In a world that tends to deal in Polar opposites and ‘either-or’ type of thinking it is useful to remember that few aspects of our lives are either totally one or another. Things happen by degree or increment and we also experience them with different levels of intensity at different times.

Between the two extremes of ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, ‘success’ and ‘failure’, or ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ there are infinite shades of meaning that most of us fail to see, especially when under pressure or in distress.

One way to start to do this is to develop the habit of scaling, which enables us to see a situation as a range of shades of meaning rather than reducing it to  the false dichotomy of ‘either-or’. Though it is part of the popular vernacular to ask “On a scale of one to ten…?”, we usually don’t consider the implications of this or the possibilities that it offers when used creatively. The easiest way to demonstrate this is with a couple of examples:

Example 1

“This is a catastrophe!”

“How serious is it on a scale of one to ten?”(0 = minimum, 10 = maximum)


“How can we reduce it’s impact by, say, one or two points before we leave for the day?”

“Well, we could send an email to all our customers telling them there will be a slight delay in delivery.”

Example 2

“How’s it going?”

“Stressful. I haven’t got time to stand and talk.”

How stressful is it on a scale of one to ten?”


“Wow, that’s bad. What would get it down a point or two?”

“Some help with organising the workload.”

“OK, let’s talk about that.”

Using scaling like this introduces degrees or increments into our reasoning. It forces us to re-appraise a situation in a way that makes it more manageable, and use regularly it will start to retrain the mind to develop more helpful habits of thinking. More importantly, answering the second part of the question, about what is needed to move a point up or down the scale, starts to shift from the problem to a solution by indicating a course of action.

Vague to specific

This reintroduces the idea that breaking things down can make them more manageable, so moving from vague descriptions of a problem to a more specific look at a situation. The habit of scaling:

  1. Introduces the idea of incremental thinking
  2. Makes the intangible appear tangible
  3. Moves from the abstract to the concrete
  4. Offers the possibility of measurement
  5. Can demonstrate that change is already happening
  6. For example, where ten is success and one is failure, three must, by definition, be something less than failure.
  7. Demonstrates that change is happening all the time.
  8. Elicits ‘quantative’ information for risk assessment and other purposes
  9. Encourages ‘incremental’ thinking
  10. Helps develop the client’s strategy for working towards their goals.

Don’t take my word for it, try it for a few days. Let me know how you get on.

Find out more ideas like this in Solution Focused Therapy for the Helping Professions.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.