Whether it's asking what you'll eat for lunch or how you'll win back a high-profile client, making decisions is something we have to do every day. Making those decisions -- and facing adversity head-on -- is what makes us successful in life.
Decision-making often seems like it should be easier than it is. After all, how do you know an option will pan out until you try it?
You have to improve your problem-solving skills. By identifying the problem you need to solve and thinking through the ways you could tackle it, decisions become much easier to make. You know what's important, and that's crucial for saving time as you make your way to a solution.
Here are six techniques you can scale to solve any difficult situation.
Develop a step-by-step approach.
Psychologists and researchers have developed a systematic approach for discovering a sustainable solution to any problem. This technique, commonly referred to as the problem-solving cycle, starts with identifying the problem. After all, there could be multiple issues within one situation, and you could be focusing on the wrong one. Separate the symptoms from the cause.
After defining the problem, form a strategy. This will vary depending on the situation and your preferences, but develop wide-ranging ideas while taking into consideration your resources. Are the solutions feasible? Come up with multiple ideas to have options.
Organize your information: What do you know -- or not know -- about the problem? By collecting as much information as possible, you increase your chances of achieving a positive outcome.
Once you settle on a solution, monitor its progress. The solution you developed should be measurable so you can assess whether it's reaching its destination. If not, you may need to implement an alternative strategy.
Evaluate the end result. How did the solution measure against your goals? Were you able to stay within budget? If so, the solution was a success. If not, try a different approach next time.
Ask solution-oriented questions.
There's no question that asking questions is an important part of our daily lives. But are you asking the right questions?
Let's say you need more customers. Rather than ask, "Why can't I get more customers?" ask solution-oriented questions like "What three things can I do differently than my competitors?" or "What would I have to do in the next month to get 10 new customers?"
Change your mindset.
When you view a problem as burdensome, you avoid it. Who actually wants to deal with something that's frustrating, overwhelming, or seemingly impossible?
However, if you change your mindset to view challenges as a way to grow, you'll be less stressed about finding a solution. What's more, your mind will break down and analyze the problem more easily, you'll be more flexible, and you'll be better suited to take care of future issues.
While changing your mindset to start viewing problems as opportunities doesn't occur overnight, it helps to first realize that problems are inevitable. The sooner you come to terms with this, the better you'll be able to approach any dilemma with open-mindedness.
Secondly, avoid lingering on negative first impressions. For instance, if your car doesn't start in the morning, your first thought may revolve around how much it will cost to repair or how late you'll be late for a meeting. Instead, focus on the actual problem: "The car won't start."
Create a mental list of the actual negative consequences -- the worst-case scenarios. We have a tendency to think a minor setback is the end of the world. By thinking objectively about the real-world implications of the problem, you may realize it's not as bad as it seems.
Finally, focus on improvements. Resist against knee-jerk reactions: "My car won't start, and I'll have to get it repaired." Instead, consider your current and future situation: "My car won't start. I should leave 10 minutes earlier to catch the train in case this happens again." Look at other options, too: "My car won't start. This is the perfect time to look at working remotely a couple days per week" or "Maybe I should see if Joe would like to start a carpool."
Work with your hands.
According to former Detroit Lions wide receiver and astronaut Leland Melvin, experiential learning with our hands, like playing with LEGOs, can wire our brains for problem-solving at a young age.
"[W]hen we let [kids] build and create and it's meaningful and it helps them solve a problem, that gets them thinking about how they can be change makers themselves and how they can be scientists and engineers," says Melvin.
Adults can improve their problem-solving skills by playing chess or Sudoku or manipulating a Rubik's cube. You could also play board games with friends or family. I play King of Tokyo with my daughter to help us both become more strategic.
Ask for help.
Put your ego aside, and ask others for help. Even if you could solve the problem on your own, working with others can bring fresh ideas and vantage points you would never have developed by yourself.
But who should you turn to for assistance? Friends and family are great places to start because they can provide support and encouragement. Colleagues can offer insightful feedback. You could also delegate some work to your team to give a specific problem your complete attention. You can ask mentors, coaches, or people you admire how they solved a similar predicament and model their behavior.
Take time to reflect and celebrate.
Has your vehicle ever gotten stuck in mud or snow? If you keep hitting the gas pedal, you're only going to dig yourself deeper. The same is true when solving a problem.
If you keep going full-throttle, you'll burn yourself out. Instead, walk away to clear your head. Exercise, meditate, read a book, or call a friend. The idea is to do something you enjoy so you can loosen up and come back to the problem with a positive attitude.
Additionally, you need to make the time to celebrate your accomplishments. It's a simple way to reinforce the belief that you have what it takes to triumph over any difficult situation. It also gives you a self-esteem push so you'll have the confidence to tackle problems head-on rather than avoid them.
Regardless of the size of the issue at hand, developing a problem-solving process doesn't just give you a hand in making more informed decisions. It will also help you prioritize your time so you can get back to what really matters.