How to Solve a Problem: 6 Quick and Powerful Tips

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”
Albert Ellis

“Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles, they toughen and make strong.”
Norman Vincent Peale

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.”
Richard Bach

Are you having a problem in your life right now?

If so, maybe these six quick tips can help you to solve it a little bit easier.

1. First, ask yourself: is there really a problem here?

Often we create problems in our own heads – as I mentioned a bit about a few days ago in Simplify Your Life – that aren’t really out there in reality. So relax a bit. And think about if this is really a big problem.

Is it something that will matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

Life becomes so less stressful when you stop making mountain out of molehills (or just out of thin air).

2. Accept it.

When you accept that the problem already exists and stop resisting then you also stop putting more energy into the problem and “feeding it”.

Now it just exists (well, more or less, you might still feel a bit down about it).

You can use the energy you previously fed the problem with – the energy that probably made the problem look bigger than it was – to find creative solutions to the challenge.

3. Ask for help.

You can ask people for advice on what to do and what they did in similar situations.

But you can also ask for more practical help. You don’t have to solve every problem on your own and sometimes it feels better to have someone by your side, even if it is just for emotional support.

If you just ask you may find that people will often be willing to help you out.

4. Use 80 percent of your time to find solutions.

And only 20 percent to complain, worry and whine.

It might not always be easy but focusing your energy, time and thoughts in this way is much more beneficial for you and others than doing the opposite.

5. Break the problem down into smaller pieces.

Solving a problem can sometimes seem overwhelming and impossible. To decrease anxiety and think more clearly break the problem down.

Identify the different parts it consists of. Then figure out one practical solution you can take for each of those parts. Use those solutions.

They may not solve the whole problem immediately. But those solutions can get you started and might solve a few pieces of the it.

6. Find the opportunity and/or lesson within the problem.

I have found that there is almost always a positive side to a problem.

Perhaps it alerts us of a great way to improve our business or relationships. Or teaches us how our lives perhaps aren’t as bad as we thought.

Finding this more positive part of the problem reduces its negative emotional impact. You may even start to see the situation as a great opportunity for you.

When you are faced with a problem ask yourself:

  • What is the good thing about this?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What hidden opportunity can I find within this problem?

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • These are really great tips. I think #3 is especially important. I recently wrote a post called “why i need other people to change myself” and it deals with the idea that we all need other people to help us out at times. For some (like me!) this is hard to admit, but it is important to ask for help when it’s needed. This is a really helpful post. Thank you!

    • I agree, it’s not always easy to admit that and ask for the help but it can really help you out and strengthen the relationship too.

  • Great article Henrik

    Your first point is something that I find can really help the most when encountering problems in life

    Whenever I am faced with a problem, I like to sit down and ask myself

    “How does this really affect me?”

    By asking myself this question I find that I can gain perspective on nearly and problem that arises in my life. From a minor car accident to spousal arguments, asking this question can really change your outlook on many problems and then allow you to deal with them in a proper fashion (as you have described)

  • i’m a lil gal wit huge problems..
    but now i think things are simpler in reality..
    cheeriO! :D

  • Hi Henrik,

    The worst thing that can happen is when one is in denial that he/she has a problem that needs to be fix. It is only when one can accept that they have a problem, then they can try to fix it.


    • Very true, Vincent, and the longer that someone is in denial the worse the problem often tends to grow too.

  • I like #4. I’ve forgotten to do that recently and it was a great reminder. I hate being overwhelmed by the problem and would rather be working it, inside and out, than whining about it. ;-)

    • Thanks! Yeah, it’s not always easy to remember that, you can easily slip back into old mindsets and get overwhelmed instead of being proactive.

  • Scott

    I think Vincent comment is very true:)

    I have also noticed that many people get worked-up emotionally when a problem arises, so they become reactive instead of proactive, like you have already metioned in your previous posts. So whenever I have a problem I try my best to look for solutions to that problem instead of reacting in a way that I may regret in the future.

    Great Post :)

    • That is a great tip. Not always easy to implement but if one can stay conscious and choose the reaction and action instead of becoming reactive and defensive etc. then it works really well.

  • Great tips – but I would have to say that I don’t really like the second half of #4. The rule in our home is “if you can’t say anything good, positive or uplifting then keep it to yourself.” Negative comments or complaining – even when they only get 20% of the time – have a way of taking over a situation!

    There is ALWAYS a silver lining – you just may struggle to find it in some situations.

    • Thanks! That sounds like a good rule. I have found that when I set a time limit to just focus 20% of my time on the negative stuff I quickly think that pretty much all of it is silly. And I start thinking more positive and constructive thoughts instead.

  • Ask someone who knows and the 80/20 principle :)

    Put the fear aside. It’s just another problem.

  • Good stuff.

    I’m a fan of boiling problems down into one-liner statements and keeping them solution-focused … for example, how do blah to achieve x?

    When a situation doesn’t have a great solution, I find solace in the idea that I can at least make my best play for the situation.

    I also like to cycle through the Six Thinking Hats to get different perspectives on the problem and I agree, no problem can withstand sustained thinking, so sharing a problem with a great sounding board is the way to go.

    • Thanks for sharing, good additions! Haven’t heard of the Six Thinking Hats before though, think I’ll do some googling on that one.

  • Great post. I think that #6 is one of the most important things. My challenge of trying to find a job I realized has been the opportunity of a lifetime in terms of giving me time to start a blog, work on entrepreneurial ideas, and become relatively good at surfing.

  • May we add one: Don’t consider it a problem but a miscommunication of managing the interests of two parties. At times there is no way around the mountain but the perception is something we can all adjust.

  • Hi Henrik, Great post as usual.

    I would also add that problems are a part of achieving success.
    If you are avoiding problems, you are avoiding success.

    Oh, and I think this is a great quote:
    “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”

  • Henrik, very nice stuff!

    “Is it something that will matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?”

    This is so true. The chances that your “big” problems now will matter in a decade are almost nil. Excellent article. Thanks!

  • Kim

    I especially find tip # 1 to be sound. Many people worry about things that are not significant or will not matter a month from now let alone a year. Once I decided that worry was killing my motivation for accomplishment, I really started to pay attention to what was a problem and what was not.

  • Hi Henrik,

    I like #4 Use 80 percent of your time to find solutions.
    Oftentimes, we spend most of our times to the problems itself, not to solutions.
    Very useful tips, Henrik. Thanks.