10 Wise Ways for Positive Problem Solving
By Jacquie Wise
Some of us seem able to make decisions effortlessly as soon as they arise—for others, the decision presents as a problem. We can all learn how to make decisions quickly and solve problems easily. Here are ten techniques used by confident problem-solvers.
It’s vital that you do all your thinking in writing.
1 Do proper research
The first step to any problem-solving exercise is to collect as much data as possible before your sit down to wrestle with your dilemma.
Too many of try to find solutions when we don’t have the right facts. It’s too easy to overlook something important.
Find answers to all possible angles of the 5Ws: Who, why, what (or which), when, and where.
For example, who is to do what bit, when and where they must go to do it.
Or who will be impacted by your decision, and whom should be consulted, at least to get them on side.
2 Take your time and set aside time
If you try to find a solution while you’re engaged in another activity, you’ll only end up confused and depressed.
Your problem ends up occupying all your brain-space and stopping you from concentrating on anything else.
Instead, pick a time to concentrate only on mulling over one issue and not on anything else.
Does it matter what time you select? Yes. We all have times of the day when our brains function at their peak.
There are three natural high-energy times. Experiment until you find the one that best suits you.
The first option is immediately on rising. When you wake up, your relaxed mind is still working on the same wave-length that created your dreams.
Instead of leaping out of bed, give yourself 15 minutes or so to work on your problem.
Those who like morning showers often find those moments, before they’re fully awake, to be hugely productive for clear thinking.
The second option is at the other end of the day. After you’ve closed your mind to work or study priorities, your brain will automatically shift gear into a creative state.
The effectiveness of that end of the day depends on how tired and wound up you are. You might need a relaxation or meditation process before your mind can shift gear.
The third option is immediately before going to sleep. As you begin to get drowsy, the creative mind takes over again.
Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual and focus on your problem then. Write in your journal.
It won’t necessarily keep you awake either—it allows you to clear your mind and induces sleep more easily.
If those times are not convenient for you, at least allocate some time when you can get right away from interruptions.
This is an oldie but a goodie. There are two ways you could do this. The first is in a true brain-storm style.
Call in trusted family and friends (those with appropriate experience) and invite them to call out whatever ideas occur.
This must be done in a group, because new ideas grow out of ones already tossed into the melting-pot.
Remember that no criticism is allowed of any idea. You want people to generate, not defend their ideas.
The emphasis is on the quantity of ideas, not the quality.
If your problem is too confidential for this, you can do your own brain-storming in writing.
Write down every single thing that occurs to you, no matter how idiotic it might seem at first.
We’re trying to be creative here, not stifling. Once you’ve done a ‘brain dump’, you can sort out which options are viable and which not.
4 Reverse the problem
Edward de Bono, expert on lateral thinking techniques, teaches this one. The example he uses is this: A truck is driving down a narrow country road. It’s stopped by a flock of sheep. Problem: how to get past?
The conventional solution would be to drive around the sheep. But that is both slow and dangerous—the truck might get stuck on the side of the road, or some sheep might get hurt in the process.
The reverse solution—instead of getting the truck past the sheep, you get the sheep past the truck. The driver stops the vehicle, turns the flock around, and leads it past the stationery vehicle.
The advantage of reversal as a problem-solving technique is that it frees you from old ways of looking at a problem.
5 Redefine the problem
The solution to a problem often depends on the way in which it’s stated. If you define it narrowly, you’ll get only narrow, limited answers. Redefining it often opens up a whole range of possibilities.
‘How can I afford a new dress for the dance’ becomes ‘How can I look my best?’
I once turned up for a British military ball (a very formal, elegant affair, with officers in full ceremonial uniform) dressed in a sheet. Don’t laugh, it’s all I could afford.
I bought a pink-and-white candy-striped single sheet. I cut it to size so that I could wrap it around me, tucked into a bustier.
With a ribbon tied under the bust to give it shape, it had a Jane Austin air about it. I used to wear my hair up in those days—hey—it worked, and my date loved it.
Another example: ‘Why don’t I ever get more interesting work?’ can be redefined as ‘How can I increase my skills so that I can upgrade the kind of work I’m given?’
‘How can we make the family car available to everybody who needs it?’ redefines as ‘How can we meet our needs without using the car?’
Get the idea? Sometimes we struggle with something that isn’t really the problem, but is only a small part of a larger problem.
When we take the time to redefine the situation, entirely new and more helpful solutions may immediately spring to mind.
At least you won’t be wasting time finding an elegant solution for the wrong problem.
6 Plan for results
The best way to solve a problem is to first outline the result you want, then work backwards to find the best solution for that result. This isn’t as complex as it might sound.
For instance, instead of trying to decide what job you should consider next, you would begin by working out what you want for yourself in, say, five years’ time.
If you want to end up there, what experience do you need this year, this month, this week, to get you there within five years?
Once the goal or outcome has been defined, the problem is halfway to being solved.
Always begin with where you want to end up.
7 Break the routine
Don’t allow old habits to make you blind to new solutions. Breaking the routine to your day may break the back of many problems too.
A woman in one of my public workshops was under a lot of stress because her day was not productive. She ran her own business, so time was money to her.
She was battling to get up early in the morning for an earlier start to her day, but found she couldn’t get going until early afternoon.
If she tried to get to bed earlier so that she could wake up earlier, her natural body clock wouldn’t let her sleep.
Solution—she lived alone, so there was no reason she couldn’t start and end her days at different times to suit her.
Why fit into a mould in which you don’t belong, especially if you don’t need to consider anyone else?
8 Turn a minus into a plus
When you have something with an apparent drawback, don’t fight against it, enhance it. Like Barbra Streisand did with her nose!
Or like I did. For years, I was trying to hide the fact that I’d experienced a serious nervous breakdown, amnesia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eventually, I realised my experiences were an asset, because they gave me the knowledge, the empathy and credibility that clients valued.
In my work of helping people find their way through overwhelming obstacles, I couldn’t wish for better experiences.
9 Be an optimist
Too many of us, when confronted with a difficulty, give up before we’ve even begun. By assuming the worst or by accepting failure, we only ensure failure.
You’ve heard how important it is to view an obstacle as a challenge or an opportunity. Don’t tell yourself ‘I’ll never get this promotion.’
Ask yourself instead ‘How can I prepare myself to be ready for this promotion?’
Similarly, if you believe you’ll never find a partner, you may get stuck in a rut and with an attitude that will not attract a new relationship.
If, instead, you focus on creating a fulfilling social life in which you are confident, feeling your best, and able to make interesting conversation, you are better able to enjoy life, as well as being more likely to find the right partner.
10 Don’t give up!
It may be corny, but it’s true: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try TRY again.
That’s been my lifetime attitude and has governed my approach to life.
I would never have been able to drag myself out of my hole had it not been for my determination to keep trying—keep finding a way to solve my problems, which often seemed daunting.
In fact, it was this attitude that led to my business name: ‘Wise Ways’.
My thinking is that there’s always a way somewhere out there. All you have to do is keep searching until you find a way.
And if you can’t find a way to solve your problem, create one.
If you feel you need assistance with problem solving, please contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.
I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.
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