On Problems and Problem Solving

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by Jayaram V

Problems are part of life. Problems can be big or small and they can impact our lives and minds in various ways. People react differently to the problems they face, some with courage and confidence, some with fear and anxiety and some with knowledge and intelligence. Some ignore the problem and pretend as if it does not exist. Some take it more seriously than they should. Some read the problems differently according to their own state of mind and perceptions and try to resolve them accordingly without taking into consideration the facts and the reality of the situation. Just as people differ in their inherent nature, they also differ in their ability to understand and react to the problems and crises they face in their lives. Here are some important facts and principles to remember about problems and problem solving.

1. Find the causes and fix it

This is useful both as a long term and a short term approach to problem solving. To solve a problem, you have to find the cause or causes, which indeed is not easy. The causes may be one or more, hidden or apparent, easy or different to identify, simple or complex, and within or beyond your control. If a problem is recurring, then its causes may be deeper than what you think. The causes are important. Without addressing them you cannot go far in your problem solving effort. You cannot beat around the bush. You cannot delay or look away. Remember, a problem becomes a crisis if you do not address it in time. Once you find the causes, you can then find ways and means to resolve it. It is where you have to apply your knowledge, intelligence, reason and experience rather than your emotions. In understanding a problem and fixing it always, remember this golden principle, Do not assume anything; do not underestimate the consequences; and take nothing for granted.

2. Focus on the problem and solution

Emotions make a lot of difference in your problem solving effort. If you give in to your emotions, which happens in many cases, it is because you tend to focus more on the consequences and outcome rather than on the problem and its solutions. In a problem situation, it is easier to get distracted by our exaggerated fear of what may happen rather than what can be done about the problem itself. Feeling helpless is the last worst thing you can do in a problem or crisis situation. The outcome of that feeling may be even worse than the outcome of the problem itself. The best way to avoid emotional vulnerability in a problem situation is to focus on the problem and the solution.

If you think the problem is too big to resolve or beyond your control, still you should not lose your heart. In your mind and imagination, you know there no limitations. Use that freedom to think of possibilities and solutions, and empower yourself. If necessary talk to the people whom you trust and take their help. People are more willing to help you than you imagine. It is the best way to acknowledge them in your life and convey to them that they matter to you and they have a certain place and importance in your esteem. Over dependence upon others is not good; but depending upon others in times of problems and crises, actually strengthens and cements your relationships. It brings you closer to the hearts and minds of people. It makes you more human in their estimate.

3. Have a plan

There should be one or more plans to resolve your problems. Plans are not solutions. Plans are the intelligent way you implement your solutions to reach certain goals in your life, which in this case is problem solving. Your plan must be clear and precise. It should be time specific, that is you should know in what timeframe you need to complete your plan. Your plan does not always have to be written. For simple problems, you can conceive a plan in your mind and execute it; but for serious and complex problems, you may need clear, written, concert and executable plans in which you can identify your actions and measure your progress precisely and objectively. Your plan should also be flexible so that you can alter it suitably as the situation develops. At least in the back of your mind you should have more than one plan to deal with the unknowns and the variables that exist in a problem situation or with the contingencies that may arise out of your actions. Flexibility is the key in planning and its execution.

4. Focus on the effort

This is the most important thing. Procrastination is not a solution to many problems. In some cases, procrastination does work because some problems disappear automatically with time as the conditions that produce it change. However, you have to be exceptionally intelligent to know when to delay a problem and when to act quickly. The general rule is a problem does not go away until you resolve it or someone else resolves it. You have to focus on the effort, rather than the outcome or the consequences of a problem. You have to focus on the next step, what you can do now and here and do it. You have to keep working intelligently and wisely, with your mind focused on your effort, incrementally step by step, until the problem fades away or is resolved. Therefore, in a problem situations, always  think, "What can be done now? What can I do now? How can I keep moving forward until I feel comfortable with the situation?" Make sure that you put in that extra effort and remain active or proactive according to the situation. It will also help you to calm your emotions and stay in control. Effort gives you hope. Effort gives you a sense of control. Effort opens the doors to more possibilities, opportunities, and solutions to resolve a problem. The antidote to a problem is intelligent action. Not any action, but intelligent action, which means you have think rationally and realistically, setting aside your emotions and doing what is necessary. Whether the problem is big or small, you have to remember that you can resolve it by an intelligent action only. Problems cannot be wished away, but they can be pushed away with intelligent effort.

5. Learn from your problems and move on

Life is never easy for anyone. Even a one month baby has her own challenges. The little bird that has built a nest in the tree near your house, those large pythons in the Everglades, the bears in Alaska, the white whales deep in the oceans, the lions in Africa and the tigers and elephants in the forests of central India, they all have problems from Nature, predators and poachers, friends and family, and harsh living conditions. Show me a life without problems and I will show you God. Existence means struggle. When we come into this world, we enter into an unwritten agreement with Nature, that we are willing to undergo whatever it takes to survive upon earth in all the conditions and circumstances life and Nature lay out for us. We cannot walk back from this agreement unless we want to die prematurely and unhappily. But dying is not a solution to any problem. We cannot numb our minds and senses with alcohol or some intoxicating substance to stay away from problems. We cannot just blame others and feel justified in our self-pity, helplessness and lack of initiative. We have to face life boldly and spend our precious time upon earth with certain dignity and responsibility. Living with vitality and enthusiasm is the only solution to the problem of life until the contract signed with Nature comes to an end in its own timeframe set by Nature. Until then, we have to accept life as a challenge and keep on resolving our problems with courage, confidence and even indifference. Wise men learn from their problems, minimize the possibilities of their recurring and with each problem increase their knowledge, awareness and intelligence. From each experience they distil wisdom and grow wiser. No matter what happens to you, if you do not lose courage and if you keep learning, you will make progress in the school of life.

Principles of problem solving

Finally, here are a few more golden principles of problems solving.

1. Problems arise because of you or despite of you.

2. Problems are not always in your control, but your solutions are.

3. Problems are Nature's way of learning and perfecting.

4. Fear is not a solution but a response.

5. Problems test your will to live and survive.

6. Each problem tell you something about yourself.

7. Sometimes, a problem may be an opportunity.

8. When there is a problem focus on the solutions and its resolution.

Suggestions for Further Reading

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