5 key steps in solving life’s problems

All of us, every day, face a myriad of challenges. These challenges can be relatively minor, such as how to fix the kitchen sink, or they can be massive, such as how to afford housing and shelter for one’s family after being laid off work. Regardless of the size or nature of the problems and challenges you face, here are a few key steps to solving them.

Make no mistake, I have experienced my share of setbacks big and small, and in some cases I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity and self-doubt for a while before picking myself back up and focusing on the solution to the problems that I faced. And I still face some of those problems, and have not yet found the solutions. In some cases, I’ve made the decision to stop pursuing a goal because the efforts required to overcome the challenges were not worth the rewards. In making these suggestions I am in no way implying I have it all figured out.

But in each case I have tried to follow a pattern to make decisions on how to proceed. While this pattern may not work for everybody, I think in most cases it has served me well.

1. Try to see the situation for what it is, without emotion. This is the toughest thing for me to do, as I tend to be a passionate person. However, I have found that when I am able to detach from a situation, and look at it objectively, I am able to identify problems and form a plan to solve them much more quickly. Reacting emotionally to a problem or crisis usually on makes things worse.

2. Solve problems by removing the causes of the problem. I have often spent a lot of time and effort trying to fix a problem by removing the problem. Most of the time I have found that removing the problem is only temporary, unless I have taken the time to understand and fix the causes of the problem. Focusing on the problem without understanding the causes of the problem is not a long term solution.

3. Seek out others’ opinions. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that you need help, but by seeking out other people’s opinions, you may get a perspective you have not already considered. Ideally, you should take care to only seek the opinions of those with some knowledge or experience with the particular problem or situation. While I suggest in point #1 to look at problems without emotion, that is often very difficult (if not impossible) for human beings to do. Getting other people’s opinions can help remove emotion from a problem.

4. Recognize there are often many solutions to any given problem. Most problems have many solutions. Spending time thinking about possible solutions, rather than simply jumping in with the first solution that comes to mind, may help you avoid a lot of angst, expense, and frustration. Brainstorming with other credible people, and designing multiple solutions, can often be well worth the time.

5. Recognize that not all problems are worth the effort of solving. When facing a problem I always ask myself, “how big of a problem is this, really?” It is possible to become obsessed with small problems, and miss the big ones. Your time and energy is valuable. Spend it like you would your money – if the price of solving a problem is too high (e.g. – much higher than the impact of not solving it), then it may be worth just walking away from it.

6. Get to work solving the problem. All the diagnosing and planning in the world will not solve a problem. Sometimes, either because we are unconsciously afraid of moving forward, or because we are overwhelmed, or because we are just indecisive, we can get into a loop that is often called “paralysis by analysis” and never take action to solve our problems. Do not fall into this cycle. Once you have a reasonable plan, go for it. Remember, you may not always be looking for the silver bullet or best plan – but for the best plan available.

These are just a few suggestions I have found useful when faced with problems, big and small. I’d welcome your comments and suggestions as well!

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