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Humans as planning, reflecting, learning, aspiring, motivated and self-regulating beings whose thoughts, behavior, dreams and emotions are being influenced by personal and environmental factors. Human beings possess the ability to define, evaluate and appraise the choices of behavior. Cognitive processes enable change or the repetitiveness of behavior patterns. Past experience with certain problems provides the pleasure of knowing what to do when faced with the same problems again. With the help our memory, a solution can easily be generated. For more complex or new problems, the individual needs to find his or her own path towards achieving solutions. Faced with a problem, one must first familiarize oneself with the situation by getting information about the context and the problem itself. Ignoring irrelevant information and analyzing the core of the problem, helps the individual to define the problem and later on to find possible solutions.

A problem solving method is a process that attempts at finding a problem resolution. Methods can be labeled as weak or strong (Robertson, 2001). Strong methods are learned methods that one uses when one already knows how to solve the problem and as such, success is almost guaranteed. Having recognized a problem and recalling the right methods, makes it easy to obtain the solution. Weak methods are used when one does not know what to do and when the problem is unfamiliar. They are the strategies which one tries out in order to achieve a goal. This process is most commonly done with the help of trial and error.

The ability to perceive and analyze a problem, beyond external and internal influential factors is an important element in the ability to find solutions. Being fixated on a certain aspect or a rigid thinking style i.e. tunnel vision, limits the problem solving process. Tunnel vision implies that the perceptions, as well as the judgments tend to be seen as black and white, a fact that reduces the ability to discover additional and relevant solutions, limits the behavioral and cognitive repertoires and results in poor decision making skills. Cognitive rigidity reduces the ability of the individual to truly analyze the self and the problem from all perspectives. Inability to imagine the existence of alternative solutions reduces the ability to belief in achieving relief. Insufficient flexibility of thought thus causes feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and depression.

An example of an effective problem solving strategy is the ability to face a complex problem and to reduce it to more manageable and simple sub-components. Solving little parts of the picture is easier than confronting a multifaceted problem. Problem solving usually becomes better when the complexity of the problems is disentangled and by confronting each element separately. Achievement of small solutions is rewarding, reduces feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and increases self-efficacy. Solving small elements allows the individual to see that it is possible to create a change. One acknowledges that one has some control and power over the situation, a sense that otherwise is lost

Successful coping demands a divergent and flexible thinking ability. One has to analyze the problem, define, appraise it, then generate and test the alternative solutions. It is important to define the problem correctly otherwise one will meet a dead end. To achieve it, the individual needs to try to focus on different aspects of the problem or try to view it in various ways. Collect relevant facts, identify potential obstacles that may inhibit the achievement of your goal and set specific and realistic goals. The definition of the problem needs to be objective, specific and formulated in terms of that which  is observable rather than the subjective feelings that are involved. Next, one should brainstorm and generate as many alternative solution as possible. Be creative and write it down without thinking and judging all the ideas that come to your mind. Then you need to evaluate the solutions  which implies thinking of costs and benefits of choosing each solution. Choose the best solution that might work well for this particular problem at this time. Choose the solution that has the highest probability of success and at the same time at minimum cost and maximum benefits. Execute the solution chosen by breaking the solution down into small, manageable, specific tasks and evaluate the outcome. Is the situation better or worse? If it is better, do you want to continue? Do we need to make changes? If it is worse, look for another solution from the brainstorming session and implement it. Be persistent until the problem is resolved.

Now that you know more about what problem solving proficiency is, would you like to the how as well?  Grab my FREE problem solving guide which is tightly packed with the right questions and strategies for finding your best available solution to your problems.Catch your free ticket out of the problem zone here 


Dobson, K. S. (2010). Handbook of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies. New York: The Guilford press.

Robertson, S. I. (2001). Problem solving. Sussex: Psychology press.