The Journey Within: Problem-Solving Tips

For many of us, the initial reaction to any problem that seams unsurmountable is to panic. Car won’t start when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere? Suddenly you have a wealth of potential problems and issues running through your mind: you’re going to be late, you have no phone, you’re cold, you’re scared… These are all issues, but they are not the main problem, and in some cases, they only serve to distract you from the matter at hand.

What you need to do then is to take a breather, get a grip and define your problem.

Define the Problem
Defining the problem means cutting through all surrounding issues and outlining the one thing that is causing trouble. In this example, the problem is that your car won’t start. Forget the rest and instead focus on that one central challenge.

You might also have other problems, but for this exercise, the most effective thing to do is to pick just one to focus on first.

Find the Root
When defining your problem, it’s important to make sure that you’re at the root of it. The problem, “you are going to be late,” is harder to solve because it’s more “high level.” If the root of your problem is “your car won’t start,” then that’s a better place to start. But perhaps that can be simplified further to “you’ve run out of gas.” Suddenly, the solution becomes clearer because you’ve broken it down.

Reword the Problem
If this hasn’t helped, then you might want to try rewording the problem. In this case, you can think of your problem almost as an equation and, by flipping it around while keeping the meaning the same, you can start to see answers.

Your car won’t start

Your car is broken

You have no mode of transport

You have no way of getting home

These last two “rephrases” in some cases might start to offer up solutions. A solution to not being able to get home is to call a friend or maybe stay the night in a hotel in the area. By rephrasing the question, you can view it from different angles, and this can often result in a solution.

Ultimately this all comes down to “knowing your enemy.” Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a target you can aim for and a solution is much more likely.

That said, these sorts of steps are very much “considered” approaches that require time and thought to carry out. What do you do when these steps don’t work and you really can’t solve the problem? You might have to consider these options:

Use Brute Force
“Brute force” is a term used by hackers to describe the method they use to bypass username and password combinations. They use a problem to simply try thousands and thousands of combinations until they find the right ones.

Sometimes the same kind of strategy can be applied to your problem. Sure, you can’t find the “right” solution or the “easiest” answer, but if you just go all out in terms of effort and output, that could be enough to solve the problem.

Sometimes your attempts to solve a problem make matters worse. If you’ve worked on a project or anything else for long enough and made no progress, often the best course of action is to hit the reset button and just start again. Sure, it’s upsetting to have “wasted” so much effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. Besides, now you know what doesn’t work and that is how we learn and resolve problems. Don’t keep banging your head against the brick wall!

In other cases, it might be time to start thinking about contingencies and compromises. In other words, you can’t win, but how can you “not lose”? Thinking of an exit strategy or a way to make the problem matter less can often be a better use of your time than trying to solve a problem that can’t be solved.

Get Help
Finally, you might sometimes have to put your hands up and admit you can’t solve the problem. In that case, you should maybe consider asking someone else to solve it for you. This might mean just calling your colleagues, your friends or your extended network of contacts for help. Or it could mean paying someone to complete the job for you. There’s no shame in letting someone else take care of a problem for you. It never means you’ve failed; it just means your best solution was to outsource or delegate.


The Journey Within: Problem-Solving Tips
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