How To Solve Your Own Problems

Cory Mazure | Apr 1, 2023

The number one skill to develop which will serve you in all facets of your life is to become a good problem solver. Why? Well for starters, take a look at the world around you. There are a million problems waiting to be solved. We exist in a time of radical progress, and yet are far from perfect. In your everyday life you will experience problems with your car, your job, your relationships, your health, etc. When a problem is present, life is not very pleasant. Have a problem with your car? Well now you might be late to work. Have a problem with how your boss provides feedback? You might miss out on the potential to earn a promotion. Experiencing problems with communication between you and your partner? Your marriage could now be in jeopardy. 

When problems go unresolved, they lead to larger, more catastrophic problems. When you leave a problem unintended, what was once something that is easy to fix, could now become devastating to you emotionally, financially, and reputationally. A check engine light is a problem that is easily fixed if you possess a problem solver's mindset. But if you do not, and choose to ignore your problems, it could unfold into a larger problem, such as a vehicle now requiring an engine replacement. The bottom line is you need to know how to solve problems. They will be present through your entire life, and are directly responsible for the perpetuation of suffering. If you become skilled in the art of problem solving, you will experience more fulfillment as you are rewarded for overcoming adversity and now exist in a more optimal state. Problem solving also makes you a high valued member of society, leading to more income and status. Today we are going to walk through a simple framework which you can employ every time you experience a problem so that you can approach it systematically and generate real results. By the end, you will be able to practically apply this framework in your everyday life, which has the potential to transform your health, income, and relationships.

The first step in becoming a good problem solver is quite simple, but is rarely executed properly. You have to concretely define the problem you are trying to solve. A problem is simply a deviation from a desired outcome. It is pretty easy to identify problems, as all you have to ask yourself is if you are happy with how a given part of your life is progressing. To define the problem properly, write it out in plain english. You have to see it on paper and choose your vocabulary carefully. We often ignore our problems because we do not want to admit something is wrong. Worse yet, we let our problems drift around in our mind, never giving us something concrete to direct our focus at. Do not fall for these common traps and start today by clearly defining what problem needs to be solved. As Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Our lives become a lot simpler once we know the actual problem we are trying to solve. Too often we are caught up in the analysis of a symptom of a problem, instead of finding the core of the problem itself. A lot of thought can go into problem definition, and that is why you need to write it out. Writing out structured cause and effect statements can help you get closer to that root cause of your problem. If you are struggling to determine if you understand the problem fully, you should still write out your best guess. You need something tangible to go off of. The remainder of this exercise will be useless to you if you are incapable of writing down your thoughts. 

Once you have defined a problem in plain english, ask yourself one simple question. “What regarding this problem is within my control?” Oftentimes we fail to solve our problems because we are stuck wasting mental energy on things outside of our control. We worry about abstract “what ifs” and never narrow our focus on the here and now. Once you pose this question to yourself, begin writing down what it is that is in your control. Does your car have a check engine light on? You may not have the ability to solve this problem yourself, but you can deliver your vehicle to an experienced mechanic who will solve the problem for you. Oftentimes being a good problem solver is not about learning how to solve it yourself. More often than not, it is about knowing how to define the problem and who to explain your situation to. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet. It is very likely that the problem you are facing was at one time faced by another individual. Do not get caught up in your pride trying to solve everything yourself and rely on the collective knowledge of others to accelerate your timeline in solving the problems that are right in front of you. 

With that said, there might be situations where you may need to solve the problem yourself. Especially if you are trying to climb the corporate ladder, they are not going to promote someone who consistently defers judgment to others. You need to develop the skill of taking into account an expert's opinion, and then critically think about the right solution from there. Again, this is all dependent on your ability to define the problem properly. 

If you are still struggling, not knowing if you have truly defined your problem, then there are a few questions you can ask yourself to gain clarity. Sometimes we get stuck in a tunnel vision of our own problem. We look through the lens of our own perspective and are blinded from truths that are present about our situation. Another powerful quote from Albert Einstein goes as follows, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” What Albert is trying to say here is that our current perspective does not hold the secrets to solving our problems. We must expand our mind and look at your problems from a different perspective. In order to combat our closed mindedness, we must ask ourselves what someone else would identify as the problem. This is especially powerful for emotionally charged problems. As an example, you might be experiencing a problem in your relationship. Perhaps your girlfriend is not grateful when you do a nice deed for her. You yourself may be stuck trying to solve this problem because you are afraid of making her angry by bringing up the topic, and therefore believe some solutions are off the table. In order to combat a situation like this, you must ask yourself how someone else would define the issue. How would your girlfriend's mom describe the problem? How would a behavioral psychologist define her condition? By taking yourself out of your body and imagining a third party analyzing the situation, you can overcome inherent biases you may have regarding the problem. I find it the most powerful to ask myself what a well respected individual would do to solve the problem I am facing. Someone like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk often come up in my head as great problem solvers, so I often reframe my question through the perspective of one of these accomplished individuals.

Another common problem solving shortcoming has to do with our assumptions. Remember, when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. Assumptions truly are the enemy of a good problem solver. Assumptions come out of laziness. It is hard to critically think, and easy to operate as if we already know everything. Most of our assumptions are based on anecdotal evidence, and are rarely based on concrete data. If you want to become a better problem solver, you need to possess the mindset of breaking through your assumptions. As you define a problem, ask yourself what assumptions this problem is based upon. Once you have a list of assumptions, begin challenging them with more questioning. Again, it is very important that you write out your assumptions. Once you see them on paper, you can narrow your focus and make real progress on overcoming the problem at hand. It will save you time and bring more order to your life. 

The ultimate goal of a problem solver is to identify the root cause of the problem. Through the above steps, you should be much closer to identifying the root. The root cause comes from being able to define your best guess of a problem from multiple perspectives, speaking with qualified experts, and challenging your assumptions regarding the current problem statement. If you are able to perform these steps, you will be well on your way to possessing the problem solvers mindset. Remember, you should want to solve your own problems. If we ignore our problems, they get bigger. If you structure our life around solving our problems, they get smaller. By applying orderly thoughts and writing down our problems, we will be in a far greater position to solve them. 

I hope this information has served you well. Being a good problem solver is all about admitting you have a problem to solve, and dedicating structured, critical thought to defining it. By simply committing to solve your problem, you will be far ahead of most people who choose to ignore their problems and retreat to comfort. Solving problems is uncomfortable, but the short term discomfort is far more tolerable than the long term misery that comes from ignoring your problems. 

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