I is for Instead

I was gifted a very beautiful book by a good friend for Christmas. Roots of Happiness, 100 words for joy and hope written by Susie Dent. The introduction to the book resonated with the me. It reflects what I witness in the conversations I have, with people who are seeking meaningful changes in their lives. Often a client will initially focus their conversation by describing the problem they face or what they would like to be less in their lives. Less stress, less arguing, less anxiety, less pain, less guilty and so on. Or within my work as a Speech and Language Therapist less quiet, less slurred or less hesitant. 

As human beings we often focus on the negative thoughts and emotions and what we do not want in our lives. It appears that our emphasis is on ‘less than’, instead of ‘more than’. So much so, that it can feel challenging to think or verbalise what or how we would like things to be instead. In addition to how our brains have developed, perhaps the way our language has evolved has not helped us to focus on the positives?

Susie Dent explains that there used to be many more positive words in our language which have been lost in the passage of time. She provides many examples but one that I particularly liked was the word or name ‘Ruth’, which means compassionate. Hundreds of years ago to have ruth meant an individual felt pity or distress for another. Whilst we continue to use the word ‘ruthless’ to describe someone who is cruel with no compassion, the word ‘ruthful’ has been forgotten. Such a shame. 

In my work as a Solution Focused Practitioner, rather than supporting a client to talk about what they do not want, I ask what they might like or wish for instead. The question gently moves the client from problem-focused to solution-focused. 

Take for instance one of the examples above. Instead of being less angry a person might describe that they would like to be ‘more calm’ or calmer. Identifying what someone wants instead or more of in their life, the positive quality, clarifies what they wish to be different. This in turn gives shape and direction for the Solution Focused conversations that follow.