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“All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them.”
—William F. Halsey
How do I solve this problem?
We experience problems every day that require some kind of action. Most are insignificant, or require little thought, such as, What will I wear today? Do I want to take the weekend off and get away? We make a decision and move on.
But other problems are more complex with more serious outcomes, such as, How can I make enough money to support my family or care for an aging parent? How do I survive this pandemic?
One problem often has a multitude of other problems attached, each requiring thought and consideration. An aging spouse with health issues may require additional care.
- Should they be put into a long-term care facility?
- Can I afford it?
- Should I become the sole caretaker or hire home care?
- What are the costs of home care?
You may have been laid off with no adequate jobs to be had in your area. The bills need to be paid.
- Is this a time to move?
- How will that affect the members of my family?
- What will be the impact, both short-term and long-term?
When adversities come at a rapid and unexpected pace, we easily become overwhelmed. If we are not familiar with problem solving in the past, we will find it difficult to step back and out of the emotional arena and apply some logical steps to resolve our problems. Sometimes we are simply trying to survive, and any decision made is temporary.
“No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.”
—J. P. Morgan
Where do I begin?
To resolve any problem requires first identifying the root problem. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times, it can be difficult to separate the main problem from all the attached problems, or the symptoms it creates.
A wife and husband constantly quarreling. One problem is lack of communication skills and another problem is recognizing what each brings to the relationship from their past, etc. Other problems dragged into it are work schedules, things they don’t enjoy doing together, and in-laws.
The main problem, however, is the inability to work together on solvable issues to a negotiated resolution.
How does each spouse perceive the problem? Is it a workable problem or a personality trait they don’t like?
How have they resolved problems in the past? And what makes this problem different? Or is it the same problem, only enlarged? How does each person perceive the problem?
This is especially important and requires listening skills to clarify and communicate wants, needs and end results. It also requires a desire to work together.
A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
5 basic components of problem-solving
1. Identify and define the problem.
Separate it from the symptoms. Symptoms include how you feel, the behaviors that result, etc. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem or problems.
2. What and who is involved?
Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but what is happening, and the behaviors associated. If you focus on personality differences, no resolution will be attainable.
We can modify behaviors. 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.
Generate as many possible solutions as you can think of. List whatever comes to mind even if they seem fanciful or unlikely. In reviewing your list, these can often stimulate further options that might be useful or important.
4. Evaluate and implement.
What criteria do you have for a successful resolution? What are the pros and cons, positive and negatives of each?
Prioritize, select one, and try it out. Create a plan for implementation. If several people are involved, be sure everyone understands and agrees.
5. Assess the outcome.
Is the problem being resolved? If not, try another one.
Have you accurately identified the underlying problem? Do not feel as though you have failed. You will not know until you have tried.
Some solutions create additional problems you had not anticipated. Consider them in your final resolution. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quick you find the right solution, but that you have methodically and consistently worked through it to find one that will work.
What problem are you facing right now that you can apply these 5 principles to?
Maybe it’s one mentioned above or maybe you are trying to identify the root problem. Next week we will continue how to identify and resolve problems.
Learning to Live Again in a New World
We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.
It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.