The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Problem solving: Find solutions for your stressors
Aaaaaaaaaaaargh! Feel better? Maybe you do, but probably not for long. Successful stress management involves more than a quick release. To alleviate a stressful situation for good, you must identify the issues causing it, and then create strategies to make the issues less problematic. 

The process of identifying stressors and creating strategies is often called problem solving, and it's a powerful tool to add to your stress management toolbox. Brush up on your problem-solving skills by trying these simple steps. 

1. Identify. What's the cause of your stress? For a definitive answer, ask yourself: 

In concrete terms, what exactly is the problem? Be specific. 
Is the problem really that big? Would others think so? 
Are you using this problem to avoid dealing with a much bigger one? 
Is there any part of the problem over which you have control? 
Use this step to identify problems that deserve the time you'll spend solving them. In other words: Choose your battles. You can't change everything, so look for problems and stressors that have the potential for change. And, since change takes effort, look for problems that give you the biggest bang for your problem-solving buck. 

2. Clarify. What would make the problem go away? 

problem go away?

What do you want to happen?
What do you not want to happen?
Are you attempting to solve the main cause of your stress, or have you lost sight of the real stressor?
Would taking a time management course improve your hectic home life, or would it leave you feeling like you had even less time to spend at home? Do you want to create fewer tasks for yourself at home by doling out some of the responsibility, or do you enjoy some mindless time spent folding laundry?

3. Create. Now that you have a well-defined problem, it's time to brainstorm like crazy. Think of all the possible ways in which you might solve your problem. Now is not the time to judge whether one possible solution is better than another. The sky's the limit. Not sure where to begin? Try to:

Recall past problems that you were able to solve. Could a similar solution work for this problem, too?
Ask friends, family and people you trust for advice.
Remember, consider everything that pops into your head — even ideas that initially seem silly. Your stress-reduction plan may include a little silliness. Maybe taking a salsa dancing class after work a few days a week will help you to unwind better than would quiet meditation.

4. Choose. Of all your creative ideas — silly or serious — which make the most sense? You might want to consider:

What will likely happen if you choose this specific path?
How will using this solution make you feel in the end? How will it make others feel?
What are the possible positive and negative consequences?
Will you be able to carry it out?
Do you realistically think it will solve the problem?
After narrowing down your options, pick the best one and believe in it.

5. Evaluate. Now that you've chosen the best solution, it's time to really think it through. Even the best solution may require fine-tuning. You might ponder:

Will you be less stressed in the end, or will the solution create new problems?
What might go wrong? Can you correct this part of the plan?
Do you have the proper resources and, more important, the nerve and will to carry out your plan?
Is your solution appropriate for the problem at hand?
Remember, this step is just to weed out unlikely solutions, not discourage you. A good long-term solution may temporarily generate new problems. That doesn't mean you should give up the plan, just that you need to be prepared for the new problems with a new set of solutions.

6. Implement. Believe in yourself, be brave and try your solution out. Really commit to it before giving up or trying something else.

7. Reflect. In every outcome there is a lesson.

Did your solution effectively solve the problem?
Is it solved well?
If not, what new plan might work?

Mission accomplished?
Problem-solving techniques can be hard to learn and even harder to use on a practical level. But the truth is, you can't fix a flat tire by willing it repaired, and neither can you diminish stress by ignoring it. Practicing problem-solving skills on stressors ranging from minuscule nuisances to monstrous crises can help you to better cope with stress as it comes at you. Nobody wants stress to get the best of them. So do something about it!