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The Secret of Problem Solving in Four Easy Steps

I regularly take a look at things people search for on the Internet – some that lead them to this blog, some that lead them elsewhere. I am often surprised at how often people hit search engines with questions that are almost pleas for help.

How do I get my kids back?

Is there a way to break through the glass ceiling?

What is the best way to deal with a nasty boss?

The number of problems sometimes astounds and saddens me. I feel a deep desire to do more – to help more.

Problem solving is perhaps the most basic of all human skills, but it can become a problem of its own if it is not approached correctly. Often the key to solving our problem lies on one of four basic sub-skills that have not gotten the attention they deserve. Refocusing on these skills can help us more forward when we seemed bogged down in a difficult situation.

For each of the four steps, the basic skill is defined, then commented on. Many will think to skip the commentary, but even if you already know each skill, check out the tips to pass along to other who might not know them.

1. Define the problem

“We shall find the truth when we examine the problem. The problem is never apart from the answer. The problem is the answer — understanding the problem dissolves the problem.”

….Bruce Lee

The obvious is often the most overlooked. We skip this step because it seems somehow “beneath” us, and that is one of the reasons problems do not get solved. Vaguely defined problems usually receive vaguely constructed solutions which yield us vague solutions at best. Clearly defined problems being the process into sharp focus.

This step sometimes gets skipped over, not because a person is incapable of defining their problem, but because they don’t want to define it.

To “define” a person must pay attention, and some of our problems are ones involving not wanting to acknowledge the problem, much less examine it in some depth. This brings up the important point that many of our long-standing problems are ones that we do not want to face. The first step of realizing this and sitting down to acknowledge that our problems are real and need to be addressed can be a painful one, but it is one we know in our hearts in necessary.

2. Recognize that you already know how to solve the problem, or you know how to find out how to solve it.

Most people already know how to solve their problem. They know a course of action that will change or solve the problem, but find themselves unwilling to apply that solution. We’ll talk about that later.

If you don’t know the answer to the problem, then you probably already know someone who does. Who else in your life has this same problem? Have they solved it? If you don’t know anyone with this problem, perhaps they know someone who does. Just activating a circle of friend to help with a problem can create a lot of energy and bring potential solutions to the table.

Complex problems may require research or talking to an expert. This can lead to problems of its own, but defining the problem is often the biggest step. Research and expert finding has become far easier with the advent of the Internet. Search engines can yield not only expert articles, but forums for laypeople who have dealt with the same problem and the experts that may come to give them advice from time to time.

Problems with too many solutions can create confusion about which path to follow. In this instance personal discussion with someone with the same problem can make a big difference. Try to make a direct face-to-face contact.

Some time with a good search engine, some emails and phone calls can get a lot of action. Persistence and a willingness to ask for help is woefully under appreciated. Expecting someone else to solve your problem for you is not the way to go, but asking for assistance and making it clear that you want to take responsibility for your own solution will move more people to try and help you than you might imagine. You will meet those who will not help or respond, but you will definitely get no help from those you do not ask.

3. Realize that if you are not applying the solution, then you have some block that is preventing you from applying it.

Now that some of the basics are out of the way, let us get down to one of the biggest problems you will have to deal with — being unwilling or “unable” to apply a solution.

The problem is fixable, but you won’t fix it or you won’t even try to get some help to find the solution. You’ve got a block.

A block is when it all seems impossible. You have a solution, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. You can’t pick up that phone and call the doctor or the psychiatrist. Maybe you can’t tell that person that special person that you feel smothered by the relationship. Whatever it is you know you should but you can’t.

Or you have found a solution and you can’t seem to apply it over time. You know you have to eat better for your health, but you keep slipping. You need to exercise more, but you keep putting it off. You have the solution you have always wanted, but you aren’t applying it. What do you do now?

You start by realizing that the real problem isn’t the initial one, but an emotional block that is holding you back. You have to figure out what is going on in your mind/heart/soul and fix that before you go any further. No matter how many times you try, you will probably have the same overall problem until you take the next step.

4. Deal with the block. (take action to solve this meta-problem)

This is the real tipping point for most problems. Acknowledging pain, fear, anxiety, boredom and other things that slow us down or prevent us from acting on what we know we need to do in life to really fix our simpler problems.

As bad as some problem are, sometimes motivating ourselves to act on those solutions can be the hardest problem in its self.

This is where a lot of problems remain undealt-with. We know the solution, but we can’t or won’t do it.

So what is the answer?

There are a number of ways to tackle these blocks. Here are some good ones

Complaining. This solution is detailed in Chapter Five of the book “Wishcraft”, which is available for free online. Go here and take a look at one chapter (Chapter Five) of a book I’ve been recommending to people for years. The book is often mistaken for a “new age” book and mistakenly placed in the New Age section of the bookstore. It is not about making wishes magically come true but how to find real and practical solutions to the problems we have in discovering what we want in life, and how to get those things through smart actions. The chapter talks about exactly what you can do when you run into one of these blocks. In short: learn to complain and really get into the pain you feel. Don’t try to fix it, just vent your emotions without judging. Blowing off steam is one of those core abilities you have to have in life. Better to learn it now and see how doing it can clear the way for real and productive activity. Complaining to someone who can sympathize without trying to fix your problem can be a huge help, but in today’s society, that solution is often put down. Don’t make that mistake. It is one of the finest solutions available. Finding a true friend who can listen and keep his/her mouth shut is sometimes not easy, but it is easier than sitting there with a big failure on your tally sheet and not doing a damn thing about it. That will take a chunk of your soul that can take years (and potentially a lot of money in self-help books and therapists) to fix.

Accept, Understand and Experience the problem. remember the Bruce Lee quote from above? It’s about experiencing the problem deeply. Obviously if the problem is something is too hard to face on you own you should get help, but for smaller problems this is a very strong solution.

Emotional “blocks” often just need to be stared in the face. Boredom, frustration, anger, etc… all these things can burn themselves out or lead us to a clearer head if we can face them clearly. But sometimes it means giving up the idea of fixing the block and focus instead on experiencing it. Not fun, but it works. Don’t take my word for it. try it for yourself.
 photo credit: Der Hannes

The resources are there. More often than not we are the only thing standing in the way of the solutions we need. Learning how to get ourselves out of the way is a key to long term success, and should not be underestimated. Yes, it sucks to have to do work on ourselves to take actions that will clearly lead to a solution, and doing this can lead us to see how we have been getting in the way of a simple solution for some time. The alternatives are depression, denial, fear, and failure.

My solution to confronting the dispair that I sometimes see in life is to share what I’ve learned with those that might need it. I have certainly needed it at times. If this has helped you in some small way, pass it on. Share it with people who need it.

May all your problems be small, and all your solutions great.

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