How to Solve a Problem

Problems cause anxiety, stress, and distress. Problems tend to paralyze and overwhelm us. Wikipedia succinctly summaries a problem as “an obstacle which makes it difficult to achieve a desired goal, objective or purpose.” Generally, the most distressing problems impact us interpersonally and may occur at home, school, or work. Sometimes a problem is clearly your fault and in other moments, you just end up in a bad situation! The ability to problem-solve ongoingly, quickly, and with good success is imperative to healthy and happy living. “Being stuck” impairs our ability to be fully self expressed and successful. I’ve noticed that successful and happy people can move through problems and barriers and create something new QUICKLY. This ability to generate in the face of a problem is steeped in creativity and problem solving acumen.

Often, individuals may seek psychotherapy services to help resolve their personal and social problems, particularly when these problems seem overwhelming, cause depression and anxiety, and generate somatic symptoms (e.g. headaches, back pain, fatigue).

Here are a few tips on how to solve any Problem:

1. Tell people you trust about the problem. Ever notice that you happily discuss successes but are maybe shy and/or ashamed to let someone know about an issue or problem you have? We all want to look good, of course. The problem is that no one person possesses all the resources to resolve every type of problem or barrier that she might experience in life. So, tell your friend about your problem. Tell your sister. Tell your dad. Tell your colleague. These people may have more insight than you, or at least a new perspective. Moreover, maybe they’ve had the exact same experience and can share some wisdom. Maybe they can point you in the direction of someone who has more information.

2. Think. This may seem very obvious. I have personally experienced different “levels” of thinking. So when I do something challenging, or really want to think of a new solution, or really one to be creative, I find myself thinking more and HARDER. This entails objectively considering the problem, looking at my options, identifying old and new resources, and planning. Thinking and telling people about your problem go hand in hand.

3. Write out a plan. Take out a sheet of paper and make a few bullets. Take out your cell phone and make a note to yourself. Scratch down some ideas on a post it. Getting your ideas out of your head is a form of catharsis.

4. Ask an expert. Ask someone who knows more than you for advice. Evaded taxes for the past 10 years? Call a CPA. Chronically depressed? Contact a psychotherapist. Gaining weight? Consult a nutritionist or weight loss expert.

5. Don’t just ruminate, take action. Finally, make some move towards resolving your problem. Sometimes acting or responding too prematurely to a problem only makes the problem worse. On the other hand, avoiding or putting the problem off may make it worse.

6. Repeat steps 1 through 5. A problem sometimes isn’t so easy to solve, that’s why it’s a problem! It may take a while to sort out solutions and next steps to your problems. That’s okay. Change is a process. Decision-making is a process. After a while the processes outlined here become natural.

Natasha K. Nalls is an expert in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. She works with individuals, couples, families, and groups.