From minor issues to major obstacles, problems are part of life. And when you find yourself facing a problem you’re struggling to solve, it can lead to stress and frustration, distracting you from other areas that need your full attention.
No matter what you do, you’ll never be able to get away from problems entirely. That’s why problem-skills are so important. Having a solid set of problem-solving skills under your belt allows you to face problems with confidence. You can stay calm, assess the situation, and plan your next steps.
Here are five effective ways to boost your problem-solving skills.
1. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
As you think about the problem that’s before you, what’s going on with your breathing? There’s a good chance you’re breathing a little more rapidly than usual. Those breaths are probably more shallow than usual too. This is a natural response to stress and anxiety, but it also exacerbates the stress and anxiety you're feeling, essentially creating an unhelpful feedback loop.
The next time you have a problem to deal with, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. You’ll feel more relaxed physically, and you’ll be better equipped mentally to focus on the problem at hand.
2. Clarify the problem before reaching for the quickest, easiest solution.
You notice something smells bad in the kitchen, so you reach for a can of air freshener. Initially, the kitchen smells better and all is well. But a few minutes later, the unpleasant odour is back. Air freshener serves as a quick fix to cover up the odour, but you're not solving the real problem. The real problem is the smelly garbage. Address that, and you won’t need any air freshener.
When you’re feeling the pressure of a problem sitting on your shoulders, it’s tempting to want to reach for the quickest and easiest solution available. But racing ahead like this often leads to a band-aid solution that doesn’t really solve the problem. It’s like spaying air freshener to make the kitchen smell better, when what you really need to do is figure out where the odour is coming from so you can deal with it at the source.
Investing time up front to make sure you’re clear on what the problem is will pay off in the long run.
3. Bounce things off someone who has a different skill set to yours.
Just as you have your area of expertise and your strengths, you also have biases and blind spots. As a result, there may be simple solutions to a problem right in front of you that you’re just not seeing.
Bouncing things off someone else can help. Specifically, someone with different strengths, different expertise, or a different skill set. They’ll have a different perspective to yours, and they may see things you’re overlooking.
4. Break out of either/or thinking to consider other possibilities.
A common problem-solving trap is assuming you need to choose between one of two options, with the two options being mutually exclusive.
Either/or thinking boxes you in, limiting your thinking and your actions. When you find yourself facing a problem and assuming it’s an either/or situation, reconsider that assumption. Are you truly limited to two options, or are there additional options that would make sense in the situation? And if you are indeed limited to two options, are they really mutually exclusive? Or is there a way to make both options work?
Sometimes, all it takes is a second look and a bit of creativity to see an alternative way forward.
5. Aim for a win-win solution.
When you start off aiming for a win-win solution, you approach a problem differently. Your thinking becomes broader and more expansive. Instead of just trying to make the problem go away as quickly as possible, you truly become solution-oriented.
This approach also benefits relationships. Instead of looking out solely for yourself, you’re able to balance your own needs with the needs of others. This positions you for more creative problem-solving, while allowing you to preserve or even strengthens relationships in the process.
Tips for achieving optimal wellness, inside and out.