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Let’s face it, having to deal with problems can really suck, making you feel paralysed and out of control. Whatever the scale of your issues, there are steps you can take to feel more in control. And while you might not always make the right choice, you can learn how to feel comfortable with the decisions you make.

This can help if:

  • you’re facing a difficult problem or decision
  • you’re feeling overwhelmed by your options
  • you want to learn how to make better decisions.
Problem solving with teacher and student

Why problem solving is useful

Whether you’re at a crossroads with a decision, or you’ve got a problem that’s wearing you down, if you approach the issue proactively, you can avoid those crappy feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness. Focus on what you can do, instead of the things that are out of your control, and feel satisfied that you’ve done the best you can.

8 steps to problem solving

Step 1. Define the problem. What exactly is going on? Sometimes a problem just seems too big to tackle. However, if you make a list and break it down into smaller parts that you can make a start on solving, it’ll feel more manageable.

Step 2. Set some goals. Focus on the steps you can take to resolve things, rather than just thinking about what you’d like to happen. Maybe you wish you had more money. Make a list of all the ways you can save or earn more. It could mean walking to school rather than taking the bus, or applying for a part-time job.

Step 3. Brainstorm 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. If you want to solve a conflict you’re having with your parents by escaping on a rainbow unicorn, write it down! Keep an open mind and list anything that comes to mind, plausible or not.

Step 4. Rule out any obvious poor options. Okay, reality check. Evaluate your list of ideas and rule out the ones that are unrealistic or unhelpful. Bye-bye, rainbow unicorn. But how about trying to see things from your parents’ point of view? That option should probably stay on your list.

Step 5. Examine the consequences. Go through the options you’ve got left and for each one write a list of their pros and cons.

Step 6. Identify the best solutions. Now it’s time to make a decision. Look at your list of options, and pick out the ones that are most practical and helpful. There may be one obvious solution, or some might work in combination.

Step 7. Put your solutions into practice. Have faith in yourself and make the commitment to try out one of your solutions.

Step 8. How did it go? So, you tried it out. What happened? If you had more than one solution and the first didn’t work, move on to another one.

What to do when you can’t fix the issue

Despite your best efforts, you may still not be able to fix something. If you’ve tried a few strategies but haven’t had any success, you might try to focus on your coping skills instead, to help you deal with things as they are.

If you’re experiencing a lot of negative feelings because of your issue, it’s important to look after yourself. Take time out to do something you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to talk to someone you trust who can give you moral support. If your situation is interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to get some professional help.

What can I do now?

  • Grab a notebook and start brainstorming ideas for solving the problem.
  • If a solution is proving to be elusive, focus on your coping skills.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your problem and see if they have any insights to offer.