The Definition Phase of Problem Solving

Hindu marriage

by Jayaram V

Approaches to Problem solving: There are three approaches to problem solving. There is the primitive instinctive approach in which problems are solved by the natural instincts present in one's consciousness. Many animals solve their problems instinctually. Our automated and habitual functions and thought patterns may also arise from repeated use of instinctive problem solving. Although, this approach has many a limitations and not entirely reliable, it is still useful in dealing with routine problems. The second one is the intelligent approach, in which we view the problem rationally, gather information, weigh the pros and cons, and try to solve it with the scientific method of exploring various alternatives and choosing the best. In doing so we weigh the consequences, time, tradeoffs and costs involved. The third method is the intuitive approach, in which both instinctive and intelligent approaches are automated and in which the mind grasps the solution with little mental effort. Each of the three approaches is useful in different circumstances to resolve problems. The following is an excerpt on problem solving from my book Think Success. Jayaram V

What Is A Problem?

In simple terms, a problem is a question, doubt, situation or issue, which requires an answer or a solution for its resolution. A problem may be real or imaginary and physical or mental. A problem may morph into other problems or grow in complexity, if left unsolved or neglected. How you approach a problem and deal with it depends upon your thinking, your mental makeup and your perspective. You can view a problem from many angles as:

  • A challenge
  • A question
  • A condition
  • A difficulty
  • An opportunity
  • A warning
  • An eye opener
  • A threat
  • A riddle
  • God's gift
  • Way to success
  • An obstacle
  • A blessing
  • A test
  • A perspective
  • A lesson
  • A weakness
  • A vulnerability or
  • Part of your life

As you can see from the above, you may view the various problems in your life in different ways. You may approach them with either positive or negative mental attitude, and subjectively or objectively, depending upon your circumstances and state of mind. How you view them and make sense of them, as you set out to resolve them, determines how you experience life and empower yourself to make things possible.

Common Steps In Problem Solving

When there is a problem in your life what do you do? How do you resolve it? Are you afraid? Are you angry? Are you suspicious? Do you seek the help of others? Do you plunge into action or tend to run away? Are you sensitive enough to know that you have problems in your life, which need to be resolved? Are you honest enough to acknowledge them? Can you list out the problems that you have right now? What are you doing about them?

Spiritual Solutions
Apart from the three approaches stated above to solve problems, there is the fourth one, the spiritual approach, about which not much can be generalized, since it is not possible to predict its course or its occurrence. However, people have been using prayers, chanting, magic, yoga, rituals, and sacrifices for millenniums to solve their problems with divine intervention and found them useful. Some of these methods have a proven track record to resolve problems that are beyond human control, such as healing incurable diseases or overcome adverse conditions. While none can predict their outcome, human history is replete with instances where they proved very useful. Jayaram V

The problems you face in your daily life fall into many categories, ranging from the casual and simple to the unusual and the most complex. Your problems may be health related, profession related, money related, people related, authority related, aggravated by others or created by your own actions, beliefs and negative attitude.

Some problems we might inherit from birth, such as a congenital problem or problems of inheritance, and some we might willingly take over from others, such as adopting a child, who may have a physical or mental disability, or willing to become a guarantor for someone with bad credit history. We may do these for reasons ranging from purely selfish to totally selfless.

Depending upon the severity and urgency of the situation, you may follow different methods and approaches to solve your problems. How you solve them depends upon several intrinsic and situational factors. However, beneath all the methods and techniques and the various solutions you use to solve your problems, there are some common steps, which people follow to resolve them. You can call them the primary stages or steps in problem solving.

These steps do not have to be necessarily and deliberately followed in every problem. Some problems are so simple and commonplace that we may not even think of any steps before conjuring up a solution. The solution surfaces in our consciousness instantaneously, as soon we become aware of the problem, as if we are waiting for it.

For example we do not spend much time in thinking, when we see snow falling on the driveway. We know what to do. Depending upon whether it is going to snow further or not, we will either clear the snow or wait for the weather to improve. There are many such problems which we resolve every day, without even knowing that we are dealing with problems.

The truth is every decision we make in our daily lives is but a solution we use to resolve some problem. Where to buy, what to eat, what to wear, where to park the car, how to make a payment, where to go, or whom to meet, these are but problems only, which we resolve recurrently, without even feeling bothered by them. We accept them as routine situations, because they are familiar and we know the solutions.

But often you are confronted with complicated and unusual problems, problems which are too big to be taken lightly, which may lead to serious consequences, if left unresolved. They demand immediate attention and a systematic approach. We resolve such problems, usually, through deliberation and some effort, involving the following four action phases.

1. The Definition Phase

In this phase you try to understand and define the problem, by gathering information about it and its history. You ask questions. You raise doubts and concerns. You seek clarifications, suggestions and feedback. If the problem is simple or recurring, probably you do not need much effort because you already have the information and know what to do. In fact, there are many problems, for which we do not bother to collect information, because they are so familiar.

While we do not have to break our heads for every small problem, there is a certain advantage in taking your problems seriously and paying them adequate attention, especially when you feel that they may pose problems, if neglected. Use your common sense to know whether a problem requires serious attention.

Sometimes a simple problem may not be simple at all, but sign of a much more serious trouble. This is so often the case in matters of health and safety, where you cannot ignore the early symptoms and warning signs, however trivial they may appear to be. Experience proves that many disasters and accidents could have been avoided by paying attention to early warning signals and taking timely action.

If the problem is unfamiliar, unknown, serious and complex and defies an immediate viable solution, naturally we have to spend enough time to know and become familiar with it. We can get a handle on such problems only by gathering adequate information.

Tough problems need special attention not only because of their negative and harmful consequences but also because of their potential to invoke many negative emotions in us, which may prevent us from thinking and acting normally.

At the end of the information gathering phase, one should be able to define the problem and understand its implications clearly. Such groundwork prepares you mentally to face the situation with courage and confidence, overcoming your negative feelings of doubt and confusion. It also gives you an opportunity to think about the problem and understand its implications.

Following are some of the typical questions and issues you may have to consider in this phase to know about the problem and get a handle on it. The type of questions presented here are not as important as the process. The questioning process puts you in a rational and thinking mode and it is more important.

Source: Reproduced partially from the article, "Becoming Aware of Yourself" from the book Think Success by Jayaram V. You may purchase this book from our online store

Suggestions for Further Reading

About Think Success: In 44 well written articles presented in this books, you are introduced to a treasure trove of transformational wisdom. By following the suggestions given in this book, you can achieve success and happiness and live. It is written by Jayaram V, author of several books and hundreds of essays about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Spirituality and Self-help. This book is currently available at our Online Store (for residents of USA, Canada, UK and some other countries only).

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