What to Do When Faced With a Problem and How to Get Unstuck

Problem solving

What to Do When Faced With a Problem and How to Get Unstuck

I often find in my personal life and with clients that identifying a problem is easy. Almost too easy! We are all constantly faced with challenges that can range on a level of significance and impact. Despite where these challenges fall on that spectrum, how we respond to them remains the same.

DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) outlines five things one can do when faced with a problem. I have found this list to be an incredibly useful tool. It can be used as a guide to identifying the best approach to addressing the problem at hand and can also be a helpful checkpoint when feeling stuck. I often like to share this with clients and use it as a framework for how we navigate the issues brought to session, as I believe it promotes the goal of building on strategies to eventually feel confident in tackling life’s problems independently.

That being said, I am going to share with you these five options on how to respond when faced with a problem and, briefly, the next steps they inform, in hopes this can be a helpful tool for you too!

1. Figure out how to solve the problem

The first skillful response to a problem is to determine whether there is a way to solve it. This requires using your basic problem solving skills. Briefly, the steps to problem solving are: (1) identifying your goal (outcome you are seeking), (2) brainstorm possible solutions (as many as you can), (3) determine which solution is most likely to lead to the desired outcome (pros and cons can be helpful here), (4) take action, and (5) evaluate the outcome. If the first solution didn’t work, you can always try again!

2. Change how you feel about the problem

When you are unable to resolve the problem, despite attempts to identify and take action on possible solutions, another approach is trying to change how you feel about the problem. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all connected. When you have already tried to take action, sometimes shifting how you are thinking about the problem can change how you feel about it.

Questions to ask yourself are: “Is there another way I can think about this situation?” Or, “am I engaging in any type of unhelpful thinking patterns that are making this problem feel worse?” Using socratic questioning and thought-challenging questions are helpful tools to identify a different way of thinking, which can have a beneficial impact on how you feel about the problem you are facing.

3. Accept it

Sometimes there are situations we have no control over and there is nothing we can do to change it. Additionally, how we feel about the problem cannot be changed either. In cases such as this, we can find ourselves getting stuck in the “it’s not fair” frame of mind, suffering as we struggle to seek change.

DBT suggests that when you can’t solve the problem or change your emotions about the problem, try acceptance as a way to reduce suffering. As difficult as this can be, accepting reality and the things you cannot change can support moving forward.

4. Stay miserable (no skill use)

You are not alone if you sometimes find yourself sitting in misery. It is common and unfortunately, not helpful (no surprise). If you find yourself feeling stuck, reflecting on whether you’ve attempted any of the approaches above can be supportive in identifying what you can do differently. Start back at number 1 and work your way down.

5. Make things worse (act on your impulsive urges)

When faced with a serious problem, we are susceptible to experiencing intense negative emotions. When in an intense emotional state, unhelpful or unhealthy urges can surface as a way to respond to the problem. The goal is to be able to use skill in order to resist these urges which, more often than not, can make the situation worse. If you find yourself responding in this way, pause and try to redirect back to options 1-3.

Think of a problem you are currently facing that is causing you some distress. How are you responding? Have you tried responses 1-3? Are you stuck in responses 4 or 5? What can you do to help yourself feel better and overcome this challenge?

Authored by: Jessica Oppenheimer