it, and it got better!”

Because she chose a good attitude about her problem, that little girl was able to find a solution. You can do the same. Instead of saying “Oh no – a problem!”, you have the option of saying, “Oh boy – an opportunity!” When you do that, you can feel better about the situation, see more possible solutions, and choose and act on the best one. When you solve the problem before the problem, you will be able to solve the actual problem in the best way possible.  

From the day you are born until the day you die, there is one constant throughout your life: CHANGE. From your physical appearance to your intelligence, from your emotional awareness to your spiritual well-being, you are constantly in a state of flux. You are changing.

Many of these changes come without effort on your part. You don’t make your hair grow - or turn gray. You don’t wake up in the morning and grow your fingernails. You may do things that impact those changes, like eat healthy or take vitamins, but you are not causing those changes. They are part of what it means to be human.

There are, however, changes you do have control over. They are in areas like relationships, passions, and work. These kinds of changes might also happen without much effort from you, but they usually turn out poorly without your input. That’s why so many people spend so much time thinking about the changes they wish they saw in their lives.

There are two types of changes a person can make when it comes to relationships, work, or passion. In fact, the same two types of change are present in almost any area where you have some say in the process. The two types of change are novel and needed.


A novel change is distinctive, and it brings a fresh energy. It creates a sense of value and momentum. It gets us excited and invested in the outcome. It can sometimes seem like it came out of nowhere. Novel change, however, is not always necessary. In fact, sometimes it’s just change for its own sake.

Think of how your phone suddenly becomes “obsolete” when a new model comes out, even if it’s only been less than a year since you bought it. The differences between your old phone and the new model are often slight, so the selling point is often simply, “It’s different!”


Needed change is often viewed as the lesser cousin of novel change. Needed change isn’t always sexy, or unique. It rarely generates excitement or energy. It often feels gradual, or even tedious. Because it’s necessary, it can feel like an obligation or a reaction. In fact, needed change is vastly under-appreciated in part because it’s needed!

But here’s the truth, in both business and life:


Because needed change is usually small and gradual, its results aren’t always exciting – or even apparent. Only by making needed changes over time can we see our progress. Steady improvements in areas of need are what yield the dramatic breakthroughs that make people say, “Wow!”

Think about it in terms of fitness. You don’t fall asleep with flabby and soft muscles, and then wake up the next morning to chiseled abs and big biceps, do you? No! You have to go to the gym regularly for months in order to achieve the look that causes others’ jaws to drop. You have to consistently make the needed changes – in your diet, exercise regimen, schedule, and personal discipline – in order to be rewarded with a novel change.


You can’t avoid change. No matter how hard you try, tomorrow will always be different from today. But you can focus your energy on making the needed changes that produce the novel results. By making those changes consistently, day after day, you can be better today than you were yesterday, and better the next day, and the day after that.

The more you grow – the more you make steady, needed changes – the more opportunities you’ll have to experience “Wow!” moments in your relationships, work, and passions. While so many resist change and pay the price for staying the same, and others chase novel changes that they may never catch, the person who embraces needed change will keep moving forward, step by step, on the journey of success and fulfillment. You might not see the results immediately, but they will come. And when they do, you and others will say, “Wow!”

One of the most stunning buildings in the world stands in the middle of the New York City skyline. At 1,776 feet tall, it draws people from all over the world to remind them of the tireless spirit of the American people. It is One World Trade Center, and it grew from the ashes of the fallen Twin Towers.

No one needs reminding that this Sunday, September 11th, will mark 15 years since the two buildings of the World Trade Center fell. In fact, if you were alive that day, the chances are pretty good you remember where you were when the planes flew into the Towers. You remember how you felt watching the chaos and confusion. Fear swept over the entire country, and there was a sudden realization that nothing would be the same again.

I remember visiting New York not too long after 9/11. The city was wide open to those brave enough to visit. It was as if the people of New York wanted anyone who came to understand their resolve to continue on. They weren’t going to allow the tragedy to define them. They would rebuild, and they wanted people to know that.

Fast forward fifteen years, and One World Trade Center stands as a testimony to the resolve of New York. The building represents what can happen when people live with purpose and focus.

But as amazing as One World Trade Center is, it’s still not the most important building in the world. For all of the spirit and hope that went into its construction, there are millions – billions – of buildings around the world that are more important.

The buildings I’m talking about are you and me. Everyday ordinary people.

My friend, you may not think about it this way, but your life is being built one day at a time. Your character is your foundation and your talents the raw materials. Your relationships provide the labor for building you up. And the choices you make on a daily basis determine how high you rise or how far you fall.

There’s a story that Jesus told where he compared our lives to houses. He said we need to be careful how we build because there will be times in our lives when our circumstances will put our houses to the test. Those who built wisely will be able to stand up under the pressure; those who built foolishly will watch everything crash to the ground.

That’s why I’m so passionate about helping you live your life with purpose. I believe the world needs you to build a life that will stand the test of time, a life of significance and impact that will inspire and ignite generations to come. You have that potential within you if you’ll discipline yourself to unlock it.

There is no building more important than the life you are constructing little by little each and every day of your life. Not the Eiffel Tower, not One World Trade Center, not even the White House or the Colosseum in Rome. The world’s most important building is the life you and I choose to build.

Let’s build wisely.