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Problem Solving in 3 Easy Steps: A Basic How-to Guide

Woman Who Needs Help Problem Solving

What does problem solving have to do with self-care? We all face problems of varying magnitudes on a daily basis. Learning how to troubleshoot the issues that pop up helps us to know ourselves and what works for us. Finding a solution to our own problem is empowering. Addressing the problems that affect our quality of life is one way to care for ourselves.

Basic problem solving is a three-step process of naming the problem, brainstorming solutions, and choosing a way forward.

1. Name the Problem

You might think you know what the problem is, and you might be right – it could be super obvious. But it’s also worth pausing to think about it.

For instance, you might think the problem is that your baby won’t sleep through the night. But go just a little bit deeper. It might not yet be developmentally appropriate for your baby to sleep through the night. So maybe that problem has a different name. Maybe the real problem is that you’re exhausted from getting up in the night with your infant. Now that you’ve named the problem more clearly, you can approach a solution in a more constructive way.

2. Brainstorm Solutions

Once you’ve named the problem, take a few minutes to dream about the ideal solution. Of course, rarely do we get our ideal in any given situation. But, if you know what you’re aiming for, you can also decide where you might be willing to compromise.

First, we’ve identified that the problem is that you’re exhausted from getting up in the night with your baby. Your initial thought might be that your ideal solution is that your baby begins sleeping through the night. However, you can also recognize that your ideal, in this case, is unlikely to be reached. (Bummer.) However, if you focus on the problem you named (“I am exhausted”), you’re more likely to find a workable solution. Maybe your ideal solution is “I’d love to sleep eight hours a night.” We can work with that.

2B. Have a Reality Check

Our ideal solution isn’t always possible. After you’ve found your ideal solution, you can work backwards to decide if it’s possible and, if it’s not, what is workable.

If you’re the exhausted mom of a six-week-old infant, there are several factors to consider. First, is eight hours of sleep a night possible when you’re getting up several times a night with an infant?

That depends on a number of things. How early do you go to bed? How many times a night is your infant waking? Is he sleeping in your bedroom, or down the hall? How involved is your partner? Are you on maternity leave, or have you already returned to work? Do you have other children who require your attention, either at bedtime or in the morning?

Eight hours of sleep a night is possible, if you’re able to go to bed early enough or sleep late enough to make up for the lost sleep. However, that might require the support of your partner. Is he able to put the other kids to bed, or to stay up with the baby when you go to bed at eight p.m.? Maybe it means your partner can share nighttime feeding responsibilities.

If getting eight hours of sleep isn’t possible for whatever reason, what’s the next-best thing to hitting that target? Could you aim for six or seven hours of sleep and a nap later in the day? Are there two or three nights a week when you can get extra sleep? Thinking through these options will help you come to a solution that you’re relatively happy with, even if it isn’t perfect.

3. Choose a Solution. For Now.

Once you’ve identified the problem and brainstormed possible solutions, it’s time to decide. Problem solving isn’t necessarily about finding the perfect solution; it’s about finding the best solution for right now.

I’ve spent too much of my life aiming for perfect, only to be disappointed when perfection proves (once again) elusive. We’re not looking for perfect. We’re problem solving so that we can find a workable solution to best care for ourselves right now.

Eight hours of sleep a night when you’re caring for an infant might prove to be a pipe dream, depending on your compounding circumstances. However, eight hours of sleep on Friday and Saturday night, plus choosing to nap instead of fold laundry three afternoons a week might just be the solution you need for right now.

Once you’ve chosen a solution, you may be in a position of needing to ask for help in implementing it. For many, asking for help can be really difficult. To address the challenge of asking for help, I have another blog post coming next week!


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