Approach to problem solving- Look and break the problem down

After you’ve spent a good amount of time assessing how you feel emotionally and sorting through the emotions that have reared their head, you are now in the position of being able to look at the problem with an objective state of mind. Please note that we’re just talking about looking at the problem right now, we’re not talking about solutions yet. Don’t try to pull the cart before the horse when it comes to the problem solving process. There are three distinct phases in the process of solving problems, so don’t jump to the last phase of solving the problem. It’s important to focus on just approaching the problem first.

When it comes to looking at the problem, all you are really doing is making a note of the problem at hand. Take some time to objectively look at what you are facing and figure out every possible detail of the problem.

What can make a problem so overwhelming for us is that the problem itself might seem to be some big, ominous task that requires a massive undertaking. Like our emotions, if we try to look at a problem as just one big jumble we will end up feeling overwhelmed with what’s involved. Try not focusing on what is overwhelming and what kind of size the problem is. Try to sit down and break what you are facing down into as many small problems as possible. It’s way easier to handle a series of small problems than it is to handle one big one.

For example, let’s assume that one big problem that you’re facing is debt. Instead of summing up the entire problem just as “I owe $50,000” you can instead break down how much you owe and where into a series of smaller steps. For example, you can break down your debt so it looks like this:

–              Car Debt: 15,000

–              Credit Card Debt 10,000

–              Student Loans 25,000

See, with the action of taking a hard look at your financial problems and breaking it down, you’ve turned one big problem into three separate problems that are smaller in size. They might still total up to a $50,000 in debt, but by focusing on each piece of the puzzle rather than the whole, you can receive clarity on just exactly what needs to be handled.

The more you focus on breaking a problem down into its elements, the less overwhelmed you will feel about the problem at hand. Most problems aren’t anything more than complicated To-Do lists. But because we don’t break them down, we become intimidated by the size of what threatens us.

The key to overcoming the overwhelming problems that often scare us into submission isn’t trying to solve the problem immediately. Instead, it is being able to look at our own emotional responses. Then see how we feel in the moment and then focus on how we can look directly at the problem without becoming intimidated.

There’s an old story about two men, lumberjacks by trade, who come together and decide that they are going to have a contest. Whoever chops the most wood, they agree, within five hours is the winner of the contest. Well, the younger man immediately sets about cutting trees, chopping hour after hour after hour. Eventually when he finishes he proudly looks at the many trees that he felled. He had noticed that the older lumberjack had been sitting idly for a few hours while he was working, so the younger man was confident that he would win the contest.

When the young lumberjack went to brag to the older one, he discovered that the old man had absolutely decimated his side of the forest. He had cut almost twice as many trees in the time that the young man had. Confused and taken aback, the young lumberjack asked “how did you cut so many trees down when I started before you and kept cutting trees down relentlessly?” The old man grinned and replied “Well, I spent one hour cutting down trees, but I spent four hours sharpening my axe.”

When it comes to solving problems, the knee jerk reaction is to just jump into figuring out how to have a solution as quickly as possible. The fact is, however, that when we slow our process down and focus on building up a strong method of being able to look at problems and analyze them, we are in the act of sharpening our axes. The goal isn’t to be able to solve specific problems, rather the goal is to become a problem solver and that starts with changing your mindset.


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