Seven steps to solving a problem

To learn a technique called Problem Solving, work through the boxes below. Pick a manageable problem for your first go, such as not having posted a letter or always buying too much at the shop. Over time, as your practice improves your skills, you will be able to tackle even quite large problems, such as applying for a new job, using this technique.

Don’t think for too long about your answers – each section should take five minutes as a maximum. Also, try to be as specific as possible with your answers became vague statements are more difficult to work with. You may like to do this with a friend, but over time we hope you could do it by yourself. Remember that worriers can sometimes try to avoid taking responsibility for things by asking others to do them instead. It is OK to ask someone to help a bit at the beginning, but don’t get them to do all the work and make sure you are trying this by yourself later on.

1: Identify the problem. Define it as clearly as possible.

2: Brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Rule nothing out for now.
A
B
C
D

3: Look at the Advantages and Disadvantages of each solution.

Advantages
A
B
C
D    
Disadvantages
A
B
C
D

4: Chose one of the solutions. List what you fear might happen

Solution:

Fears:


5: Think of some practical steps you can take [but note that some risk will remain]





6: Carry out the chosen solution. What happened?





7: Reflect on what happened. How did it feel? Did your feared events happen? What does this tell you?




Even if things didn’t go as well as you planned, you can still learn something from what happened, such as what you might do differently next time. Problem Solving is a skill that you can apply to all worries about problems where there is a solution – its just that you haven’t got round to acting yet and have worried instead. It will require practice, and you will improve over time, but it does work.


Margo had been worrying for a while about what car insurance to buy. It was all in an envelope on the dresser – it stared at her every time she went into the bedroom! One day she decided to try a problem solving approach. She did an online brainstorm – a Google search – and noted down the first five suggestions. She made a simple list of costs and main features of each policy. She picked one. She decided whether to pay up front or in installments – she asked her Dad’s advice on this. She bought a policy and the whole process took half an hour. The documents arrived by post two days later. She felt so much better.

Tip: Ask once


In the example above, Margo asked her dad for advice – exactly the right thing to do. However, if this is what you always do, or if you ask lots of people for advice and reassurance, then this can actually make the situation worse. It makes you dependent on them and you never learn to work things out for yourself.
Also, remember that Problem Solving is for immediate issues that are solvable by an action. If you use it as a technique for worry that is actually about a miniscule possibility or a situation where there is no solution, you will never learn to tolerate uncertainty. The reassurance-seeking can become an obsessive-compulsive behaviour you resort to every time.
If you catch yourself asking for advice regularly, resolve to stop doing this and follow the advice in the next section instead.

Read more and buy a great little book called How to Fix almost any Problem at www.fiveareas.com.
Rob Waller, 20/02/2011