I am about to let Irish Independent readers in on a secret – "Problem solving" is how I make my living as a psychologist. And, although I spent years training, there is no problem in the world that cannot be addressed effectively by anyone if they follow the six-step routine outlined below.
This six-step approach is a very effective tool to assist you to be your own therapist, and it is particularly valuable when you feel overwhelmed by difficulties in your life.
By systematically breaking each problem down into steps, you can make a seemingly impossible situation surmountable. In doing so you will feel more in control and less stressed. So let's get started:
Step 1: Define the problem. It is not uncommon when we are stressed to wonder where to start in addressing our problems. Indeed, a feature of stress is that we feel overwhelmed by a number of different stressors.
Make a determination that you will deal with one problem at a time. It could be how to deal with a bully at work, caring arrangements for your elderly parent or how to address the precarious nature of your finances. The main point here is to take the time to decide which problem to tackle initially. When choosing, address the most pressing one first.
Step 2: Brainstorm. The essence of this step is to sit down and write out at least 10 possible solutions to the problem you have identified. Allow your creative juices to flow and leave nothing off the table regarding possible solutions.
Step 3: Rate the Solutions. Having determined each possible solution, you must now go back over each one and rate it out of ten in terms of its feasibility. That means spending time over each item from the brainstorm, consider how well it would work and then complete the rating.
Step 4: Make a plan. Pick out the top three or four rated items from your list and decide which of them you are going to include in your plan.
There is no hard or fast rule to say how many items you have to put in your plan. What is most important is that you now write out a plan based on the highest-rated solutions. You should also include the date and time you are going to review your plan.
Step 5: Put the Plan into Action. In a previous article I mentioned how facing our fears is necessary to manage our stress effectively.
Now is the time to call on that determination.
Aim to motivate yourself to implement your plan, and to reward yourself for implementing it even if it does not work (see below).
Step 6: Review. This is the most important step in the sequence. If you do not review the success of the plan, there is no point in having it in the first place. Richard Branson is one among many people who would appear to have the trappings of success, who attribute their success to the fact that they have failed so many times. But they never gave up!
Do not expect your plan to work perfectly the first time out.
At your review, look at what worked and what did not work and ask what you have learned from the experience.
Then re-draft your plan on that basis, not forgetting to set the next review date.
Repeat this sequence until you achieve the success you are looking for. By structuring you problems in this way, you will achieve a greater sense of control over your life.
And feeling in control over your life is one of the greatest de-stressors of all.
Dr Mark Harrold is a Clinical Psychologist www.drmarkharrold.com