The invisibility of what works
One of the main things we as solution-focused coaches do is to help people rediscover what is already working and was has already been going well. Many clients feel more confident and proud of themselves afterwards because they noticed that they already had solutions to improve their situation. At the same time, they are sometimes surprised by this fact, saying things like: "How could I not have thought about this myself?" It seems people easily overlook things that have worked before while they notice right away when something goes wrong. The same thing seems to be the case at a macro level, in organizations for instance. We easily notice what has gone wrong and was has yet to be accomplished but we seem partially blind to successes and to what works. Robert O'Brinkerhof, author of The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What's Working and What's Not, even says: "Successful practices can go unnoticed for years." Put like this, it almost seems like there is some kind of design mistake, doesn't it? Knowing what works is so valuable, how can it be that we so easily overlook it? Actually, there may be an explanation.
The number of things that work is so overwhelmingly great that it would be impossible for the conscious part of our brain to remain aware of them. As psychologists and neuroscientist have discovered, the capacity of our conscious attention is rather limited. We use it to focus on what is really important and urgent. The large majority of our judgments and actions are guided by unconscious mental processes. This automaticity of being helps us through most of the situations we encounter (you type without consciously knowing where exactly the letters on your keyboard are; you'd have to 'ask your fingers` to know where they are). What's more, it is even so that we can process and be influenced by unattended information (for instance you had not noticed someone talking at a party until s/he mentioned your name, then you suddenly noticed this). Furthermore, we often unconsciously continue processing information regarding problems (after having stopped trying to remember a name, we sometimes 'suddenly` remember it).
It is normal to not be aware of the overwhelming amount of things that work well which surround us for second to second as we go through our lives. That our brains deal with these things automatically is an example of great efficiency. This efficiency has a downside, too. Sometimes, we are suddenly confronted with a problem and we don't have a clue about how to solve it. We may think we are not capable of solving it because we don't see what we can do. But here is a different view on our situation.
We can always build on what already went well
Solution-focused change holds the assumption that there is always fluctuation and change happening. Every property of any complex system always fluctuates. This suggests that any mental or behavioral state of human beings or social also fluctuates. This implies that there are always times at which problems are less severe and times at which beginnings of success have already been happening. Because of this there are always already some things going well which can be amplified to build progress in the desired direction. Put differently, there is always already a beginning of the desired situation on which further progress can be built.
Research: positive memories are building blocks of a better future
Research by Eleanor Maguire shows that when we desire for better future we do so by tapping from positive memories. Here research shows that people with amnesia have difficulty imagining future events with any richness of detail and emotion. This is really not so surprising. After all, how can we desire for something we have no knowledge of?
We will always be able to identify and amplify past successes
So, as solution-focused coaches and therapists, we can generally be confident that clients will be able (with our encouragement) to identify past successes when they are able to say how they would like things to become. The advantage of identifying past successes is that this process is very motivating. When people discover that there have already been things which have worked and things which have been accomplished they tend to become more hopeful and the start to feel more resourceful.
Also read: Assumptions In Solution-Focused Change