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The Art of Imperfect Solutions: Mastering Problem-Solving

There are several reasons this blog post may have caught your eye. First, you have a problem, and you’re looking for a way to solve it. Second, you’re trying to improve your problem-solving skills in general. Third, you’re looking for an answer to something, and it just comes up in your search results because ‘answer’ is quite literally in the title. It may come as a disappointment when this next statement is made: these next few passages will not magically make you better at solving the problems that you or others may have. However, it may make you better at figuring out why you are having so much difficulty solving a problem, and looking at things from a different angle.

Break It Down

As said above. Identify the problem. The first step to working through a problem–after realizing that there is one, of course–is to define it in solid terms. Discuss it with someone else, whether that is someone very involved in your personal life, like family or a friend, or a professional like a therapist. The nebulous consideration of a problem in one’s mind, rotating it as though it’s last night’s leftovers in the microwave, serves only to increase anxiety. The mind has a tendency to amplify worries, particularly if a person is already naturally anxious. In addition, a person’s thoughts are constantly running, constantly changing–the words that define the problem will change from moment to moment for as long as it is with the mind, adding threads to it that were never an issue to begin with, and eventually making a mountain out of a molehill. Write down that problem! Better yet, discuss it with yourself out loud, rather than in your head!

Come Up With Answers

Remember, this does not mean that you are solving the problem. All you are doing is coming up with answers. The feasibility of the answers is not a consideration at this point. In fact, whether the answers are even helpful or not doesn’t matter. Right now, all you are doing is brainstorming as many answers as possible. You may ask, at this point–well then, why bother? What’s the point? But that is exactly the part of your mind you are targeting with this action. The aim, through coming up with as many solutions and answers as possible, is to force yourself to realize that this problem is solvable. Or, perhaps, to see where it is not solvable. In this process, you may even realize that it is an easier issue to solve than you thought. Or, one of those answers may be the solution to another problem that you had. This is the kind of exercise that is better if done, and causes at best no harm and at worst active self-detriment if not done. And again, remember to write it all down!

Consider Implementation and Outcomes

Once you’ve come up with potential solutions, now you can prune your list and evaluate which are feasible–and which aren’t. Now is the point at which you can begin to implement a solution or two, and see if they work. If one solution doesn’t work, remember–there’s a reason you made a whole list. You should have many alternatives to pick from–and if you don’t, then that’s a sign that you haven’t quite fulfilled the goals of the previous step yet. Take a step back and try again. This is not a linear process–it is a cycle that spins round and round, one in which you will experience both failures and successes. Regardless of which you face, take it as a cue to keep moving forward, knowing that you are capable, and that you can keep striving, come what may. Failure is a part of the learning process. As you go through the potential solutions, make sure to keep track of the outcomes of each–remember that solving a problem does not mean it is over.

Evaluate Consequences

You’ve worked through a problem, you’ve found several solutions, and now you’ve seen the outcomes of implementing these solutions. What next? 

Go over the recorded outcomes and evaluate the whole process. What is the point of painstakingly solving a problem if you learn nothing from it? Human history is a cycle of  not learning from mistakes–break that cycle in your personal life, and allow room for change in the future. You will always have more problems to resolve, in the future, but those problems need not be the same as the problem you have just resolved. Perhaps your resolution in and of itself will create more problems–now is the time to look at that possibility, and prepare yourself for the future.

However, in between all of that–give yourself a pat on the back! This is a difficult and tiring process to work through, but you did it! Take a few moments to allow yourself a moment of rest before moving onto the next thing, and give yourself that due praise.

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