Many times, the problem, is not knowing the problem. That’s right, we don't know what the real problem is! We identify the symptoms: tired, stressed, overweight, fighting with spouse, but we cannot clearly articulate, or even define the true issue. What's the cause, and reason for the symptoms? Is it poor boundaries, lack of structure, needs that aren't being met, or outdated beliefs?
Great problem solvers are very good at getting to the heart of the matter and understanding exactly what they need to solve and why.
We can learn how to become expert problem solvers. There are skills and strategies that ensure you identify the real source, and the actual problem, enabling you to create solutions, and to make choices that lead to the best outcome.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” ~ Albert Einstein
Find the Problem in 6 Steps:
1. You say tomato, and I say tomato.
The words you use are important, and will elicit different feelings, and therefore different actions. How could I feel healthier and more alive, feels different than, how could I lose one-hundred pounds. One feels hopeful, the other feels daunting.
Reword and try on different problem-solving phrases. The instructional, positively-framed question results in a complete and instructional the answer. Words change the perception of the problem and therefore increase the possibility of solutions.
2. I assumed so.
There are always an extensive amount of assumptions attached to every problem: it's always been done that way, they will never go for it, or they don't like me. What if the assumption is inaccurate, or just plain wrong? Think of every assumption, write them down, and then test each one. Are they really valid? Are there other viewpoints? What's the result of hanging onto that assumption? As you drop an assumption, options become obvious, and the problem will often solve itself.
Get specific and see the nuisances within the larger problem. The nuts and bolts. If each problem is part of a greater problem, then there are often many smaller problems involved. It can provide useful information to deconstruct it, and will make it more manageable, and less overwhelming. Sometimes, as you solve the smaller problems, you automatically, and often inadvertently, disable the larger challenge as well.
A woman came for a session, wanting to experience less stress, and to feel happier in her day-to-day. She was trying to find a broad solution to a broad challenge. I asked her if she could pinpoint what was causing her the most stress each day. What one activity, part of her routine, or her environment was contributing the most to her stress? She said, "trying to keep her home clean and organized,, while caring for the kids and working part-time." I would say so!
Once we identified this one piece, she was able to brainstorm, and felt capable of finding a solution to this challenge, rather than a solution to sleep deprivation, overwork, teething kids, commuting, making meals, spending time with her husband, and exercising! Trying to solve all of that was stressful itself. We came up with a plan for her to trade services, and sometimes pay for housekeeping as a way to handle her housecleaning issues. She also practiced lowering expectations of herself around creating a perfect home, and she created a chore plan with her husband. Once these solutions were implemented, she noticed that at least 75% of her day-to-day stress was reduced, time was freed, and options for the other challenges were easier to find.
4. Maximize it.
At times a problem appears complicated, with many moving parts and variables. Each piece can seem hefty and impossible and time consuming. Ask yourself, what's going on behind the problem? What's the larger issue here? Find the big picture. Why does this matter? What's the outcome of solving it? This viewpoint can provide perspective and a variety of options for getting to the ultimate, and larger goal.
I had a couple come to me for coaching wanting help with their marriage, when I asked them what they each thought the problem was, they both began to list a myriad of smaller complaints and annoyances - essentially symptoms. I asked them, what's the one thing, that if we fixed it today, would solve all those problems? They both responded with, winning the lottery! Granted that's not a solution I could really help them find! But, it pointed to the fact that money problems were weighing heavily on both of their minds. The majority of their stress was around their debt, and their subsequent disagreements, and differences in money management. This problem was infecting every aspect of their lives, and creating a plethora of other issues, effectively masking the elephant in the room. Once they sought support for the right problem, and began dealing with the money in their relationship, they felt empowered, and connected, and the other issues disappeared!
5. Do you see what I see?
Perspective is essential. Before rushing to solve a problem, always make sure you look at it from different perspectives. Many different perspectives. How would your spouse see it? A friend? A person who has lived 99 years? What will this look like to you in a year from now? Ten years from now? Take a helicopter view and look at it “from above”. What do you see? What's missing? Alternative perspectives offer alternative solutions and will open up a myriad of possibilities.
6. Flip it and reverse it.
If you are trying to figure out how to get healthier, identify how to be unhealthier. If you want to feel more love. Ask yourself, how do I block or limit love? If you want to make more money, ask, how can I lose or make less money? The answer lies in opposition, and clarity is found in identifying what won't work. Seem obvious? That's the point - finding the obvious problem will lead to an obvious solution!
“A problem well put is half solved.” ~ John Dewey
Identifying the problem is often much harder than solving it, however if you take the time to evaluate and understand your problems, you'll find the solution much easier to see and apply.
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