#Askingforafriend: How to solve problems

By Nate Bowman
GCU Office of Student Care
#Askingforafriend

“When it comes to math, I’m a pretty good problem-solver, but I struggle solving problems outside of the classroom. Any advice?”

College is a very unique and often inexact season of life, fraught with mystery and opportunities for growth at every turn. It can be exciting and intimidating at the same time, and, yes, the problems faced during this season can be challenging.

It is easy to view the problems we face as obstacles stopping us in our tracks and preventing us from getting anywhere in life; however, even attempting to solve a problem is itself progress, no matter whether the desired outcome is reached.

Problem-solving, then, is an important skill to acquire and build on, and, with some time and practice, problems can begin to appear less daunting. So what are the basics of problem-solving?

Many problem-solving strategies begin with identifying and defining the problem. Though this is a crucial step, it is important to first assess your view of the problem.

Are you confident the problem is solvable and that you have what it takes to solve it?

Do you think the problem is a threat to your well-being?

Does thinking about the problem make you angry or annoyed so you avoid it? If so, the first step in solving the problem will be moving from a negative orientation to a positive orientation.

A positive orientation is characterized by the understanding that the problem is solvable, the problem is not a threat and finding a solution requires determination and action. Once a positive orientation is reached, it is time to identify and define the problem.

Identifying and defining the problem is important because well-defined problems often yield more effective solutions. Asking who, what, where, when and how questions is especially helpful during this step because they clarify details and maximize information, preventing gaps and misunderstandings.

The next step — generating alternative solutions — will get your creative juices flowing.

Begin by listing as many potential solutions to the problem as possible. Once you have an assortment of solutions to choose from, rate their potential effectiveness on a scale of 0 to 10. This will give you a hierarchy of solutions to choose from as you move on to the next step — decision-making.

Decision-making involves further examination of the solutions that were given the highest rating in the previous step. Consider possible outcomes of or obstacles to your best solutions as well as the costs and benefits of pursuing those solutions.

Each solution also can be broken down into specific action steps for more clarity. Now it is time to take action and start implementing the best solution from your list.

Your problem might be resolved after implementing the solution one time, or you might need to implement it over an extended period. Regardless, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented solution.

Has the problem that was defined earlier been resolved, or is it moving toward a resolution? If not, that’s OK. Try implementing one of the other solutions from your list. It’s also possible you might need to redefine the problem and sort through additional details that will guide you toward other solutions. 

The above process can seem overwhelming, but often the hardest part is the first step. Ask yourself whether you have a positive orientation toward the problem, and, based on your answer, you’ll know where to begin.

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Bible Verse

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

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