How to Solve Your Worst Problem in 15 Minutes
February 18, 2016

How to Solve Your Worst Problem in 15 Minutes

by Brian de Haaff

Everyone feels like a fool sometimes when they just cannot solve a thorny problem. You know what I mean — the kind of riddle that keeps you awake at night and invades your thoughts by day? Round and round they go as you ruminate on the issue. It should be easy to figure out the answer, but for some odd reason, it’s proving to be very hard.

Whether it’s an ongoing conflict with a co-worker, a great idea that has unfortunately gone sideways, or an escalating family drama, problems happen to all of us — guaranteed.

There is simply no escaping them. Worse, they can steal our energy and leave us feeling bummed out. But here is the real issue — and it actually has nothing to do with the problem you are wrestling with. It’s your approach to solving it.

When you face an obstacle, your natural first instinct is to start obsessing over it. And then it starts sucking you in deeper and deeper as your heart races.

That is certainly understandable, especially when the trouble affects a major area of your life. But then, instead of stepping back and taking a different perspective, it ends up controlling you. And then you get stuck. Really stuck.

Stop for a moment and consider this thought. Since dwelling on your problem is clearly not getting you anywhere, why not try a fresh approach to figuring it out?

Strategy (not fear) is the key to sorting out the mess so you can break through and find a solution. Try these five tactics to solve any thorny problem that threatens to take over your life. If you do, chances are you will quickly find a solution and feel a whole lot better about yourself.

Take a step back

Sometimes you are simply way too close to a problem to be objective about it. Your emotions can take over and get in the way of all rational thought. Untangle your feelings of hurt, disappointment and confusion from the roots of the actual struggle. Once you divorce yourself from the problem, it may not seem as monumental as it did before.

Distill the challenge

Before you can solve the problem, you need to get it out of your head and bring it into the light so that you can examine it. Then, state the problem as clearly and succinctly as possible. Say it out loud to yourself or write it down if that helps you refine your thoughts. Think — If you only had 30 seconds, how would you explain this problem to a total stranger?

Evaluate its impact

Now that have pinned down the problem and defined it, you can assess the issue at hand. Then you can decide whether it should even matter to you, in light of your goals. It may not be worth all of your trouble. You may even discover that you are needlessly worrying about someone else’s problem that you do not even have the power to change.

Break it down

If you find that the problem does in fact matter to you and stands in the way of what you want to achieve, then break it down into smaller, more manageable challenges. Think about the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time.) Once you knock the problem down to its appropriate size, you will see a path to clarity and can plan your next steps.

Seek help

Instead of trying to solve the puzzle all on your own, it is sometimes wise to get an opinion from someone you respect and trust. Figure out who can help you — perhaps someone who has solved a similar problem, or someone who can help you think about your problem in unconventional ways. A brand-new perspective may be just what you need to bring closure and move on.

Everyone is guaranteed to have problems, and some will be hairier than others. That is a fact of life.

But problems do not have to overwhelm us unless we give them the power to do so.

Do not let seemingly impossible problems stop you from moving forward and achieving your goals. Instead, see each problem as a new challenge that you will overcome. Once you take a different approach to problem-solving, new possibilities will come to light.

Your success in solving each tough problem will help you tackle the next one when it comes along.

How do you go about tackling big, hairy problems?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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