All about problem solving

Problem solving is a really handy skill to have and there are many reasons why it's useful. There are a couple of different ways to problem solve and some handy tips and tricks you can use. If these don't work, there are also a number of other things you can try to see what works for you.

This can help if:

  • You're facing a difficult problem 
  • You're feeling overwhelmed by your options
  • You want to learn how to make better decisions 

Why problem solving is useful

Let’s face it; problems can really suck. When things are going wrong, it can have a really negative impact on how we feel – and make us feel depressed, down trodden or frustrated. However, problem solving can help you counter these sorts of crappy feelings. That’s because when you’re willing and able to solve a problem you look at things from a completely different perspective – you’re focused on what you can do, instead of on the things that are out of your control.

Not every problem is 100% solve-able, and sometimes there’s very little you can do. But even with more challenging problems, making an attempt at solving them can have a positive impact on your happiness. At the very least, you can always feel satisfied that you’ve done what you can. No matter your level of success, problem solving helps you feel in control.

How to problem solve

While some problems are easily sorted out, others aren’t so straightforward, but learning problem solving steps can help increase your chances of reaching a successful outcome.

  • Step 1. Define the problem. Think through and work out the details of the problem. Be specific, as often you find that a whole lot of problems get tied together. Try and separate them out so you can work on them separately.
  • Step 2. Work out goals for each problem. Set goals that focus on things you can do to resolve the problem, rather than what you would like to happen.
  • Step 3. Brainstorm lots of possible solutions. Be creative and come up with as many solutions as you can think of. Some ideas may be way out there, but don’t worry about evaluating them yet.
  • Step 4: Rule out any obvious poor options. Evaluate your list of ideas and rule out the ones that are unrealistic or unhelpful.
  • Step 5. Examine the consequences of different options. Go through the options you have left and write a pro/con list for each.
  • Step 6. Identify your best options. Now it’s time to make a decision. Look at your list of options, and pick out the solutions that seem most practical and are most likely to be helpful. There may only be one stand out option, or there may be several solutions that you can implement.
  • Step 7. Put your solutions into practice. Try out your solution.
  • Step 8. How did it go? The last step is to review how things went. So you tried it out, what happened? If you had more than one solution and the first didn’t work, move on to some other steps.

Other things you can try

Although problem-solving usually helps us to find solutions, in some situations, in spite of our best efforts, we still can’t fix something. If you’ve tried a few strategies and none of them have worked, it may be time to focus on coping strategies. If you’re experiencing a lot of negative feelings because of a problem, it’s important to look after yourself. Take time out to do something you enjoy. You might also find it really helpful to talk to someone you trust to help you work through your feelings.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 10 December, 2015
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