We meet problems on a daily basis and we often get involved in solving them without noticing the mental processes we use. Some problems are easy to solve such as deciding what to have for dinner or where to spend the long weekend while others need more effort.
According to psychologists, problem solving is a mental process that we use to discover a problem then analyse and solve it. This process usually involves the following steps.
First you discover there is a problem, then you decide to deal with it but first you need to understand it, look for available options then you try out these actions to see which one works.
Let us apply this to an example. Imagine that you are getting ready to go to work one day but when you get into your car you discover that the battery is dead. The car battery shop is not open and you have an important meeting at work first thing in the morning which you can’t miss. What are you going to do? You would probably feel angry and blame yourself for not checking the batteries in regular bases.
But feelings aside, you will need actions to solve this problem. You would probably start thinking of a list of options that eventually let you arrive at your workplace on time with little compromises. Can you take your wife’s car, or ask a work colleague if he can pass by your house and you go with him? Or you can call a taxi. You would then go through each option and see which one would work best. If your wife is not working or she doesn’t need the car that day then taking her car would be the quickest choice.
If she does need her car then going with your colleague “provided he lives nearby and has not left to work yet would be a good option. If not then calling a taxi will be more practical provided there is a taxi service in your town and they can get to you on time so you don’t miss your meeting.
It is normal to worry about the problems we have but worrying would not help us solve it, if anything it will only make us feel frustrated.
Therefore, psychologists developed what they call problem solving techniques. They recommend that you start by identifying and considering each problem one at a time, ask yourself if there is anything you can do about the problem right now, if the answer is yes, then start by thinking about potential solutions.
If the problem does not need addressing right now, say a presentation you need to give next month, allocate a time in your calendar when you will start working on it. If the problem is beyond your capabilities to solve then acknowledge that and seek help from someone more specialised.
Try to shift your focus on something else if you find yourself still worrying about it.
Sometimes when we are facing problems we find ourselves constantly thinking about them which leads us to develop unhelpful thinking patterns called rumination where you are constantly thinking about the problem to the point of losing sleep or concentration.
To overcome this, try to focus on what you can control would liberate you from those negative thoughts and make you feel better. Be kind to yourself and remember your strengths and the problems you were able to solve in the past.
This will boost your confidence and give you the skills to solve your problems.