Tips to Become Better at Solving Problems

Tips to Become Better at Solving Problems

Learn to identify problems and generate effective solutions. Discover different problem-solving skills and tools.

Problem-solving is exactly what it sounds like–it is the intentional planning and execution of practical solutions to issues that come up in your life. No matter how hard you try to avoid them, problems will always pop up. Maybe the road you need to use to get to work for a meeting is unexpectedly closed. Or maybe the grocery store is out of an important ingredient you need to make dinner.

In psychology, problems are defined as difficulties that cause a person to ask questions that enrich their knowledge (Dostál, 2015). There are four basic steps to problem-solving according to this theory.

1. Awareness of the problem

Sometimes people can be unaware of the problems around them or their problematic behavior. The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that it is there.

2. Perception of the problem

The next step in resolving an issue is perceiving the problem in the right way–meaning you recognize the situation or behavior as a problem.

3. Willingness to deal with the problem

Next, you have to be willing to deal with the problem. Some people are able to perceive the problems in their life but a variety of factors may cause them to be unwilling to do anything to change.

4. Willingness to solve the problem

After you feel willing to deal with the problem, you also need to be willing to do what needs to be done to resolve the issue. Knowing what needs to be done and following through with those actions are two very different steps. The solutions you are looking for can be found by taking the action you know needs to be taken.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
― Albert Einstein

Problem Solving Skills

There are several skills that you can employ to help solve a problem. Those skills are listed below with a short explanation of how they can be applied to problem-solving. If you struggle to respond to problems effectively, try developing these skills within yourself to create better outcomes.

Communication

If time allows, talking about your issue can help identify solutions you had not thought about or allow you to ask for help from someone with more experience. Communicating about your problems is a great way to get a different perspective.

Analysis

Thoroughly understanding a problem allows you to formulate the best solution. Try looking at the issue from a different perspective or gathering data to create the solution with the best possibility for success.

Judgment

Solving problems effectively requires good judgment. For example, sometimes the easiest solution in the short term is the worst solution in the long term. Judging which is more important–a quick short-term solution or a good long-term solution–is part of resolving the problem.

Creativity

Solutions to problems are as diverse as the problems themselves. Creating the right solution often requires creative thinking, especially if it is a problem you haven’t encountered before.

Decision-making

Identifying and executing the most appropriate solution is the final step in solving a problem. Taking action is the only way to create a solution. When you struggle to make decisions, this can impact your ability to solve problems.

Process & Steps

Research has identified seven steps in the problem-solving process, listed below (D’Zurilla & Goldfried, 1971).

1. Attempting to identify a problem when it occurs

2. Defining a problem

3. Attempting to understand the problem

4. Setting goals related to the problem

5. Generating alternative solutions

6. Evaluating and choosing the best alternatives

7. Implementing the chosen alternatives

8. Evaluating the efficacy of the effort at problem-solving

Problem Solving Strategies

A good way to effectively solve problems is to come up with a strategy that works for you. All of the following concepts are common ways that people approach problem-solving. Try each of the following tools the next time you encounter a problem in your life and see if any of them help you come up with a solution more quickly or easily than you would have without it.

Brainstorming

Rapidly coming up with ideas and letting your thoughts flow freely is a great way to come up with new, innovative solutions. Try to brainstorm without judging the thoughts and ideas that come up. A fun way to brainstorm is to get a large piece of paper and write down your problem in the middle. Jot down possible solutions to the problem. Write them down no matter how outlandish they may seem at first. Sometimes the best solutions come from unexpected ideas.

Work Backward

This is a problem-solving strategy that I use often in my personal life. You envision the solution you would like to achieve and then figure out the steps you need to take to achieve that solution. There are often many ways to arrive at the same solution so this allows you to be flexible in your approach.

Break It Up

Sometimes solving a problem can feel too big or overwhelming. Breaking down the steps you need to take into bite-sized pieces can help the tasks feel more achievable. Break down the steps you need to take into smaller and smaller chunks until you see a clear path forward. 

In Sum

Solving issues, concerns, or problems that come your way is an essential part of living a happy, productive life. Learning skills to improve problem-solving through problem-solving therapy has been shown to help a variety of physical and mental ailments including depression and emotional distress (Malouff et al., 2007). Other skills you can develop to increase your problem-solving abilities include creativity and analysis. Try employing different problem-solving methods and tools like working backward and breaking it up to approach your problems systematically. Increasing your ability to effectively solve your issues can help you more easily move through your life.

References

● Dostál, J. (2015). Theory of problem-solving. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 174, 2798–2805.

● D’Zurilla, T. J., & Goldfried, M. R. (1971). Problem-solving and behavior modification. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 78(1), 107–126.

● Malouff, J., Thorsteinsson, E., & Schutte, N. (2007). The efficacy of problem-solving therapy in reducing mental and physical health problems: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(1), 46–57