There’s been a lot of talk around my house lately about problems: Specifically, problem solving. I often say to my 5-year-old son, when he comes to me with a complaint: “That sounds like a problem for you. How do you think you could solve it?”
We have a lot of fun coming up with solutions to his problems—and mine—because he’s now turned the tables on me, as all kids do, and asked me how I could solve my own problems.
It’s gotten me thinking about how adults solve problems. Too often, we don’t.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed I often realize I have a problem (big or small) and immediately set about avoiding it, denying it, or minimizing it.
The reason I do this, I believe, is because of one of a number of thoughts:
- It’s impossible to solve.
- It’ll take too long to solve.
- It’s not that bad.
- Why do I have to solve this problem?
This last question is one my son’s asked me, too. My answer: “Well, it’s your problem,” (in the kindest way possible.) I don’t have a problem with the fact that my son can’t find his shoes or his Clone Wars action figure and I let him know that (again, as kindly as possible).
As soon as do, he gets to work solving the problem. No resistance, no denial, no procrastination.
One of his solutions may involve asking me for help (an excellent way to solve a problem, one we adults forgot about too often) or actually looking for his shoes or his Clone Wars action figure. He doesn’t complicate things too much or think too hard about it.
I do hear echoes of “It’s not fair,” and “why do I have to do all the looking?” at times, and they make me smile. He’s saying out loud the things I still say to myself, even though I haven’t been a child in three decades.
Meanwhile, he’s actively solving his problems. Something many of us are unwilling to do.
As adults, we have many complicated problems to solve. One of the things I do with my clients is help them solve their problems. Sometimes this involves a change in perspective or a “reframe” when the problem, seen differently, is no longer a problem.
Sometimes it involves coming at the problem from a different angle than we have ever approached it before.
This involves asking a different question about the problem. For example, one of my favorite questions of all time: What would make it easy for you to solve this problem?
This question usually leads to a snort of derision from the client. If the problem was easy to solve, we wouldn’t be talking about it, would we?
Yes, that’s true, but just imagine—what would make it easy to solve?
For my client who wanted more time to practice functional medicine, this question led to a list of possible solutions, many of which were frankly impossible, but one of which turned out to be the actual solution to her problem. Sorry to be coy here, but it’s not my story to tell.
Here’s an example of a recent (small) problem from my own life:
Problem: I have to drive to Pennsylvania, PA, for a week’s worth of lectures at a Family Medicine Review course and I don’t want to drive alone, but my husband has to work and my son has to go to school so they can’t go with me for company.
What would make it easy for me to solve this problem?
- I could hire a limo. (X—not in the budget.)
- I could fly (X—not in the budget, especially since I’d have to rent a car.)
- I could get someone to drive down with me (X—I don’t know anyone—wait a minute, I think I might know someone!)
Yes, I thought of a good friend who works for herself and is location-independent—and who has friends and family in the area where I’ll be staying.
Problem solved: I now have company for the drive down and back and someone who will use the hotel room I’m paying for but will hardly use due to the long days I’ll be in a conference room.
What would make it easy for you solve your current problem? (Hint: Make a list and don’t cross off any solutions until after you’ve made the whole list.)
If you’d like to talk about problem solving, I’ll be speaking on the topic at Rodger’s Memorial Library on November 10, 2015 (more info here.) If you are not local to my area, I’ll be doing a teleclass on the topic on November 19, 2015 (more info here.) I’d love to see you and/or hear your sweet voice!
Diane MacKinnon, MD, writes about and speaks on life coaching topics. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at www.dianemackinnon.com.
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