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4 Helpful Approaches for Solving Problems

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

           We all come to moments in our lives in which we just don’t know how to address the problem that has arisen. You look at all your options and some seem terrible, some seem good, some seem out of reach. Maybe there are too many and that itself can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to simplify this situation by utilizing the therapeutic principle that states there are four problem solving options to choose from in any given situation.

  1.     Solve the Problem- This is often a good place to start when assessing how to address the problem you are struggling with. If there is a reasonable way to solve the problem, might as well start here and attempt to fix it. This is about surveying your options about how to fix the problem, identifying resources, and working on them through committed action. Another option is to leave or end the situation.
  2.     Feel Better About the Problem- This is about focusing on how you feel about the situation. It might be possible to change how you think about the problem and that in result can change how you feel about the problem.
  3.     Tolerate the Problem- This is a big one, this is about recognizing there may not be a highly positive way to address the situation other than to radically accept that it is happening. Recognizing things can be out of your control and fighting these things can often result in exhaustion, frustration, and not actual resolution.
  4.     Stay Miserable- This may elicit a chuckle or an eye roll, but it is always important to recognize that it is in fact an option to not attempt a change but instead continue to feel miserable. This is an option and it’s important to consider it as one.

So, let’s run an example through these processes. We will use the same scenario for each one to see how it looks when using each option for the same problem. Let’s say you are feeling unhappy at work, you feel underappreciated and disrespected by your supervisor. You have talked to your friends and family and don’t know how to help, and you don’t want to continue to burden them with your frustrations. Promotion opportunities have come and past without recognition and you feel it’s time to figure out what to do because it has come to have a powerful, detrimental effect on your mental health.

Option 1. You decide it is time to address this problem. The best first step on this journey is to try and solve the problem. You could try having an honest conversation with supervisor, maybe your regular supervision meeting is coming up and that would be a good time to advocate for yourself. Perhaps you have tried this and feel it has little chance of success. You could put your concerns in writing, or talk to HR. This might not feel like the write option, perhaps then it is time to consider leaving and finding another job. Option 2. Perhaps you feel that the pros of staying at your job outweigh the cons, the pay is good, benefits are great, or a job change would be too strenuous, and you have found addressing it has not helped. Then it may be worth trying to feel better about it. Maybe you can utilize tools to recognize you don’t need the acknowledgement, maybe you can see that it is just poor management but has nothing to do with you directly. Maybe you can structure your thoughts in a way to come in and do your work and leave without a strong emotional connection to the work which allows you to not be as bothered by these circumstances. These can all be healthy options if done well.

Option 3. is to accept that this is a difficult situation and that it is one you feel you are going to have to do with for the time being. Your boss is rude and disrespectful, but you don’t feel other options that are better, so you accept it as is. This also means accepting your feelings, just because you feel you have to accept the situation doesn’t mean you no longer get to feel frustrated about it. This also can come with the powerful side effect of being able to feel the situation can’t be worked on any better and can allow you to release some of your frustrations. Option 4. You continue as is. Nothing else seems worthwhile or you have already tried them. Ok, then keep on doing what you are doing. That is an actual real option. Maybe it’s all you can do for now, or maybe you are not interested in the other options.

Pairing difficult decisions down to these four options can help to gain clarity. Try working through these options to see what feels best for you and you may just find the problem you are struggling with less overwhelming.

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