How to Cultivate the Habits of a Problem Solver

Drive, confidence and an open mind help Duke employees overcome obstacles

Tiwonda Johnson-Blount, administrative coordinator for Duke’s Medical Scientist Training Program, has earned a reputation as an adept workplace problem solver.

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As the administrative coordinator for Duke’s Medical Scientist Training Program, where students work toward both a Ph.D. and M.D., Tiwonda Johnson-Blount gets tricky logistical questions.

She might get asked about how parking works as students jump between medical school and graduate school. She’ll offer help to students who have questions regarding their funding or steps to take after defending a Ph.D thesis.

“Every problem, to me, is an opportunity to learn,” Johnson-Blount said. “That’s something I’ve always done. I feel like I have to know the answer … I have to figure this out or it will bug me.”Ma

ny workplaces have people who, like Johnson-Blount, are adept at sorting out issues. With the help of some Duke experts, here are some habits that make those employees effective problem solvers.

Amass knowledge

Some jobs – think IT technicians or doctors – require constant problem solving. The ability to diagnose and remedy an issue effectively are central to what they do.

James Emery , associate professor of the practice at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, specializes in leadership and team dynamics. He said that a common thread among people who excel in roles is a desire to keep learning.

“Generally-speaking, people who have more familiarity and more domain-specific knowledge are going to be more effective problem solvers,” Emery said. “The more times they’ve seen this type of problem, the faster they can figure out the set of steps they need to follow to solve it.”

Don’t give up

The more complex a problem, the longer it takes to solve it. The longer it takes to solve, the more likely someone is to quit trying.

Johnson-Blount said that, when presented with a problem, she feels compelled to figure it out, so she won’t quit until she does.

“The best problem solvers tend to be those that are motivated to really persist and apply more mental effort to try and solve it,” Emery said.

Plan for everything

Abby Farrell , a senior practice partner with Duke Learning & Organization Development, teaches classes on project management, a discipline that requires a strong ability to overcome problems that may arise.

She said that a key factor to working through problems is understanding that they pop up and making a plan in advance.

“People usually tend to think about things in the perfect world,” Farrell said. “Sometimes I have to remind them that it is OK to be adaptable and to be flexible. The end goal is to stay on track. Not everything is going to be perfect. It’s OK to think about the worst-case scenario. Should you get there, it’s important to already have a contingency plan in place.”

Keep an open mind

When she won a Presidential Award, Johnson-Blount was working as a staff assistant for the director of graduate studies in the Duke Literature Program. She streamlined the complicated task of gathering course information from faculty members and crafted a departmental course schedule. While coming up with her method – which involved building an online form – she incorporated features suggested by faculty.

The form was her idea, but she valued input. 

“You can’t have a narrow way of thinking,” Farrell said. “It’s important to be open to different perspectives.”

Believe in yourself

In working with teams of Fuqua students, Emery said he can often sense the ones that will be especially successful solving whatever problems are thrown their way. The successful teams are often the ones that possess an unshakable confidence that they will solve the problem.

Described as self-efficacy, this kind of confidence is a simple trait, but Emery said it’s an important one.

“You’ve got to have the belief that I as an individual or us as a team can collectively solve the problem,” Emery said. “It’s really hard for a team to maintain its effectiveness in solving the strategic problems that it needs to when it begins to doubt itself.”

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The Simplest Ways to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

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Have you ever been highly trained for a position only to find that when you actually dive into the job, all kinds of things come up that require quick decisions and problem-solving skills that you weren’t ever trained for?

Problem-solving skills are part of everyday living and are necessary for all aspects of life. They aren’t just for solving math and science problems. They’re needed for all kinds of positions such as doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, construction workers, and professional drivers.

If you’re a creative person, you have the ability to be an excellent problem-solver. Anyone can sharpen problem solving skills using the power of the mind.

1. Have a healthy frame of mind.

Try not to panic or play the victim . Don’t think, “Why me?” Think, “How can I resolve this?” The two things to always bring into the situation are positive thinking and open-mindedness.

2. Keep emotions out of it.

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. This is exactly why a stable frame of mind is paramount. Remember that for every problem there is a solution. Don’t get tunnel-visioned so that the problem is magnified. Problem-solving skills are one of the traits of successful people.

3. Know when to speak up and when to keep a problem to yourself.

Sometimes, alerting others of a problem that you’re experiencing breeds additional drama. However, often times in the business setting, it’s wise to alert superiors and co-workers so that they can assist in solving it before the problem escalates. If you’re not sure whether to speak up, check office regulations, or perhaps wait until you can make an informed decision.

4. Define the problem clearly.

Before beginning, make sure you completely understand exactly what the problem is . Sometimes it looks like there’s a lot of problems, but it’s actually just one with a lot of symptoms. Try to find the root cause of a problem instead of looking at a myriad of symptomatic issues. Ask questions like these:

–  What is the real problem?

–  What assumptions am I making that could be biased or inaccurate?

–  Where’s the latest information/research/data on this subject?

–  How long do I have before this becomes a bigger issue?

–  Can I ignore this problem?

–  Who and what can help solve this?

5. Identify causes… especially the root cause.

Consider how and why it happened. Look at the problem from different perspectives. Play the devil’s advocate. It wouldn’t be considered a ‘problem’ if you knew how to solve it. This is why it’s imperative to consider other views and opinions. Others may see it differently.

6. Gather as many facts as possible.

Collect information based on evidence… not on feelings. It’s easier to come up with problem-solving strategies when you’re not emotionally charged. An informed mind is much more capable of resolution than an uninformed one. Observe what is going right, or the positive aspects of the subject at hand, and to see if it gives ideas of how to fix what’s going wrong. Then, do the same with the negative aspects. Write them down.

7. Brainstorm solutions.

Before brainstorming, make sure you’ve clearly defined the problem and gathered solid facts. Ask others for input. Often how others view something is completely different than how you viewed it because you might be too close, tunnel-visioned, or too emotionally charged to make distinctions between the facts and exaggerations.

8. Make a decision as soon as possible.

Procrastination is not your friend when it comes to problem solving. When a problem is avoided it either becomes a larger problem or splits into many problems. Be diligent about defining the problem and gathering solid information so that you can brainstorm effectively.

9. Assign responsibility for who does what in the resolution.

Know what prompts your abilities and/or the abilities of your team. Use outlines, graphic organizers, color codes, charts, tables, graphs, and spreadsheets. Any of these tools can help organize and plan out the steps required for whatever solution you decide on. They can also ensure that you don’t get sidetracked and focus on things that are irrelevant to the original problem.

10. Set standards to measure progress and/or deadlines for completion/resolution.

Establish criteria that proposed solutions must meet. This way, if you implement a plan of action and you monitor the results, you will see before you become frustrated whether it’s working or not. If it’s not working, you waste less time.

11. Take actions that are focused on a solution.

Select your solution and begin making a step-by-step plan of action to solve the problem. By making a plan, this promotes implementation of the solution. Remember to remain focused on one thing at a time.

12. If you can’t find a solution, go back and define what the problem is.

When problems cannot be solved, it is usually because they weren’t clearly identified. Anytime you hear someone say they’ve been dealing with a problem for quite some time, often the reason is because they haven’t slowed down long enough to carefully define the actual problem.

If problem solving skills are a challenge for you, just follow these steps.  Before long, you will become an excellent problem solver and an asset for any team, business, or organization.

Find out why solving problems often takes a team .

Featured photo credit: Marco Bellucci via http

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Problem-Solving Skills: 5 Habits You Should Ditch Right Now

how to develop problem solving habit

Problem-solving is a beneficial skill to have in today’s working environment. Learn the ways to develop this skill.

Problem-solving skills  are a constant source of strife for busy working people. Problems can snowball, stress can hinder your productivity, and it doesn’t help when the boss is watching.

Here are some bad habits you can get rid of for better problem-solving and a more effective workday. With proper implementation, you can transform these bad habits into good habits and greatly increase your problem-solving skills.

1. Procrastinating

Procrastinating is the  opposite  of problem-solving.

When a decision is looming and a job or reputation is on the line, there are several common ways people react:

Why do we do this to ourselves?

These options certainly don’t look appealing, yet they end up being a reality. If you constantly find these to be your frequent actions, you may be averse to conflict. If anything, conflict aversion is rarely about the problem so much as it is about our mindset.

An effective problem-solving mindset involves embracing a healthy amount of conflict on a regular basis and looking for opportunities hidden within that problem. Easier said than done, right?

Not quite! If you start the process by listing your options (even unfavorable ones you might have discounted from the beginning) and write down the pros and cons of each, it will clear the mental haze. You will also get rid of factors that are fear-based, not reason-based.

2. Doing It Alone

Another great way to rid of fear-based reasoning is by sharing the load! Problem-solving skills are something you need to hone on your own, of course, but there’s no need to try and fix everything yourself. A diverse group of people creates checks and balances, challenging your problem-solving fears.

Team problem solving may seem like it brings more conflict, but it doesn’t! It’s an evolved trait that humans (and other animals) have used over the centuries to thrive in changing, fast-paced environments. Odds are, your environment is that way, too!

Keep in mind that, while your boss or superior may appreciate your independent work, sometimes that can limit the mind and opportunities for inspiration. It can be more efficient to create a team-building effort and play off each other’s strengths than to do something alone and let your project suffer.

Team problem solving

Experience comes with practice, both alone and in groups. The independent part can still be present in either situation: it’s a matter of learning when you need help and creating good habits around asking for it when you do.

Don’t forget to let your workplace work for you, not the other way around. Check out mind tools for more ways to further your team-oriented problem-solving!

3. Worrying or Stressing

Do you worry about a task or project more than actually working on it? Have you addressed the first red flag making you stressed?

Examine your problem-solving abilties to see how much of a role stress plays

Does stress prevent you from seeing obvious solutions? Do trial and error continually fail you?  Edward O’Neill  offers several problems that test our framework for solving problems.

Stress isn’t all bad, don’t get us wrong. There’s a time and place for stress that’s different for everyone. There is such a thing as good anxiety, which is just a “power mode” of sorts. Your brain anticipates possible problems and goes into high gear to help you solve problems and adapt to changes along the way.

Eliminate the symptoms of stress

This can help clear your mind a bit, especially if you’re not in full control of the problem you’re trying to solve.

You can try taking short breaks outside to relieve stress, aiming for as natural a setting as possible. Drink plenty of water, eat as healthy as you can, experiment with stress-relief foods (chocolate is a great go-to for stress relief) . Listen to a song that takes you to your happy place. Look at art that inspires or moves you. Make good habits out of this type of self-care. This is undeniably one of the best problem-solving strategies out there.

Take action against stress

When the symptoms of stress can’t be put off, it’s time to work through the stress before it causes more problems than it helps to solve. If we don’t listen to a stressful thought and address it the first time, it will usually pop back up (more worrisome than ever) later.

This can drastically reduce your productivity and especially your momentum, which is a super effective problem-solving strategy.

Huffington Post  talks about the concept of worrying well, which channels healthy amounts of stress to eliminate bad stress (that shows up later as weight or sleep problems, and more). This keeps your mind moving forward, instead of getting stuck on one particular stressor.

Start one step ahead of stress

Give yourself time in the morning to start the day off right . You were designed to take action when attacked with worry or problems.

Solve a few small problems (working out, doing a mini Sudoku puzzle, organizing papers or lists) before you head to work. This way, those problems won’t negatively affect bigger problems, and you won’t start the problem-solving process feeling so overwhelmed.

Bookend your day with self-actualized positivity; this can be as easy as writing down something great about yourself that a bad day can’t take away from you, perhaps once when you wake up and once before you get into bed.

This exercise will help you over time, not just each individual day!

4. Only Thinking With Your Head

Thinking with our hands comes naturally in some situations, but rarely problem-solving or decision making; still, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving (literally) go hand-in-hand!

Picture having a conversation with someone or giving a presentation: there is movement, gesturing, hands-on demonstrations, etc. This moves the thinking process along and helps actualize our ideas. Surprisingly, thinking alone is not one of the best problem-solving strategies.

Even if you think you’re all intellectual with clumsy hands, that doesn’t matter! You can still physically interact with your environment to further productive problem solving, regardless of your fine motor skills.

If moving makes you uncomfortable, put pen to paper and write down or map out your problem. This alone will change your mode of thinking and focus you on the possible solutions.

5. Skimping On Sleep

Busy people can try to go to bed early and get good sleep, but learning how your body relaxes is most important.

Research shows that the more REM sleep you get, the better you will be at creative and effective problem-solving. Even mid-day naps help with problem-solving skills and mental clarity, which is why so many companies are including opportunities for R&R in the workplace.

For creative problems that you’ve already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions; however, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity. – Sara Mednick, Ph.D., University of California San Diego

This means you need to make your bedtime or nap time as relaxing as possible (studies show that imitating sounds and feelings related to the nature of the womb are the best ways to kick your relaxing instincts into high gear).

Also, this Dormio app works wonders in helping you to fall asleep quickly and soundly .

Feel free to use a smart app to track your REM sleep and test different sleep aids, such as white noise or looped instrumentals. Whatever you choose, we hope it refreshes your mind and problem-solving strategies.

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Matt is a copywriter for Mindvalley. As a professional word putterer, he can be found constantly squeezing his creative juices to concoct personal growth narratives to transport people to a place where great potential knows no bounds. He is also on a quest to be seriously funny.

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how to develop problem solving habit

3 Key Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Updated: Jan 17

✎ Written by: Dubravka Reb ic ✓ Fact-checked by: Dr. Glen Doniger, Ph.D.

how to develop problem solving habit

• Improving our critical thinking skills is essential to improving our problem-solving and decision-making skills. • You can improve your critical thinking skills by following 3 cognitive habits recommended by Michael Kallet in his book "Think Smarter".

• This article was reviewed by Dr. Glen Doniger, an expert in cognitive neuroscience who holds a Ph.D. from New York University

Developing the right habits can increase your productivity because they reduce cognitive load and save your energy. If you repeat a behavior long enough, you spend little to no time thinking about the process—the behavior becomes automatic.

While automatic mode can be helpful when driving your car or brushing your teeth, it can also be a drawback because it makes you prone to mistakes.

That is because the automatic mode can distort, discard, and create information that affects your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When thinking about something important, you should take a step back and notice your thoughts. Then, get out of automatic mode and get into a mindful one by using critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a process that requires you to assess and understand a situation and to come to a conclusion about what to do.

The Importance of Critical Thinking

When we review problems using critical thinking tools, we get new perspectives and ideas. We make better decisions, come up with more innovative solutions, and enjoy faster outcomes.

Imagine you’re a manager and you’ve noticed a spike in your department’s workload. You might assume that the workload change is temporary, so you think that asking your team to work overtime is the best solution.

But if you thought the workload increase was permanent, you might start interviewing for a new full-time hire. As you can see, a simple shift in perspective can result in a different solution.

In the book Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills , author Michael Kallet presents a framework and set of tools to apply critical thinking techniques to everyday issues.

This framework consists of three key habits that can improve your critical thinking skills:

Clarity: understanding the problem

Conclusions: finding the solution

Decisions: performing an action depending on the conclusion

Let’s break it down, shall we?

First Phase of Improving Critical Thinking Skills: Achieving Clarity

The first phase, clarity, consists of understanding the problem you want to solve. This phase is crucial because if you’re unable to identify the problem you’re trying to solve clearly, you risk approaching the wrong problem. You also risk redos, mistakes, and misunderstandings.

To achieve clarity, Michael Kallet suggests using these tools:

Emptying your bucket

Asking Why?

Using Anticipatory thinking

Asking What else?

Clarity Tool #1: Emptying your bucket

The metaphorical bucket represents memories of your experiences: past projects or attempts at solving a problem. These experiences can significantly affect the way you reach conclusions.

Next time you encounter a problem, try writing down all the items you think are in your bucket that might be influencing the way you think about the solution. Then, consider how your view of the situation would be different if those bucket items didn’t exist.

By understanding what’s in your bucket and how it impacts your perspective, you can learn to create new resolutions and come up with more creative solutions.

Clarity Tool #2: Inspecting

Inspecting is the act of determining what all the words in a given problem definition mean. By developing a clear understanding of the terms you will be better equipped to eliminate any confusion surrounding them.

Let’s say you’re writing an email. Before hitting “Send”, ask yourself,“ Is what I am about to send clear? Could any of the recipients of this email misinterpret what I mean ?”

Suppose your email said, “ We need to get this done ASAP! ”

Instead, you might say, “ It takes us ten days to do this, and we need to do it in seven days .”

The latter definition is more precise and clear.

Clarity Tool #3: Asking Why

Asking Why results in answers that enable you to dive deeper into the problem and get a clearer understanding of your objective for solving it.

When setting goals: Ask, “ Why is that the goal ?”

When setting and evaluating priorities: Ask, “ Why is that so crucial?

When something unexpected or unplanned occurs: In this situation, you might want to look for the root cause by asking, “Why did that occur?” or “Why did we miss that?”

When someone asks you for something: Ask, “Why are you asking for that?”

When someone says, “We can’t do that”: Ask, “Why can’t we do that?”

Knowing the why before beginning any task can have a tremendous impact on how you approach it.

Clarity Tool #4: Using Anticipatory Thinking

Anticipatory thinking is a way to stimulate thinking about consequences. It’s also about asking, “What’s next? or “ What this action may cause?”

For example, instead of thinking:

“Customers will not be happy if we do that, ” try asking: “What will happen if we do that?” .

Clarity Tool #5: Asking What Else?

You can ask what else to keep the thinking going, to stimulate new ideas and new possibilities, but also to prevent premature closure of an issue, idea, or solution.

Asking what else is also beneficial:

When you’re brainstorming, in order to encourage new ideas, concepts, and explanations

When you’re building or designing something

When you think you know the reason behind a problem—keep thinking about what else could have caused it.

Second Phase of Improving Critical Thinking Skills: Making Conclusions

The second phase, conclusions , consists of finding the right solution.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready to get out of the clarity phase and enter the conclusion phase, think about the following questions:

Do I have a clear definition of what the problem is?

Why am I working on this?

Who should be involved?

Why does this problem need to be solved?

What does success look like when the issue is solved?

In case you can reply to these questions with certainty, it’s more than likely that you’ll come up with a quality solution.

Conclusion Tool: Making the Right Assumption

An assumption is a thought you have and presume to be correct.

The difference between automatic and critical thinking is that in automatic mode, you take it for granted your assumptions are correct. However, by using critical thinking, you ask: “How do I know my assumption is a good one?”

Assumptions are based on facts, observations, and experiences. In the conclusions phase, you are making sure your assumptions are not based on a single experience or information that’s not a fact.

Whenever you come up with a solution, go back and ask yourself what assumptions you are making and why.

The Danger of Incorrect Assumptions

Judicial sentencing decisions should be guided by facts, not by chance. Yet, in one study , researchers found that sentencing decisions can be influenced by irrelevant sentencing demands.

Experienced jurists participated in a study of sentencing decisions. All the jurists, who were either judges or experienced lawyers, read a criminal case description that could result in a jail sentence of up to one year.

Then they were asked what sentence they would hand down given the facts of the case. Some jurists were told that a newspaper article had speculated the sentence would be three months, while others were told that an article had speculated the sentence would be nine months.

Those jurists given the larger anchor (i.e., a nine-month sentence) reported they would hand down significantly longer sentences than those given the smaller anchor. An anchor is an aspect of the environment that has no direct relevance to a decision but affects judgments. The influence of anchoring is an important illustration of the dangers of purely automatic thinking.

Third Phase of Improving Critical Thinking Skills: Making Decisions

The third and final phase, decisions , consists of creating an action list.

Once you have selected a possible solution, create an action list by answering these questions:

What needs to be done and by whom?

Can I create subtasks?

How much time, money, and effort will I need?

What rewards will I get when I solve the problem?

After you reach a solution, evaluate the results to determine if it’s the best possible solution to a problem. Think about how effective it was. Did you achieve what you wanted? How do you know this?

It’s important to review what worked, what didn’t, and what impact the solution had. These insights may help you to improve your long-term problem-solving skills.

When trying to solve a complex problem, the most important thing is getting out of automatic thinking mode and using critical thinking tools. The framework consists of three phases:

1. First Phase of Improving Critical Thinking: Achieving Clarity

Emptying your bucket: making sure that your past experiences are not affecting the way you think about the solution

Inspecting: eliminating confusion by determining what all the words in a given problem definition mean

Asking Why: diving deeper into the problem and finding the right approach

Anticipatory thinking: stimulating thinking about consequences to avoid failure

Asking What Else: stimulating new ideas and preventing fast conclusions

2. Second Phase of Improving Critical Thinking: Making Conclusions

Ensuring that your assumptions are not made based on a single experience or information that’s not a fact

3. Third Phase of Improving Critical Thinking: Making Decisions

Determining what needs to be done and by whom

Creating subtasks

Evaluating time and resources

Determining the reward

Measuring results

Critical thinking takes discipline , but it can drastically improve your problem-solving skills. By practicing, critical thinking may become second nature to you. So, next time you need to make an important decision, take a step back and use your new toolbox. The results may surprise you!

About the author:

how to develop problem solving habit

To help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space, Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.

About the reviewer:

how to develop problem solving habit

Dr. Doniger is a cognitive neuroscientist with two decades of experience in the neurotech industry. He holds a PhD from New York University and has been involved in studies of visual perception, cognitive training, neurofeedback , and neurostimulation using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques in a variety of research and clinical settings.

Reference list:

Michael Kallet. Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills . Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2014.

Englich B, Mussweiler T, Strack F. Playing dice with criminal sentences: the influence of irrelevant anchors on experts' judicial decision making . Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2006 Feb;32(2):188-200. doi: 10.1177/0146167205282152. PMID: 16382081.

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Lightning Problem Solving

7 Habits of Highly Effective Problem Solvers

7 Habits of Highly Effective Problem Solvers (and How to Identify Bad Ones!)

Hi! Welcome back to Lightning Problem Solving where you’ll always get the low down on cutting-edge manufacturing and problem solving techniques! Today we’re going to start the discussion about the habits of highly effective problem solvers, and (bonus!) how to identify the bad ones. At the end of this blog, I’m even going to give you a checklist – for free! It’s like your own cheat sheet to find out if you have champions or duds on the payroll. And I’m telling you guys, it’s probably a little crazy that I’m even giving you this list. Friends keep asking me why in the world would I be giving away my trade secrets like this for free. But I really like to see people succeed!

First, as a freebie just for reading this blog, I’ve put together some awesome questions for you to evaluate whether or not you already have good problem solvers working for you. If you’re the man or woman in charge, you’re going to want to remember these! (I have a printer-friendly version available free, right here:  Free Printable Problem Solver Evaluation )

Sneaky Question Number One

The first question to ask is very simple and your employees will never even suspect that you’re evaluating them! Just ask in a very nonchalant tone:

A good problem solver should be able to update you on their project in only 5 minutes. So if your problem-solver is updating you on their project and they say something like, “Well, this is really complicated…” that’s a BAD sign. It’s going to take an hour for them just to update you! They’re going to explain how complex their project is and try to convince you of how smart they are. This is a bad habit and the first symptom that your problem solver needs some extra training.

Root Cause Question Number Two

The next thing to ask your problem solver is:

A successful problem solver will answer with a high number of problems solved. Versus a bad problem solver telling you how complicated their projects are, having solved very few or none of them.

Now, just because someone claims to have solved a lot of problems does NOT necessarily mean they’re a good problem solver either. I’m going to help you make sure! So the next question to ask would be:

Boomerang Question Number Three

Of course nobody is going to want to admit any of their “solved” problems have come back to haunt them. But hopefully with a little investigation you’ll be able to figure it out.

You’ll find that a lot of people who call themselves problem solvers are actually just solution hunters . Solution hunters are only concerned with finding a “quick fix” to every problem. They might find a LOT of what I call “bandage solutions,” but, the same problems will keep coming back. Duct tape can only hold for so long! Or, even worse, sometimes their quick fix will cause other problems to spring up that weren’t even there before. This is due to the fact that they didn’t identify the Root Cause of the problem before sticking a bandage on it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you think you might have a Solution Hunter instead of a Problem Solver working for you? Click here to check out my video called Root Cause vs. Solution for a more in-depth look!

Double Whammy Questions Four and Five

Assuming your problem-solver understands the difference between root causes and solutions, you should also ask them:

The number of solutions should be higher than the number of root causes identified, if you have a good problem-solver. This is because if they find the actual root cause, there are normally several good solutions. But if they found a solution and you ask them, “Tell me another solution,” and they can’t answer – they probably have a bandage solution and never figured out the actual root cause at all. Bummer.

Ok, here’s that list I promised you at the beginning of this blog! Are you ready? Again, people can’t believe I give out information like this that’s taken my whole career to accumulate, but I really want you guys to be successful.

The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For…

…the Good Vs. Bad Checklist!

(Click here for the free, printer-friendly version:  Free Printable 7 Habits .)

1.  Good problem-solvers will actively gather data.

2.  Good problem-solvers know how to ask questions without emotion and NEVER guess.

3.  Good problem-solvers don’t need to have any previous knowledge of the problem in order to solve it. They can use contrast to find the root cause quickly.

4.  Good problem-solvers know how to effectively rule out and eliminate potential root causes.

Understand a problem solver should generally say they have identified the main root cause once they can solve over 50% of the problem. Keep in mind there might be a 2 nd root cause for the next, smaller percentage of the problem. You’ll want to discuss with your management whether or not it’s worth pursuing further.

5.  Good problem-solvers can sort through smart people’s opinions.

6.  Good problem-solvers will always confirm that they have root cause.

7.  Good problem-solvers will work smarter not harder.

But working hard is much better than sitting at a desk, because problems will not be solved sitting at your desk.

So there you have it. Those are my 7 Habits of Highly Effective Problem-Solvers. You now have the tools you need in your kit to identify the bad ones, too!

Shakedown and Regroup!

If you found that any of your problem-solvers have some bad habits, it’s not the end of the world. Feel free to give me a call! With a little expert training in the right areas, even your worst problem-solvers can become MacGyvers of Lightning Fast Problem Solving!

Be sure to comment below if this blog has helped you. I want to live vicariously through your success stories! Watch more of my videos and subscribe to my channel so you’ll never miss out on my latest problem solving techniques. Thanks for stopping by and have an awesome day!

PS. If you missed today’s free printables, you can access them here:

Free Printable Problem Solver Evaluation

Free Printable 7 Habits

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Author:  Tom

Raised on a family farm in rural Minnesota, Tom is a strong believer in the merit of honest, hard work. But his passion to work smarter, not just harder, drew him to engineering where he has spent his career as a problem-solver, always looking for yet a faster, better way to make companies more profitable than ever. "Every problem that I have solved I looked back and asked myself, 'how could I have solved it 1 day faster?'” With extensive expertise in various problem-solving methodologies, Tom has dedicated himself to re-inventing problem-solving. He has discovered that, by using his lightning problem-solving methods, up to 90% of all manufacturing problems can, and should, be solved in only 3 days! Tom's years of practical, hands-on experience worldwide, has made him an authority on all things related to problem-solving and lean manufacturing.

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How to Improve Problem Solving Skills

Last Updated: October 14, 2022 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Erin Conlon, PCC, JD . Erin Conlon is an Executive Life Coach, the Founder of Erin Conlon Coaching, and the host of the podcast "This is Not Advice." She specializes in aiding leaders and executives to thrive in their career and personal lives. In addition to her private coaching practice, she teaches and trains coaches and develops and revises training materials to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. She holds a BA in Communications and History and a JD from The University of Michigan. Erin is a Professional Certified Coach with The International Coaching Federation. There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 96% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 212,449 times.

The ability to solve problems applies to more than just mathematics homework. Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of many jobs, ranging from accounting and computer programming to detective work and even creative occupations like art, acting, and writing. While individual problems vary, there are certain general approaches to problem-solving like the one first proposed by mathematician George Polya in 1945. [1] X Research source By following his principles of understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back, you can improve your problem-solving and tackle any issue systematically.

Define the problem clearly.

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State your objective.

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Gather information systematically.

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Analyze information.

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Generate possible solutions.

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Evaluate the solutions and choose.

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Implement a solution.

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Review and evaluate the outcome.

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Adjust if necessary.

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Do regular mental exercises.

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Play video games.

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Take up a hobby.

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About This Article

Erin Conlon, PCC, JD

To improve your problem-solving skills, start by clearly defining the problem and your objective or goal. Next, gather as much information as you can about the problem and organize the data by rewording, condensing, or summarizing it. Then, analyze the information you've gathered, looking for important links, patterns, and relationships in the data. Finally, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate the solutions, and choose one to implement. For tips on implementing solutions successfully, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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A Beginner’s Guide for Becoming a Better Problem Solver

How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself. – Norman Vincent Peale

Three Methods of Thinking

Problem-solving, creative and critical thinking go hand-in-hand helping us to see the world from a number of different vantage points. Each of these ways of thinking strengthens our capacity to think flexibly and intelligently when faced with the unending problems that life throws our way.

This post will specifically focus on the process of problem-solving and how you can use it to break through life’s most difficult challenges. We will specifically explore the attitude, beliefs, habits, and qualities that are indispensable for effective problem-solving. We will also outline a primary problem-solving method that will help you to break down any obstacles that stand in your way. And to finish off we will look at some ongoing problem-solving tactics you can use to keep your mind focused and proactive when dealing with life’s daily challenges.

This article post is part of the  Effective Thinking  series of IQ Matrix maps that are designed to help you successfully deal with the problems and challenges confronting your reality. Topics within this series include:

• Part 1: Strategic Questions • Part 2: Creative Thinking • Part 3: Problem Solving • Part 4: Critical Thinking • Part 5: Six Thinking Hats

Indispensable Problem Solver Attributes

To become a great problem solver requires a little more than a set of effective problem-solving strategies. In fact, your ability to solve problem starts in your head at a psychological level.

If you do not take the time to fully condition your mind and prepare it for the act of problem-solving, then you will struggle to consistently adopt the daily behaviors and rituals that are required for effective problem-solving.

Within this section, we will identify the indispensable attributes required for problem-solving that you must learn to cultivate on a daily basis. If you fail to incorporate these qualities into your psyche, then you will struggle to apply the relevant problem-solving techniques and strategies discussed in this post.

A Problem Solver’s Attitude

A problem solver’s attitude determines how they consistently tackle problems on a daily basis. This attitude is evident in their thoughts, behaviors, and actions, and it is this attitude that helps build their resolve and shapes their character.

Let’s delve into the mind of an effective problem solver and identify some of the attitudes that are absolutely indispensable to their ongoing success:

“I will make sure to do things carefully.”

An effective problem solver always strives to work through their problems in a patient, meticulous and careful way. They fully understand that the care they give to a problem at the beginning will help them to realize better results in the future.

“This problem can be solved.”

An effective problem solver intuitively understands that any problem can and will be solved, given enough time, patience and meticulous careful attention.

“I must persist until a solution is reached.”

An effective problem solver knows that not all problems will be solved within the time frame they may have expected. However, they also understand that if they are persistent and resolute, that eventually a solution will be found.

“If I don’t solve it now, I will next time.”

An effective problem solver realizes that whatever cannot be solved now, will eventually be solved another time.

They fully understand that due to their current level of skill, knowledge, or simply due to circumstances out of their control, that a solution simply cannot be reached.

An effective problem solver will bide their time to acquire new information and knowledge, to develop and enhance their skill levels, and to gain insights from a variety of perspectives. They completely understand that eventually, the right solution will indeed come their way as long as they never give up.

“I am going to enjoy this process.”

An effective problem solver knows that unless they adopt a playful, curious and inquisitive attitude, that they will struggle to find appropriate solutions. They therefore always strive to find new and unique ways to enjoy the process of working their way through a problem.

Problem Solver Attitude, Beliefs and Habits

A Problem Solver’s Beliefs

An effective problem solver has a set of indispensable beliefs and convictions that direct and propels their thoughts, actions, and daily behaviors. These beliefs are so deeply ingrained in their psyche that it would take the force and willpower of the entire world to shake these feeling of certainty.

Beliefs are opinions that we have about things, ourselves, others and the world around us that are injected with an undeniable sense of certainty.

Let’s now take a look at a handful of beliefs that are critical for effective problem solving:

“There is no failure, only feedback.”

An effective problem solver believes that outcomes bring with them no failure, but rather only feedback. This feedback must be used as a source of knowledge, insight, and inspiration to help enhance the decision-making process.

“There is a way to make this work.”

An effective problem solver believes that there is always a way to make things work. They may not see the solution at this very moment, however with a little persistence they wholeheartedly believe that they will eventually reach a satisfactory outcome.

“Choice is better than no choice.”

An effective problem solver believes that it is better to have more choices than to be limited by the choices that one has. As such, they always strive to expand the possibilities, to expand the opportunities and avenues for answers — allowing for as many choices as possible to further their understanding of the problem.

“Success can be modeled.”

An effective problem solver believes that successful problem solving can be modeled. As such, they consistently seek out other people who have successfully overcome similar problems and they attempt to model their thinking, decisions, and actions in a meticulous way. This helps them to overcome the obstacles and challenges in their own life.

“Curiosity expands opportunities and possibilities.”

An effective problem solver believes that one must be curious at all times if one desires to spot the opportunities and possibilities that lie along one’s path.

Curiosity is an endearing characteristic that helps expand creativity, intelligence and one’s ability to think under pressure.

A Problem Solver’s Habits

An effective problem solver has a set of daily habits and rituals. These habits assist them to think more effectively and proactively about the problems and challenges they are confronted with.

Let’s take a look at three habitual thinking patterns that are indispensable for effective problem solving:

Deep Probing

An effective problem solver cultivates the habit of deep-probing. This involves the process of meticulous thinking, which takes into account all angles and perspectives about a problem — making sure that nothing is left to chance.

They fully realize that through a process of simple deduction that they will be better able to work their way through the problem in a more effective and efficient way.

The habit of deep probing can be compared to the simple act of peeling layers off an onion. Each layer that the problem solver peels allows them to dig deeper into the heart of the problem, and thusly closer to the inevitable solution.

Associating with the Past

An effective problem solver realizes that any new piece of information can effectively be associated with past memories, experiences, and learnings, to further their problem-solving ability.

Recognizing Patterns

An effective problem solver effortlessly recognizes patterns within every problem or circumstance.

Everything within our Universe is built upon patterns and rhythmic dances that create the events and circumstances of our lives. In fact, these same patterns cause and create our life’s problems and circumstances.

By identifying and learning to understand these patterns, effective problem solvers are able to decipher clues that will lead them to reliable solutions and answers.

When attempting to identify patterns look for similarities, differences, rhythms, errors, future scenarios and trends that the problem is bringing to light.

A Problem Solver’s Characteristics

An effective problem solver can easily be distinguished from others by the key personality characteristics that naturally help them to break down boundaries and attain the heights of logical and constructive thought.

The characteristics presented below are the primary traits we must cultivate within our own personalities if we seek to successfully overcome the problems and challenges that are confronting our daily lives.

An effective problem solver understands that many problems will never fully be solved if a risk isn’t involved.

A risk may mean overcoming a fear, thinking outside-the-box, or simply making the tough decisions that at the moment may seem uncertain and unclear.

Problem solvers are risk takers who believe that intelligent risk-taking will enable them to reach effective solutions to the challenges confronting their daily reality.

An effective problem solver is persistent in thought, decision, and action. They clearly understand that there are a means and way around any problem, fully believing that as long as they persist and persevere that they will always find an angle that will help them obtain a desired outcome.


An effective problem solver displays passion and enthusiasm at all times. These two qualities provide them with the energy and motivation they need to help them overcome the toughest of challenges.

An effective problem solver is meticulous with every step they take moving towards their desired outcomes.

This thoroughness allows them to work through their problems step-by-step — taking into account all angles and perspectives.

Adaptable and Flexible

An effective problem solver is constantly vigilant and aware of constantly changing circumstances. They clearly understand that problems can shift and change at a moments notice, and as a result, they must adapt their approach accordingly.

It is only through flexibility-of-thought that they are able to work through their problems in an efficient and effective way.

Open Minded

An effective problem solver is always humbly open minded to other people’s opinions and perspectives. They clearly understand that they do have all the answers and that others may indeed have alternative views that will help them to see things from new and unique perspectives. This likewise helps open the doors to new understandings that would not otherwise have been available to them.


An effective problem solver approaches their daily challenges in a light-hearted and playful manner. They fully realize the overwhelming power that problems can have on their psyche. To counteract this, they approach each problem in a playful and light-hearted way — helping them to find solutions and answers where others only see overwhelm and distress.

An effective problem solver is proactive. They understand, they just have to keep moving forward and continue to take proactive action no matter how uncertain events or circumstances may seem at any specific moment in time.

The opposite of being proactive is being reactive . When we are reactive  we become easily overwhelmed by the events and circumstances of our lives because we fail to take control of our emotional responses.

An effective problem solver is a curious thinker .

Curiosity naturally leads to a plethora of questions that need to be answered. Once answered, they can evolve into a myriad of solutions that will help you to attain your desired goals and objectives far more quickly.


An effective problem solver does not conform to the standards and norms of mainstream society. Instead, they think out of the box and break the rules in order to attain their desired outcomes.

The Primary Problem Solving Method

There are many problem-solving techniques and strategies that we could present here. However, there is essentially only one primary problem-solving method that will help you to structure and break down a problem step-by-step from the beginning to the very end. To view an advanced version of this problem-solving method, please check out the  Visual Thinking Path .

Within this section, we will work our way through a six-step primary problem-solving method.

By consciously learning to apply each of these steps/phases into your problem-solving regime, you will proactively take control of your daily decision-making process.

The Preparation Phase

This phase helps you to identify, define and decipher an overall picture and understanding of the problem that is currently confronting your reality.

As you progress through this phase, it is important to gain as much clarity about your problem as possible from absolutely every angle and perspective. Any assumptions or misunderstandings here could very well sabotage your ability to reach an effective solution. Therefore be very careful to clarify everything clearly and meticulously.

Identify the Problem

Your first step is to always clearly identify the problem that is confronting your reality. Many people fail to do this correctly, and as a result, they discover that what they thought was a problem is, in fact, a mistaken assumption that now requires a dramatically different approach.

Define Problem in Writing

Once you have identified the problem, your next step is to clearly define it on paper. It is only through the process of writing our thoughts down on paper that we attain the clarity we need to effectively deal with the challenges that stand in our way.

Question the Problem

To further clarify and expand your understanding about this problem, it is recommended that you ask yourself a set of open-ended questions that will help you to define the problem from a variety of angles and perspectives.

The questions you should be asking yourself must be focused on the What? When? Where? Why? Who? and How? of the problem under question.

Undertaking this process with meticulous attention will open new insights and understandings that will help you as you move through this problem-solving strategy.

It is important to understand that you are not seeking solutions or answers here but rather gathering insights about the problem from as many different angles and perspectives you can identify.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

What is the actual problem that is impeding my progress? When did this problem occur? Where did this problem first appear? Why is this problem impeding my progress? Who is involved in this problem? How is this problem influencing other areas of my life?

Determine Possible Causes

Once you have clarified the problem, your next step is to identify the possible causes that may have triggered these outcomes.

Again during this stage, you must continue asking What? When? Where? Why? Who? and How? questions.

What could be the potential causes of this problem? When did these causes originate? Where did these causes originate? Why did these causes originate? Who could have triggered this problem? How does all this help me with identifying the causes of this problem?

Reframe the Problem

Once you have identified and defined the causes of the problem, it is important to open your mind to alternative perspectives.

At this stage, you are not yet seeking answers or solutions but rather opening your mind to different perspectives that will help you to understand the problem from a variety of angles.

Here are a few reframing questions to get you started:

How might other people perceive this problem? How would I perceive this problem if I was to look back on it 12 months from this day? What if I was completely detached from this problem and its outcomes. How would I now perceive it? What has to be true for this to be a problem?

Define Desired Outcomes

Finally, you must gain clarity by defining the desired outcomes you would like to attain from successfully working your way through this problem.

These outcomes will help direct your mind towards solutions as you progressively move through the remaining phases.

The strategy you use to achieve this outcome isn’t important at this stage. The only thing that matters is that you clarify on paper the end objective or goal you would like to achieve.

Preparing for Problem Solving

The Generation Phase

This phase allows for free association and exploration of wild and crazy ideas that must not be judged, criticized or condemned for any reason.

The greater flexibility of thought you incorporate into this phase, the more effective the later phases will become.

It is important throughout this phase that you literally overwhelm your brain with as many solutions as possible. The greater the variety of solutions and strategies you come up with, the more insightful and effective the Incubation Phase will become.

Recall Past Learning, Experiences and Mistakes

Recalling your past life experiences will help you to gain a better perspective on your current predicament.

Many people constantly need to deal with the same ongoing problems because they simply fail to learn from their past experience and mistakes.

It is only through a process of self-reflection and understanding that we will gain the necessary insights to move through our current problems efficiently and effectively.

Keep in mind that any past experience — even if not directly related to your current problems — could potentially help you find the solutions you are after.

Explore Strategies and Solutions

Having brought your past learnings and mistakes into the present, you are now ready to brainstorm solutions and strategies that will help you to successfully overcome the challenge confronting your current reality.

While brainstorming it’s important not judge or criticize your solutions. Your thinking must flow effectively and efficiently from one idea to the next like water gently trickling off a leaf. All you are doing is generating possible and potential solutions that will help to expand your thinking and awareness about the problem you are currently experiencing.

You can lightly consider the drawbacks and obstacles that may be attached to each of your solutions, however primarily spend your time on the benefits of each strategy and how it could potentially lead you to the outcome you outlined within the Preparation Phase.

As a final thought, keep in mind that the how  isn’t important here. Instead, it is the what  that matters.

The Incubation Phase

This could very well be called the Resting Phase .

Your goal  here is to simply allow the solutions and ideas you came up with during the Generation Phase to harvest and grow within the recesses of your mind without ridicule or judgment.

The key here is to separate your mind from the problem so completely that it simply becomes irrelevant and insignificant.

Flowers cannot sprout and grow if weeds are dominating your thought process.

Indulge in Brainstorming Naps

Brainstorming naps are short 15 to 30-minute breaks you take throughout your day where you close your eyes and open yourself up to potential solutions.

Before you take these brainstorming naps, it is important that you partake in a good 30 to 45 minutes of intense thought and self-reflection about possible solutions to your problem.

As you lie back in a comfortable position and close your eyes, ask yourself the following questions:

How can I solve this problem in the most effective and efficient way? What must I do to attain my desired outcome?

Once your questions have been asked, simply settle down and observe your thoughts as though you are watching clouds drifting across the sky. Within these visual images, you may very well find the answers you are after.

Sleep on Problem

Simply put your problem to rest and go to sleep.

As you are nodding off, pose yourself insightful questions that will stimulate the thought process and encourage your brain to search for answers.

When you awaken the next morning, immediately reflect on your thoughts and dreams — they may hold the answers you have been searching for.

Change Your Environment to Improve Incubation

Stepping out into nature or simply into an inspiring and energetic environment will separate you from your problem and help you to think more effectively about potential solutions. However, since we are in the Incubation Phase, it is important to simply let go of the process of intense meticulous thinking. Instead, enjoy your surroundings and the answers you are after will eventually reveal themselves to you. And just in case, have a piece of paper and pen ready to write down inspiring solutions as they come your way.

Evolution Phase

Now that your ideas have had a chance to incubate within the recesses of your mind, you are now ready to take your thinking to the next level — becoming your worst and best critic.

Your goal throughout the Evolution Phase is to break down and clarify all your potential solutions progressively and meticulously allowing for deep insights and all round perspectives.

The more thorough you are while undertaking this process, the fewer problems you will face throughout the Implementation Phase that follows.

Prioritize and Evaluate Solutions

Collate all the solutions you brought forward throughout the Generation and Incubation Phases and evaluate them accordingly.

Evaluate the viability of these solutions by looking at them from a variety of different angles and perspectives. Also, take into account the time and energy you have available that will allow you to bring these solutions into the real world.

Once completed, prioritize your solutions to help you better decipher which ones could best assist you in overcoming your problems most effectively.

Speculate Potential Future Outcomes and Negative Consequences

Future-pace each solution and see it clearly helping you overcome your problem.

Identify the possible drawbacks, weaknesses, strengths and potential opportunities that may result.

The greater clarity you gain here, the easier it will be to settle on an ideal and clear-cut solution to your problem.

Settle on Solutions

Having accumulated a thorough and comprehensive list of solutions throughout the Generation and Incubation Phases, and having outlined the possible consequences of each of these outcomes, you are now ready to select one primary desirable solution that will help you overcome your problem in the most effective and efficient manner.

Take everything into consideration and decide which solution will best help you to achieve your desired outcome.

Implementation Phase

Your goal throughout the Implementation Phase is to progressively and meticulously work through the solution to your problem in a step-by-step manner using a process of logical decision making and action. You are basically bringing everything you have thought about and outlined on paper into reality.

Many people will struggle to get through this stage successfully because of the dreaded procrastination bug. Be sure that you don’t fall into this dirty trap. 🙁

Clarify Your Personal Vision of Outcome on Paper

Having settled on your ideal solution to this problem, take some time now to clarify this vision on paper.

Clarify the Personal Resources at Your Disposal

Identify the support, skills, knowledge, and tools you currently have at your disposal that will help you to successfully overcome this problem. These are your resources . If you find that you are lacking in some of these areas, then you may need to regroup and update your skills or knowledge to help you deal with this problem more effectively. Or you may simply need to obtain the help and support of a new group of people who can guide you through this problem in a more proactive and efficient way.

Create Three Alternative Plans of Action

Now that you have the necessary skills, knowledge, support, and tools you need to overcome this problem successfully, your next step is to draw up your plan of action.

As previously discussed, it is important to be flexible with your actions and to take into consideration all the drawbacks and potential pitfalls of these steps.

In order to minimize the possibilities of getting stuck, it is critical that you outline three alternative plans of action. If Plan A works out, then that’s great. However, if it fails miserably, then you still have Plan B and C at your disposal.

Set Clear Defined Deadlines for these Actions

Clear and defined deadlines will motivate you into action while providing you with a time sensitive objective to work towards.

Take Action Committing Yourself to the Result

How to Solve a Problem

The Learning Phase

This is an important phase that is very often overlooked. It will help you to clarify your thoughts, including the methods and strategies you used throughout the problem-solving process.

The learnings you gather from self-reflection will provide you with indispensable insights that will put your problem-solving methods in perspectives — improving the effectiveness and efficiency of your approach as you tackle similar challenges in the future.

Monitor Your Outcomes

As you progress along your journey towards implementing your solution, pay attention to the outcomes that result from every thought you make and every decision and action you take. This awareness will help you to better understand your personal traits and tendencies, which will likewise assist you with improving your problem-solving methods in the future.

Reflect on the Problem Solving Process

Once you have successfully overcome your problem, spend some time thinking and reflecting on the problem-solving process.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What did I do well, and what am I proud of about the way I conducted myself throughout this process? What problem solving traits did I cultivate and bring to the forefront throughout this process? What problem solving traits did I neglect? What mistakes did I make as I worked my way through this problem? What have I learned from these experiences? What could I have done better… more effectively and efficiently? How can I use these learnings and experiences to further my problem solving abilities in the future?

For a more advanced look at this problem-solving method, please check out the Visual Thinking Path .

Ongoing Problem Solving Tactics

Becoming an effective problem solver requires an ongoing process of conscious thought and action that opens new doors of opportunity to the solutions and answers you are after.

The solutions and answers you are after will be difficult to attain if you only apply the primary problem-solving method sporadically. Instead, you must consciously instill into your psyche habitual patterns of behavior that are consistent and aligned with a problem solver’s mentality.

Becoming an effective problem solver is not a part-time career, it is rather a full-time process that eventually becomes second nature.

Within this section, we will explore a number of effective ongoing problem-solving tactics you can use consistently throughout your day to keep your mind primed and ready for any challenge that may come your way.

Mindset Oriented Tactics

The following is a list of mindset oriented problem-solving tactics you can use on a consistent basis to keep your mind primed and ready for the challenges that come your way:

Visualize Your Desired Outcomes

It is said that we can only achieve our goals and objectives if we are able to clearly visualize them first in our minds-eye.

That which we are unable to visualize, we will likewise not be able to comprehend and realize within our physical reality.

When we were babies our motor skills developed over time through a process of observation and visualization. Only once we were able to successfully visualize in our minds-eye the process of picking-up physical objects, were we able to bring that same ability successfully into our physical reality. Given this, do you see how important it is to spend time visualizing your outcomes and the possible scenarios and strategies you will use to overcome your problems effectively?

Ask Questions Searching for Solutions

Questions are the keys that will unlock doors of opportunity and answers to even the most pressing of problems.

If you ask the ideal solution focused question , you will receive the right answers to help move you forward through your challenges in the most effective and efficient way.

Always See Opportunities for New Learnings

Problem-solving is essentially built upon the concept of opportunity-spotting.

Effective problem solvers don’t actually see problems as others do. Instead, they see only opportunities for new learnings, insights, and understandings that will help them to keep moving forward towards the attainment of their goals and objectives.

You must train your mind to look at every event or circumstance as an opportunity for you to become and grow to your full potential.

The challenges you face in life are there for a reason to help you attain your highest potential as a human being. See these problems as opportunities and you will move through them more effectively and swiftly than ever before.

Think Critically

By thinking critically about every problem and circumstance in your life, you will break down the walls of the assumption that tend to trap the mind within unhelpful thinking habits.

Think Creatively

Whereas problem-solving is very structured and logical, creativity , on the other hand, is unstructured and imaginative.

These two forms of effective thinking are in many ways tied together and will work in conjunction to help you break through the obstacles standing in your way.

Think is Solitude

In order to think more effectively about the problems in our lives, we must first clear the clutter from our heads.

This process begins when we remove ourselves from the physical distractions that could impede our thinking ability.

Within solitude, you will find peace, harmony and a sense of connection with your body, spirit, and mind. This will help release built-up tension while opening up the channels to intuitive, creative and logical thought — helping you to overcome your problems with far greater ease.

Let Go of Fears

Your fears will rob you of the ability to think effectively and problematically.

Effective problem solvers don’t allow their fears to control their thoughts, decisions, and actions. Instead, they usurp their fears and focus on the pleasures that will bring them the outcomes they desire to experience within their lives.

Let Go of Judgments and Criticisms

Effective problem solving requires us to let go of ill-fated judgments and criticisms.

The ideal solution can only be reached if we take time to harvest and cultivate it within the recesses of our minds for an extended period of time. This process thusly requires us to let go of the Devil’s Advocate role and milk our ideas for all their worth.

It is only towards the end of the problem-solving process that the Devil’s Advocate card should be played.

Let Go of Biases and Assumptions

For the same reason as mentioned above, we must let go of all biases and assumptions that may hold us back from successfully finding a solution to the problem at hand. This is often easier said than done because in many instances our assumptions and biases naturally color our understanding of reality.

If we mistakenly assume something, then we may redirect our thoughts, decisions, and actions down paths that we did not want to tread.

The solution is to ask insightful and carefully structured questions that will help us to break down the biases and assumptions we are holding onto at any one moment in time.

Allow for Fantasizing

Fantasizing can be an effective form of creative problem-solving.

Take time each and every day to remove yourself from physical reality and fantasize about creating a perfect life where everything you imagine becomes your reality.

This process will help to loosen your mind, and may very well open the doors to a set of insightful ideas that will assist you in overcoming your problems more effectively.

Allow for Playfulness

Playfulness is another endearing quality that you must cultivate every single day.

Perceive each and every problem as an intriguing game that you must win at all costs. Play this game, have fun, and enjoy the experience to its fullest.

Allow for Idea Incubation

No idea will fully evolve and grow to its fullest potential if you fail to incubate it within the recesses of your mind for a period of time.

Sometimes brilliant ideas can come to us quite effortlessly. As a result, our excitement takes over and we immediately take action in an attempt to bring the idea into physical reality. However, later we realize that the idea was incomplete or simply didn’t work as expected.

In instances such as these, it is easy to get disheartened. Our idea was great, but for some reason, it just didn’t evolve because little did we realize at the time, that this iceberg-idea was only the tip of a much larger, complete and comprehensive thought-pattern that was never brought to the surface .

In such instances, we must learn from this experience and take time to incubate our ideas as we move forward into the future.

Explore Funny and Foolish Ideas

No idea should ever be ruled out. Every idea is valid and useful no matter how foolish, crazy or funny it might seem on the surface. In fact, some of the most foolish ideas have indeed earned people millions and others billions of dollars. For this very reason, it’s critical that you never discount any idea until you have taken it through the entire problem-solving cycle discussed within this post.

Methods for Solving Problems

Explore Alternative Perspectives Using Lenses

Lenses are a form of creative problem solving that will help you to expand your understanding and awareness of your circumstances from a variety of unique and interesting perspectives.

Each lens will help you to see the problem from a new point-of-view — assisting you with identifying creative solutions you may not have thought of before.

The following list presents you with just a few lenses you can use to help trigger creative solutions to your problems:

Childhood Lens

Look at your problem from the perspective of an inquisitive and curious child.

See your problem as an innocent circumstance that isn’t tinged with pre-conceived biases or assumptions .

Ask yourself seemingly foolish, funny and creative questions that open new ways of thinking about mundane circumstances and problems.

How would a child approach this problem? What kinds of questions would they ask?

Athlete’s Lens

Look at your problem from the perspective of a motivated and determined athlete.

See your problem as a mountain that you will tame and conquer .

Ask yourself questions that will help you to persist and persevere — effectively expanding the possibilities of your solutions.

How would an athlete approach this problem? What kinds of questions would they ask?

Artist’s Lens

Look at your problem from the perspective of a creative and imaginative thinker.

See your problem as a work of art that progressively takes shape .

Ask yourself questions built around metaphors , stories, visual concepts and ideas that will provide you with a unique perspective on your problem.

How would an artist approach this problem? What kinds of questions would they ask?

Scientist or Inventor’s Lens

Look at your problem from the perspective of an analytical scientist or crazy inventor.

See your problem as an experiment that you must test and perfect .

Ask yourself questions that are built upon logical thought and experimentation.

How would a scientist or crazy inventor approach this problem? What kinds of questions would they ask?

Politician’s Lens

Look at your problem from the perspective of a confident, confronting and ambitious politician.

See your problem as a political campaign that you must win at all costs .

Ask yourself questions that help you poke holes in your problem, thus bringing its weaknesses to the forefront — much like what politicians do to their opponents during television debates.

How would a politician approach this problem? What kinds of questions would they ask?

Action Oriented Tactics

The following is a list of action-oriented problem-solving tactics you can use on a consistent basis to keep your mind primed and ready for the challenges that come your way:

Persistently Write Out Questions

Questions are the keys that will bring forth the answers and solutions to your problems.

Sit down for 30 minutes per day with two sheets of paper and a pen. Now, write out your problem in a question format on top of both sheets. Next, take your 1st sheet of paper and spend 15 minutes writing out as many questions as you can think of that will help expand your understanding and awareness of this problem. Finally, when your 15 minutes is up, take out the 2nd sheet of paper and write out as many solutions as you can think of that will answer the questions you posed on the 1st sheet of paper.

By undertaking this process consistently each and every day, you will develop a problem-solving knack that will help you breakthrough any obstacle standing in your way.

Read Broadly

Sometimes the answers to our problems can come from the most unexpected sources.

Keep your problem in mind as you read a book, magazine or newspaper and observe your brain in overdrive searching for new pieces of information that it can associate with old memories and experiences.

Within every piece of information you read, the pictures you see, and the sounds you listen to, lies the solution to your problem . This awareness will get you halfway to your answer. However, you must be fully committed to lifelong learning.

Update Your Skills and Knowledge

Our problems can only overwhelm us when we feel incapable of dealing with them in an effective and timely manner. The solution for this is to update specific skills and knowledge (pertaining to the problem) that will allow you to better handle and manage these types of challenges in the future.

Use Positive Language

A pessimist will naturally have a very difficult time finding solutions to even the simplest of problems. On the other hand, an optimistic realist who uses positive language will bring forth a great array of solutions that will further expand their thinking and creative potential.

Use Concept Maps and Mind Maps

Mind maps are extraordinary problem-solving tools that will allow you to easily brainstorm effective and creative ideas.

Mind Maps mimic our brain’s natural capacity to think, manage and organize large chunks of information in an efficient way. They will help you to put your problem into perspective while giving birth to new connections and associations that may not have been evident before.

Use Diagrams

Because our brains think in pictures and not words, it just makes sense that diagrams would help us conceptualize our ideas in a much more creative way.

You may be surprised with the insights you will gather from simply drawing up your problem and solutions in a diagrammatic picture format.

Create and Use a Problem Solving System

Finally, it is important to understand that our problems will never evaporate completely. Such is life, that it constantly and continuously tests our resolve in order to help us grow and achieve our most desired goals and objectives.

Those people who don’t seem to experience any problems in life have simply mastered the illusion of hiding their problems from others. They have learned methods that help them manage their problems using a potentially unconscious systematization process.

Every time you successfully work through your problems, it is important to draw up a systematic management plan that will help you to deal with these types of problems in a more effective and efficient way in the future.

Visit  Brian Tracy’s website  to learn more about his personal development and business courses, books, and programs.

Concluding Thoughts

It has been said that…

It’s not what happens to us that determines our fate, it’s rather what we do with what happens that shapes our destiny.

The problems and challenges that confront our everyday reality are drawn to us for a reason and purpose — teaching us life lessons that help us grow and attain new levels of insight, awareness and understanding.

Without problems we would never grow, we would never mature, we would never fully develop, and we would never experience the joy and satisfaction of attaining our most inspiring goals and objectives .

Yes, problems are indeed blessings in disguise for some, while for others they become steppingstones for misery, stress, mayhem, and dissatisfaction. These people just don’t get it…

Time to Assimilate these Concepts

how to develop problem solving habit


Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic?   Would you like to optimize how you think about this topic? Would you like a method for applying these ideas to your life?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m confident you will gain tremendous value from using the accompanying IQ Matrix for coaching or self-coaching purposes. This mind map provides you with a quick visual overview of the article you just read. The branches, interlinking ideas, and images model how the brain thinks and processes information. It’s kind of like implanting a thought into your brain – an upgrade of sorts that optimizes how you think about these concepts and ideas. 🙂

Recommended IQ Matrix Bundles

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If you’re intrigued by the idea of using mind maps for self-improvement then I would like to invite you to become an IQ Matrix Member.

If you’re new to mind mapping or just want to check things out, then register for the Free 12 Month Membership Program . There you will gain access to over 90 mind maps, visual tools, and resources valued at over $500. 

If, on the other hand, you want access to an ever-growing library of 100s of visual tools and resources, then check out our Premium Membership Packages . These packages provide you with the ultimate visual reference library for all your personal development needs.

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Gain More Knowledge…

Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:

The Six Step Problem Solving Method

About The Author

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Adam Sicinski


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