Efficient Problem Solving

By Shelton Piland, Supervisee in Clinical Social Work in Northern, VA

Patients frequently come to me for advice when they encounter a problem and do not know what to do, where to go next or how to address the problem. We are usually able to work together to dissect the issue and make a plan of action. All too often patients face challenges and become overwhelmed with the thought process, causing anxiety and negative thoughts can quickly snowball out of control.

It is worth the effort to sit down and write out the problem you are facing in order to solve it. Here are some tips on how to do so efficiently.

  1. Identify the problem. Break it down into smaller steps and decide what you need to put into action first.
  2. Brainstorm and write down as many ideas as you can that might solve the problem, no matter how silly they seem. Do not dismiss any possible solutions.
  3. Consider the pros and cons of each possible solution using a separate piece of paper.
  4. Choose one of the possible solutions that looks likely to work, based on the advantages and disadvantages.
  5. Plan out step-by-step what you need to do to carry out this solution. What? When? How? With whom or what? What could cause problems? How can you get around those problems? Is this realistic and achievable?
  6. Do it! Carry out the plan
  7. Review how it went. Was it helpful? Did you achieve what you set out to achieve? If not, how could you have done it differently? Did you achieve any progress, however small, towards your goal? What have you learned?
  8. If you achieved your goal – consider tackling the next step of your original problem. If you didn’t fully achieve your goal – make adjustments to your chosen solution, or return to steps 3 and 4 and choose another possible solution

Problem solving does not need to be messy and overwhelming. We do not always give ourselves the time we need in order to make efficient and educated decisions. Self-care includes creating and allowing space for ourselves to process thoughts, feelings and challenges!

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