Ten-step program can teach you to solve problems


August 14, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

We all know people who race around in circles whenever they're presented with a problem, and others who seem to be natural-born problem solvers -- able to tackle the obstacles in their paths calmly, logically and effectively.

Fortunately, being a good problem solver is not a genetic trait. It's a skill that can be learned at any age. Here are 10 steps that will help:

* Keep in mind that the three most important attributes of a good problem solver are attitude, attitude and attitude.

If you view obstacles as opportunities to gather new information, learn new coping mechanisms, stretch your imagination and achieve more control, you're probably a problem-solving whiz.

* Be an optimist. If your general outlook is pessimistic and you face every puzzle with the assumption that it's probably insolvable, you practically insure that it will be.

If you're a pessimist who wants to become more optimistic, a good place to start is with the classic book on this subject: "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy," by David D. Burns, M.D. (Avon; $5.99). You might want to call your local mental health center for the names of qualified cognitive therapists, as well.

* Keep an open mind. Most problems have not just one solution, but many -- and sometimes the best one sounds far-fetched at first.

* Be flexible. Force yourself to experiment with new ways of thinking and acting, and you'll be surprised by how quickly they become comfortable.

DTC * Believe in yourself -- no matter what. If you believe you'll be able to solve a problem, your chances of solving it double.

* Take one step at a time. Good problem solvers are able to concentrate on the job at hand and move toward their personal and professional goals without blueprints or guarantees of success.

* Ask for the help you need. There's no shame in needing help -- only in being too self-protective, too proud or stubborn to ask for it.

* Don't ask for help you don't need. Those of us who were taught as children to run to an adult whenever a problem arose may find ourselves automatically seeking help whether or not we really need it.

Resist the temptation. Asking for assistance before we've honestly tried to solve a problem robs us of our dignity, self-respect and self-confidence -- too high a price to pay.

* Respect the process -- not just its outcome. Whether or not you've been completely successful at solving this problem, working on it almost certainly has gained you valuable experience and insight -- good tools to bring with you the next time you have a problem to solve!

* Finally, never hold the past over your own head. Learn what you can from your mistakes, give yourself credit for trying and give yourself the same sympathy, understanding and encouragement that you'd gladly give to any friend.

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