The Problem Solving Process

By Jimmy Warden

The problem-solving cycle

At its core, life is a never ending cycle of solving problems.

I was on a walk when that dawned on me. We face hundreds, even thousands of problems each day. As a result, we tend to feel overwhelmed. So the question begs, how do we become successful problem solvers and feel less overwhelmed?

We all have problems

For starters, it’s most important to know that we have problems. This may seem arbitrary, but there are plenty of people in the world that don’t know they have personal problems. Therefore, they aren’t aware of their own problems, hence why they don’t solve many (or any) of them. People that don’t solve their own problems tend to complain about and blame others for their current circumstances. They believe that it’s always somebody or something else’s fault. They want other people to fix their life for them or have the circumstances change without any personal change because they believe that the problems are external, not internal. So the first step is to accept the fact that we all have personal problems.

Becoming aware of our challenges

To avoid blame and become aware of our challenges, we should take some time to consider what curveballs life has thrown at us. The leaky faucet. The pantry full of processed foods. The gym membership that’s not being used. The journal that’s not being written in. The job we’re not in love with. A lot of these issues seem miniscule, but the finite details of life make it pleasurable or intolerable. The more problems we’re able to solve, the more enjoyable life is. The less problems that we solve, the more life becomes misery. However, if we don’t consider our troubles, we don’t end up being aware of them, but once we’re aware of them, we can do something about them.

A way to become conscious of our problems is asking questions. What are the current problems in my life? Why are they problems? Asking these questions will help us understand more about ourselves because we’ll have a better understanding to how our problems are affecting our well-being.

Not only that, but we’ll also be able to determine what is preventing us from solving our problems. What is interfering with our engagement. Is it distraction in the form of television, news, or social media? Is it our mental health? Is it the umpteen amount of work responsibilities that we can’t stop thinking about? Whatever it is, considering the interference can help us decipher how to navigate around it or through it.

Do something about it!

Once we know what our problems are in our lives, we can start to do something about them. In order to start destroying our dilemmas, we must come up with a plan. This is when we need to consider which problems are more pertinent than others because they are best solved one at a time. In some rare cases, we may be able to solve multiple problems simultaneously, but that is often the result of focusing our efforts in one direction.

Once a list is developed, pick an issue to start solving. It could be a large, or it could be small. Either way, understand that it is going to take some time to solve, and oftentimes, the more complex it is, the longer it will take to solve. Not only that, but it could be difficult to figure out where to start with solving the entire problem, so think about: “What’s one step that I could take to start solving this problem?”. If we go back to the example of the leaky faucet, even that challenge has multiple layers in order to be fixed. First, it starts with researching a competent plumber. Next, it requires a call to said plumber to discuss the problem. Then, there needs to be an inquiry of cost to make sure we have the necessary funds to cover the cost of the repair. After that, we must schedule a date and time for the plumber to show up to our home. Then, we must be home when the plumber shows up, so we might need to take some time off of work. That’s five steps just to get the plumber in the door of our living space. No wonder why problems can be a pain in the arse!

Generating momentum

Once we solve one problem, it will generate some positive momentum for us to solve another problem. Ahh, good ole momentum. It’s vital to generate momentum when it comes to problem-solving because it increases the likelihood that we’ll continue to try to solve more problems. The more momentum that we have, the more motivation we’ll have, and the more motivation we have increases our chances of taking action to solve our issues.

Not having momentum is a big reason why we often don’t solve problems because we don’t feel motivated to take action. Motivation is fleeting because our momentum correlates with consistency. If we’re not consistent in trying to take on our daily tasks, we can’t generate motivation or momentum, so we’re left stuck in the mud.

As we ponder what problems to solve, it would be useful to also think about how to stack our problems to create a snowball effect with momentum. If there are a few problems that can be solved quickly or solved simultaneously, it would be a wonder to start there in order to generate and keep momentum moving.

Implications of being a problem solver

Going through this process in multiple areas of our lives can be helpful because of the implications that come with solving more problems. Being able to solve more problems makes us more capable human beings. Being capable is a wonderful trait to have. Whether it’s physical capability, mental capability, intellectual capability, or anything in between, people look to those who are capable. People who have skills and people who have knowledge.

Not only that, but it creates a boost in our confidence because we’ll have gathered enough evidence to prove to ourselves that we’ve solved some serious problems in our personal life. Even starting with something small, like fixing a leaky faucet, can help us take care of other small problems, and give us the confidence to tackle larger problems. When we’re confident, it’s much harder for us to get in our own way because we won’t be as afraid of failing as we were when we had less confidence. As a result, we’ll be able to feel a little less overwhelmed when more obstacles inevitably get put in front of us.

In sum

We need to consistently engage in the process of solving problems: acknowledging we have problems, brainstorming what they are, picking one or a few to solve, taking action, and being proud of our efforts to create confidence and momentum.

That process is the key to feeling less overwhelmed and becoming a successful problem-solver!

So let’s go out and do the darn thing.

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