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“You think you’ve got problems – you should hear what happened to me last week…”
…And on and on it goes – we cannot wait to get together and share our stories of what new disaster we faced.
Life is ongoing problem solving.
And as much as we hate to have yet another unexpected intrusion in our well-laid plans, life would be pretty dull without them.
Problems of any kind demand some kind of resolution.
Most decisions we make are so insignificant we rarely think about them, such as, what will I wear to work today? or, what shall I plan for dinner?
But others are more complicated and demand more thoughtful consideration. While symptoms keep us edgy and anxious, it may take a while to actually identify the problem that is creating those symptoms.
Emotions are always an integral part of the problems we face.
They can be as small as frustrations or annoyance. Or they can be heavy with worry, concern and anxiety, knowing that the decision we make will have a long-lasting impact on those involved.
For example, an aging spouse with health issues may require additional care.
- Should they be put into a long-term care facility?
- Can you afford it?
- Should you try to take care of him or her or hire home care?
To deal adequately with any major life challenge, we need to know ourselves, recognize our strengths and weaknesses, imperfections and shortcomings and how they can intensify our emotional responses.
So, where do we start?
To begin resolving problems, we need to first step out of the emotional arena and put on our rational thinking cap. One way to reduce emotional reactions is by repeating some calming statements, such as “I can do this” or “There are answers to all problems” or “I can ask for assistance and input” along with slow, even breathing. It is hard to think when our fear and anxiety levels are high.
Next, identify specifically what the actual problem is. Sometimes it is obvious, other times it may be difficult to separate the problem from the symptoms.
If others are involved, include them in this process. How does each person perceive the problem? This is especially important for couples and requires listening skills and clearly communicating your wants, needs and goals.
Once the problem is defined, sit down and make a list of all the options that might resolve it. Ask others to help brainstorm. Then evaluate each, prioritize and choose one to try. When other people are involved in the outcomes, their concerns, time, and association need to be considered as well. Even simple decisions like family times or family vacations require a willingness to work together and negotiate.
Many problems can be avoided by planning ahead.
Parents who have periodic family meetings listen to their kids concerns to resolve issues and put in place household rules, responsibility for chores and duties, play time, etc. While kids are included in the discussion, the parents maintain the last word on resolutions.
Problems connected to aging can be reduced by putting in place end of life wishes, thinking through a retirement financial plan, etc. Even with pre-planning, however, problems will arise that you had not anticipated.
5 basic components of problem-solving
- Identify and define the problem. Separate it from the symptoms. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem.
- What and who is involved? Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but what is happening. Work together with others who are directly involved to seek acceptable resolutions. This requires active listening and communication, taking responsibility for your emotions, expressing your needs and preferences and a willingness to work together to find solutions instead of blaming.
- Brainstorm. Generate as many possible solutions as you can think of. List whatever comes to mind even if they seem far-fetched. In reviewing your list these can often stimulate further options that might be important.
- Evaluate and implement. What are the pros and cons, positive and negatives of each? Select one, create a plan of action and implement it. If several people are involved, be sure everyone understands their part.
- Make an assessment. Is the problem being resolved? If not, try another one. Don’t feel as though you have failed. We won’t know if it will work until we have tried. Some solutions create additional problems we hadn’t anticipated. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quick you find the right solution, but that you methodically and consistently worked through it to find one that will work.
Exercise your problem-solving skills
Here are some typical life problems that you might be facing. Using the example above, how would you look for solutions?
- My teen is having difficulties in school. What do I do?
- My parents are aging and having difficulties. How do I assist.
- I have been offered a job that requires me and my family to make a major move. Should I accept?
- I am having difficulty with my in-laws. How do bridge that gap?
- My spouse and I keep fighting and blaming each other for the problems. How do we resolve it?
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