All of us as humans can benefit from having effective problem solving skills, as we encounter a range of problems on a (near) daily basis. Sometimes the problems being smaller and a little more easily solved, some are bigger and more complex and some are in between.?
Problem solving is a skill that we need to learn and develop for the rest of our lives as we encounter different problems throughout our life and they will need to be solved in different ways. Problem solving helps us to feel more confident (Treffinger, Isaksen & Stead-Dorval, 2006), feel less overwhelmed (and anxious) when a problem does arise, more willing and able to tackle the problem and helps us to see many possible options rather than staying stuck on the fact that there is this problem.?
So what is a problem?
Generally we would consider a problem to be a difficult situation in which we require a solution to implement to make it no longer difficult (Pretz, Naples & Sternberg, 2003). However there can be differing perspectives of what a problem is, have you considered your view?
Sometimes we need to stop and think about the situation to understand if this is a real problem or a perceived problem and could this be an opportunity?
As humans we like predictability (Zvolensky, Eifert, Lejuez, Hopko & Forsyth, 2000) we like to know what to expect in order to action this in the best possible way, be effective, not look silly or make a mistake. A problem arising can disrupt our mental expectation of our day or a situation therefore can be anxiety provoking for many of us as we need to navigate something unexpected (Zvolensky, Eifert, Lejuez, Hopko & Forsyth, 2000) and may not feel confident to do so.?
In problem solving we need to have an end goal in mind and consider the barriers to that end goal. We need to be able to overcome those barriers in our way to implement the solution and reach the goal.?
Structured problem solving
- Identity the problem: In 1-2 sentences, describe what the issue or problem is, how can it be best defined?. Identification of the problem can be difficult to do, we need to understand if there is one problem or are there multiple problems (Parker, 1995).
- Options: Be creative and write down all the possible solutions no matter how (im) possible they may seem. We can then go through and cross off any of the options which may be impractical or unreasonable, then structure the remaining options in order of practicality. In this stage, we need to assess the situation, research (if needed) in order to understand which options are and arent effective in solving the problem/s (Mourtos, Okamoto & Rhee, 2004).?
- Pro and cons: look at the advantages and disadvantages (costs and benefits, resources etc) of using or not using the options (Parker, 1995).
- Make a decision: Choose the best solution and make a plan of how to implement this. Decision making is another important skill to have and develop.?
- Implementation: Implement the solution and plan. Carrying out the plan is extremely important as this is where we attempt to solve a problem and develop our problem solving skills (Pretz, Naples & Sternberg, 2003). We need to keep in mind that there is still a possibility that this option may not work as expected, however there is an opportunity to learn in that.?
- Evaluate the outcome: This is where we look at the outcome of our attempt to problem solve (Parker, 1995). We look at the success, anything that we now realise we could have done differently, the stages that we felt confident at, the stages that we felt less confident and the need to revise the solution in the event it was not as effective as we had hoped.?
Problem solving takes time, it is a skill that is developed over time in different life roles and transitions. Our solutions that we implement may not always work or as effectively as we had hoped. This does not mean that we are not good at problem solving, it means that we just need to do something a little bit differently within that or seek some help or guidance for other options that we may not have thought of. Therefore problem solving doesn’t always need to be something that we work through on our own (we should always try to come up with as many options as we can on our own before asking for help as this allows us to challenge ourselves), we can always seek support for solving a problem. Remember, problems do not disappear, we need to try to manage them and work through them for their impact to lessen or for the problem to be solved.
Author: Aleah Haffenden, B Soc Wk, Grad Cert Suicide Prevention, AMHSW.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden, use Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Mourtos, N. J., Okamoto, N. D., & Rhee, J. (2004, February). Defining, teaching, and assessing problem solving skills. In 7th UICEE Annual Conference on Engineering Education (pp. 1-5).
- Parker, G. W. (1995). Structured Problem Solving. Gower Publishing, Ltd..
- Pretz, J. E., Naples, A. J., & Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Recognizing, defining, and representing problems. The psychology of problem solving, 30(3).
- Treffinger, D. J., Isaksen, S. G., & Stead-Dorval, K. B. (2006). Creative problem solving: An introduction. Prufrock Press Inc..
- Zvolensky, M. J., Eifert, G. H., Lejuez, C. W., Hopko, D. R., & Forsyth, J. P. (2000). Assessing the perceived predictability of anxiety-related events: a report on the perceived predictability index. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry, 31(3-4), 201-218.