One of the things that we love at WorkGuru is evidenced-based practice. Finding the things that we know work – not just because experience tells us so (which is always important) but also because academic research has proven that it works.
There are many different problem-solving techniques out there, the one that we are going to describe has been adapted from Self-Examination Therapy by psychologists at the University of Amsterdam (see reference below), we have also included further refinements based on our experience of using this technique both on ourselves and with other people.
There are three stages in this process:
1. Reconnect with the things that really matter to you.
2. Describe and prioritise your problems.
3. Identify and implement solutions.
Reconnect With The Things That Really Matter to You
It is helpful to begin a problem solving process by reconnecting with the things that really matter to you. This helps you to learn to focus your energy on things that are important (and to begin to let go of the things that aren’t important).
We all have core values; deeply held beliefs about what we think are important or are good. These are the things that make our lives meaningful – but they are also the things that we can become disconnected from. As we get on the treadmill of life we can forget about the values that give our life purpose. Spend some time reconnecting with those values. In the WorkGuru on-line stress management programme you are invited to complete 2 questionnaires; a questionnaire on life values and a questionnaire on work values. Both of these are really useful as they help lead you through a process that enables you to identify and prioritise your values.
If you don’t have access to the site you can imagine the advice that the adult you would give to the child you about the things that are important in life – what are the snippets of wisdom about life and work that you would pass on to the child you?
Another exercise that may be useful is to imagine your own obituary. What do you think people might say about you when you die, and what would you LIKE them to say about you.
Both of these exercises can help you to reconnect with the things that are important to you.
Describe and Prioritise Your Problems
Brainstorm the things that are bothering you, write a list of all the things that are currently worrying you. Reflect on the list in relation to your core values. Are these problems important? Do they deserve your energy to help solve them?
In WorkGuru we describe the Control, Influence, Accept model of stress reduction. In this model you look at each problem and ask yourself:
Can I CONTROL it? The only things in life that you can directly control is yourself and your decisions. It is a waste of valuable energy to try and control things (or people) that you have no control over.
Can I INFLUENCE it? There are many situations and people that we don’t have direct control over (our kids, our colleagues, our parents) but we can influence them.
Can I ACCEPT it? If you cannot control and you cannot influence the problem, the only course of action left available to you is to learn to accept it and to let it go. Worrying and complaining about the situation will only take up your valuable energy (and exhaust the people around you) and take away your focus from the problems that you can do something about. To look at ways of learning to let go have a look at our blog on rumination.
When you have identified the difficulties that you can control or you can influence, write them down:
On a scale of 1 to 10 how important is each one to you?
On a scale of 1 to 10 how much energy/commitment do you have to solving each problem?
Identify the problems that are important to you and that you are committed to solving. These are the problems to start working on. It doesn’t mean you ignore the other problems, just that you wait until they become more important or you are more committed to working on them.
Identify and Implement Solutions
In WorkGuru we have a module on creative ways to problem solve. One creative way is reverse brainstorming. This follows similar lines to brainstorming, so you:
- Write down as many solutions as possible without evaluating or editing the ideas at this stage – you just get them all down on paper.
- You then decide what criteria you are going to use to judge your ideas (are they cost effective, are they practical, are they realistic, is it within your gift etc?) and edit your ideas using these criteria.
When you Reverse Brainstorm, instead of seeking solutions to your problems you brainstorm the things you could be doing to exasperate them! So for example if you are having problems with certain colleagues instead of identifying possible solutions to that problem you would look at ways that you could make the problems even worse.
After you have brain stormed all the things you could be doing to make the problem worse, you then reverse those factors to begin to see how you could be creating solutions. You then evaluate the reversed solutions using the same process as brainstorming (identifying the criteria you are going to use to evaluate and crossing out the solutions that don’t meet that criteria).
Select your preferred solutions and put them into a SMART goal format (Specific. Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed) to help you achieve and monitor them.
This process may feel complicated, but working through it one step at a time really will help you to identify the difficulties with focusing on and identify workable, pragmatic solutions to those problems.
Warmerdam, L., van Straten, A., Twisk, J., Cuijpers, P., (2013) Predicting outcome of Internet-based treatment for depressive symptoms Psychotherapy Research 23(5)