How to Solve a Problem in Seven Easy Steps


By Dovid Spinka, LMSW

Unwanted situations are an inevitable part of life. Fully embracing and radically accepting that fact is a firm basis to managing difficult emotions. Acceptance is especially important when there is nothing we can do, such as when the weather is too cold, hot, or rainy, or when roommates continue to be loud after repeated requests to keep the noise down.

But in many situations, we can solve or at least minimize the problems at hand. Here are seven steps to problem solving, taken from the principles and practices of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

Step 1 – Describe the problem

Take the time to describe the situation you’re facing. Be specific and detailed, and include the consequences that you’re concerned about. For example, “I keep failing my exams despite the fact that I study a lot before taking them, which leaves me feeling anxious and fearful that I may not graduate.”

Step 2 – Check the facts (all the facts)

Be mindful of extreme thinking and make sure that your description is correct. For example, did you really fail the exam? Or did you not get as high a grade as you had hoped for? How many exams have you failed? How much study and prep time did you actually put in beforehand? Is this a general exam issue or limited to a particular subject? Sometimes after checking the facts we realize that our description of the problem needs to be revised. If the facts are incorrect, go back to Step 1. If they’re correct, move on to Step 3.

Step 3 – Identify your primary goal

Take the time to clarify what needs to happen or change for you to feel ok. Keep it simple and be realistic – choose something that can actually happen. For example, “I want to improve the effectiveness of my studying, so I don’t fail any more exams”.

Step 4 – Brainstorm

Take the time to identify lots of solutions to achieve your goal. Think about as many solutions as possible, and don’t throw anything out because it seems strange or unrealistic. It is crucial not to judge brainstorming or evaluate ideas for feasibility at this stage. Have fun being a creative thinker. For example, could you… Study with your classmate Daniel who does well in exams? Ask to meet with your professor to get feedback and advice about the exams? Learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help improve your concentration during study time? Drop a few courses and take online classes for beginners, then try again next semester? Quit school and become a professional ballet dancer??

Step 5 – Choose a solution

Pick one of your brainstormed ideas that fits the goal and is most likely to work. Don’t aim for perfection – just pick the best answer. If necessary, do a pros and cons to decide between two or more good options.

Step 6 – Put the solution into Action

The entire enterprise of problem solving is aimed at this step: Putting effective solutions into action. However, people often get stuck with anxiety at this point. If thoughts such as “this is too hard” or “this isn’t going to work” arise in your mind, accept them and mindfully refocus on action. Stay focused and stay the course! For example if you selected studying with Daniel, call him up, explain the situation, and book a time to get together to study.

Step 7 – Evaluate the outcome

Take the time to think about how things went. Did your solution help you to achieve the goal? If the answer is yes, take even more time out to congratulate yourself and celebrate! And if not, don’t be disheartened – sometimes the best solutions come after several tries. Just go back to brainstorming (step 4) and try again until you succeed. Additionally, when solutions are carried out as planned, there are often secondary benefits that we can enjoy, so reap the benefit of those even if your planned outcome did not work out.

In sum, effective problem solving is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced, and honed over time. Therefore, we can be methodical, planned and deliberate about the process.

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The Way of Mastery is to break all the rules—but you have to know them perfectly before you can do this; otherwise you are not in a position to transcend them.

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Calmer in the Face of Hardship
I came to the Center for Anxiety for help in dealing with a family member who suffered from extreme anxiety. But I ended up getting a serious illness two months later and started having my own sessions. With the help of my therapist I got through my illness, learned to understand my habits that were making my major life stresses worse, learned to communicate better, taper my anger, and surprisingly I became more calmer even though my hardships in life worsened. Therapy is a lot of work and not easy, but nothing in life comes easy! I became a better and softer mom and (when I practice what I learned) and my kids and home are calmer and happier. I am still a work in progress and have more to work on, but I know I am on the right path. I wish I knew before how my communication style and anger were really impacting my life, how being softer you can accomplish way more then being harsh. I have been to other therapists in the past and I can hands down say that the Center for Anxiety’s approach is really effective. I have even referred a bunch of people to the Center and they have been really happy with the therapists and how much they really care for their patients.
I Tackled a Long List of Fears
When I first came to the Center for Anxiety, my list of anxieties/fears was long! I was scared of getting sick, getting stranded, driving, flying and more. With the help of my therapist, I immediately got to work and tackled every one of my fears. Now the world is open to me and I feel free! I can dream big and accomplish whatever I set my mind to! I am especially grateful that I was able to do all this without having to rely on medication. It was hard work – grueling at times! – but now I have the coping tools within me for life. In fact a family member recently said to me “You are awesome. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to because you don’t let fear stop you! ” Thank you Dr. Rosmarin and the Center for Anxiety staff for helping me get here. My fears no longer limit me and I love my life. Try it, it might turn your life around too!
Highly Skilled and Professional Treatment
When I sought treatment at the Center for Anxiety, the clinic was is in its incipient stages. However, by the time I successfully finished treatment, the Center for Anxiety grew and flourished into a world-class treatment center, offering cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment to countless individuals. The continued success of the Center for Anxiety comes as no surprise to me, with a team that contains such highly skilled professionals who display clinical acumen, empathy, and compassion. When I first entered treatment I was concerned that therapy would be similar to the experiences with past psychologists: a seemingly bottomless pit with no reductions in my anxiety symptoms, but was so relieved when I started to feel less anxious after only a handful of sessions. My therapist created a treatment plan that was tailored exactly to my needs and taught me practical skills to help me work through my anxiety that I still use and practice to this very day.
No More Panic
When I first came in, I was struggling with panic disorder and didn’t even know it, which only made dealing with it that much more difficult. After my first time sitting down with my therapist, however, I instantly started to gain perspective and look at the difficult situation in a different light. Our meetings helped me conquer the issue step by step and get my life back on track. I’d strongly recommend that anyone dealing with anxiety in a way that impacts their day to day life should visit the Center for Anxiety! I know it helped me tremendously.
Free of Obsessions
When I woke up one morning last June and didn’t want to get out of bed, I knew I needed help. The thought of getting through another day with all my anxieties, obsessions and rituals was just too overwhelming. After feeling stuck for years, I just couldn’t anymore. Thankfully, that’s when I found the Center for Anxiety. Dr. Rosmarin and his staff are experts at what they do, kind and professional. After just several weeks I accomplished my initial targets. The change I experienced in such a short amount of time was astounding that I stayed on for a while longer to work on more complex goals. I soon achieved those too. Now, I am free of my obsessions, know how to manage my anxiety, and love my life. My only regret: not having done this sooner. I wish I had known that you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to get help.
Depression Lifted
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been suffering from terrible depression for 7 years. In the throws of my sadness I literally wanted to die. Soon after starting therapy at the Center for Anxiety, my depression lifted. My suicidal thoughts began to dissipate. I remember the feeling that came over me as soon as the dark cloud above me left. It was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I actually shouted to my friends, family and anyone nearby me “I’m Happy! I am Happy!” I felt free.
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Over the course of four years I developed anxiety-like symptoms (tightness in chest, gut, back) that slowly but surely increased in duration and severity. The EXTREMELY uncomfortable nature of the symptoms notwithstanding, I still continued and managed to function. The effort required to do so, however, left me utterly drained. Having always been a very spiritual person I strongly felt that a course of therapy incorporating a spiritual component could potentially work well for me and decided to give the Center for Anxiety a try. Happily, I have achieved significant symptom reduction, tremendously improved emotional/mental health, and above all, Connection. Medication free. I’m no longer just existing, I’m LIVING. I’ve been given a second chance to become the unique human being that I was meant to be.
No More worries
I have wormed in healthcare for 36 years in many different settings, and I have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the Center for Anxiety. When staff says they are going to call, I get a call. From the first contact, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and efficiency. I had a situation and needed to have sessions more than once per week, and my clinicians worked out a schedule to accommodate my needs. I was astounded that they attended to me so quickly and effectively - they made my priority their priority. My clinicians were also excellent at what they do - they have a plan for me each session, and it's clear that they have thought in advance about each session, and that they are listening to what I say and observing what I do, even though our sessions have been conducted via Telehealth. Compassion is a quality that I have all too often found to be lacking in my experiences as a healthcare professional and patient, and this is not the case with the Center for Anxiety. Of all the websites I found on Google, I am so thankful that God guided my hand to yours.
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