You know how sometimes life just seems to be throwing problems at you and you feel so overwhelmed that you just can’t move on?
How you think about a problem can depend on how you are feeling at the time. If your self-esteem or resilience levels are low it’s easy to see problems as obstacles you are powerless to resolve. [31 ways to increase your self-worth]
Problem solving is a valuable skill that you can use every day. Your ability to overcome the problems you face is directly related to the level of enjoyment and success you will experience in life.
By using a step by step approach to resolve your problem will help you to feel more in control and more able to manage those difficult or challenging situations.
Step 1. Accept and recognize there is a problem.
Rather than denying there is a problem accept that by acknowledging that one exists it will usually make you feel much better, even though on some occasions there may be little you can do.
Step 2. Take time out to assess the situation
There is a tendency when we are feeling overwhelmed or stressed with a problem to rush into trying to solve it. It is important to stop and take time to think before you begin to problem solve. You will be far more successful if you take time out to assess the situation.
Step 3. Determine whether you need to take any action
Some problems are temporary and blow over. It is also important to understand what you can and cannot change. There are some problems that you cannot solve, these may be situations caused by others or events you cannot control. When you encounter a problem such as this then instead of trying to solve it, decide what is an appropriate response to the situation. [Why your problems may be illusions of the mind]
Step 4. How many problems are you encountering?
Having a series of problems all bundled together can increase our stress levels, so it is important to break the problem down first in order to deal with each aspect of each problem separately. This will help you to fully understand what you have to work through more easily and with clarity.
Step 5. Work through the problem step by step
When you work through a problem step by step, in little bites rather than one big chunk, then it can increase the chance of you resolving it. It may not mean you completely solve the whole problem but it will enable you to feel more in control of the situation.
For example, if your problem is that you are not happy at work consider all the specific things that are making you unhappy. It could be that you feel unfairly treated by colleagues, a lack of support from your line manager or passed over for promotion. Recognise these are individual problems, that although they are related to each other, they need to be dealt with separately.
Step 6. Work out goals for each problem
Solving a problem successfully does require a clear goal.
Ask yourself what is the best thing you can do to resolve each separate problem. Focus on things you can actually achieve rather than concentrating on what you would like to happen. If you want promotion, for example, how can you best go about achieving it? Set your goals and seek advice in our goal setting network here.
Step 7. Be Creative and Brainstorm
Allow yourself time to think freely and creatively and don’t be judgmental. Come up with as many alternatives as possible to solving your problem. You may think some of the solutions seem impractical but at this stage write down as many as possible.
Step 8. Evaluate your options
When you have written down as many alternatives as you can think of then review them. This is the right time to eliminate the options that are unrealistic or are not really helpful. Then consider your remaining options and evaluate the pros and cons of each remaining option. Ask yourself if there is one option that seems to stand out as being the most helpful, or would it be beneficial to implement more than one option.
Step 9. Take action and put your best ideas into practice.
When you have chosen the best solution to your problem decide how you are going to do this and plan accordingly. If for example you want promotion, list what you are going to do and who can help you achieve this.
It may be that you decide to arrange a meeting with your line manager to discuss how important promotion is to you and how she or he can support you to get the promotion you want.
Step 10. Evaluate the results
Decide what will indicate to you that you have solved your problem. The problem may not be solved immediately or entirely but you can be clear about how you would like to see the problem resolved. In this case you might put a date by when you would like to be promoted.
We are continually challenged with problems or difficulties and learning skills to help solve them makes life easier and more enjoyable.