In my last post I discussed a pretty good habit you can swap for a really great one – Quit Taking a Ride… and Take the Wheel. Winners are always in the driver’s seat. As a result, they let their actions rise above their excuses.

When problems arise, what’s your first reaction? Do you think like a cop, identifying culprits and assigning blame? Do you vent your anger on anyone within your yelling radius? Do you submerge yourself in regret, thinking, “If only…?” Or do you immediately get creative and think, “How can we make this right?”

Early in my career, I asked my boss why, when the rest of us couldn’t find daylight, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it was always coming from a rainbow?

“It comes from a lesson I learned long ago,” he said. “The more you focus on the positive side of life, the more you will attract the positives. The things we focus on create a magnet for our lives.”

As the years since then have taught me, my boss was right. Focus on excuses, and every challenge is a stumbling block. Focus on solutions, and every challenge becomes a stepping stone.

During one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election campaigns, his campaign manager was about to print 3 million copies of the candidate’s acceptance speech with his photograph alongside. Then someone pointed out that the photographer had never given permission to use the photograph. According to the copyright laws at that time, you could be fined a dollar per copy for publishing unauthorized photographs. The campaign couldn’t take a $3 million hit.

The campaign manager felt a tinge of panic, but instead of thinking up excuses or finding someone to blame, he kept his cool and started considering ways to handle the situation. Could this disaster be turned into a dividend?

He had an idea.

He cabled the photographer: “I have a plan that could mean a great deal of publicity for you. What’s it worth to you if I use your photo on this campaign material?” The photographer cabled back: “I can’t afford more than $250.”

It was a deal!

By focusing on finding a solution, FDR’s campaign manager was not only able to prevent great embarrassment and fines, but he also forged a lasting relationship between the photographer and FDR’s administration—and he got a pretty good deal for a crucial photo.

Winners are skilled at seeing solutions. They do this in various ways. One powerful way is they cultivate a heightened awareness of solutions—that is, when they encounter a problem, they immediately start seeing possible solutions. It’s a habit that can be cultivated, and it has to do with a take-charge mindset—taking the wheel instead of letting events drive themselves. When we change the way we look at things, things change the way they look. If we remain open to new experiences, we discover new ways of doing things, new ways of enjoying life. If we train ourselves to think in terms of solutions instead of problems, we begin to see more solutions. Soon problems become merely occasions to find solutions—a kind of game that challenges you to solve puzzles.

You can train yourself to look for good outcomes by becoming aware of how you react when a problem arises. Do you get angry? Do you start assigning blame? If so, catch yourself before you speak. Take a breather. Remain calm. You’re inside the problem; where’s the exit? What needs to be done right away? What can be done later? What can be done to keep this from happening in the future?

Next time you hop into your car, consider how much bigger your windshield is than your rear view mirror. There’s a reason for this: in driving, as in life, you need to keep your attention focused forward more than backward. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, always looking for winning solutions. Leave the problems and excuses in your rearview mirror.

Check out Winners ALWAYS Quit for six other pretty good habits you can swap for really great results.

Copyright © 2009 by Lee J. Colan and The L Group, Inc.