Have you ever thought of yourself as a problem solver? I’m guessing not. But in reality we are constantly solving problems. And the better we are at it, the easier our lives are.

Problems arise in many shapes and forms. They can be mundane, everyday problems:

  • What to have for dinner tonight?
  • Which route to take to work?
  • or they can be larger more complex problems;
  • How to fix a project that’s running behind schedule?
  • How to change from an uninspiring job to a career you’re really passionate about?

Every day you’ll be faced with at least one problem to solve. But it gets easier when you realise that problems are simply choices. There’s nothing ‘scary’ about them other than having to make a decision.

No matter what job you’re in, where you live, who you’re partner is, how many friends you have; you will be judged on your ability to solve problems. Because problems equal hassles for everyone concerned. And people don’t like hassle. So the more problems you can solve, the less hassle all-round, the happier people are with you. Everyone wins.

So what can you do to enhance your problem solving skills?

1. Focus on the solution – not the problem

Neuroscientists have proven that your brain cannot find solutions if you focus on the problem. This is because when you focus on the problem you’re effectively feeding ‘negativity’ which in turn activates negative emotions in the brain. These emotions block potential solutions. I’m not saying you should ‘ignore the problem’ – instead try and remain calm. It helps to first acknowledge the problem and then move your focus to a solution-oriented mindset where you keep fixed on what the ‘answer’ could be instead of lingering on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘who’s fault it is’.

2. Have an open mind

Try and entertain ‘ALL POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS’ – even if they seem ridiculous at first. It’s important you keep an open mind to boost creative thinking, which can trigger potential solutions. Coming from 10 years in the corporate advertising industry it is drummed into you that ‘No idea is a bad idea’ and this aids creative thinking in brainstorms and other problem-solving techniques. Whatever you do – do not ridicule yourself for coming up with ‘stupid solutions’ as it’s often the crazy ideas that trigger other more viable solutions.

3. View problems neutrally

Try not to view problems as ‘scary’ things! If you think about it what is a problem? It’s really just feedback on your current situation. All a problem is telling you is that something is not currently working and that you need to find a new way around it. So try and approach problems neutrally – without any judgment. If you get caught up in the label ‘problem’ this may trigger a bought of negative thoughts and block any potential solutions from popping up!

4. Think laterally

Change the ‘direction’ of your thoughts by thinking laterally. Pay attention to the saying, ‘You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging it deeper”. Try to change your approach and look at things in a new way. You can try flipping your objective around and looking for a solution that is the polar opposite!  Even if it feels silly, a fresh & unique approach usually stimulates a fresh solution.

5. Use language that creates possibility

Lead your thinking with phrases like ‘what if…’ and ‘imagine if…’ These terms open up our brains to think creatively and encourage solutions. Avoid closed, negative language such as ‘I don’t think…’ or ‘This is not right but…’.

6. Simplify things

As human beings we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be! Try simplifying your problem by generalizing it. Remove all the detail and go back to the basics. Try looking for a really easy, obvious solution – you might be surprised at the results! And we all know that it’s often the simple things that are the most productive.

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