Change The Way You Approach Problems

The way we approach and perceive problems is just as important as the outcome. Sometimes turning things upside down and looking at things from a different perspective can help you identify the way in which we deal with, learn from and move on from problems.

When we are feeling stressed, upset, angry, embarrassed or afraid, we work ourselves into such a state that all we end up with is tunnel vision, red mist and a limited capability to overcome the problem.
Sometimes, sleeping on the issue, asking someone else to do it or discussing/working together with someone else can help overcome this issue that all addicts experience, no matter whether they are still using drugs, drinking alcohol or are already in recovery, and is a skill that all of us must learn, hone and apply going forward throughout our lifetime if we want to and expect to maintain long term recovery from substance use and other addictive behaviours.

Develop A Step-By-Step Approach

Psychologists and researchers have developed a systematic approach for discovering a sustainable solution to any problem. This technique, commonly referred to as the problem-solving cycle

Tips & Tricks To Help You

Approaching your problem more systematically will help ensure you tackle and overcome all aspects of your problem and not miss any aspects that may come back to bite you further on along your recovery journey.

Approaching Problems More Systematically:

  1. Identify and Classify the Problem. Whenever you face a problem the first thing you should always do is take a step back and identify the problem
  2. Find the Root
  3. Play out Possible Solutions in Your Head
  4. Pros/Cons
  5. Build an Action Plan
  6. Take Action
Problem-Solving Skills

Top Tips For Effective Problem Solving

1. Keep Calm – Don’t Panic!

It’s important not to panic or rush into making quick decisions when faced with a significant problem. Take some time to think about the problems, the options available to you and all of the possible outcomes that are available to you. You might find it helpful to put your initial thoughts down on paper and/or chat through your thinking with a family member, friend, key worker, healthcare professional or colleague.

2. Avoid Jumping To Conclusions

Although it can be tempting to do so, it’s important not to jump to conclusions when faced with an unexpected problem. No matter how confident you might feel, ensure that you have hard facts and evidence to support your assumptions before taking any action.

3. Write It Down

One of the most straightforward but effective ways to start tackling a problem is to write a short statement about it, underlining key words, objectives, required outcomes, tools, equipment, resources, people or finances that you will need to achieve your outcomes. Make sure the language you use is clear and unambiguous (simple to understand without making mistakes by misunderstanding what’s been written) and try to be as specific as possible and try to keep to your specific problem without drifting or “waffling on” (e.g. I have a meeting with my Keyworker soon and I have no way of getting there). Writing the problem down in this way can help you to pinpoint what the core issues really are.

4. Break It Down

It can also be helpful to break down the problem into its component parts and to identify some of the next actions to take in order to help you tackle each aspect of it. For example, if a project is behind schedule, your actions might include meeting with the project team to discuss the issue, liaising with contractors or suppliers and updating project stakeholders and other managers.

5. Try Different Approaches

Adopting a process-led approach can often be an effective way of tackling a problem in a structured, logical manner. A popular problem-solving process involves taking the following five steps:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Analysing the problem
  3. Generating potential solutions
  4. Selecting the best solution
  5. Taking action
  6. Ensuring that the solution has resolved the problem satisfactorily

In more complex situations, a process-led approach may not be appropriate and you may wish to consider adopting some alternatives to tackling the problem. Two of those alternatives are outlined below:

  • Appreciative Inquiry (AI) works on the principle that by appreciating what is good and valuable about a particular situation and by questioning why this is the case, it’s possible to discover new possibilities for improvements.
  • Creative problem-solving involves two kinds of thinking: creative thinking (which is open-ended, divergent and imaginative) and critical thinking (which involves analysing, comparing and refining different possibilities). Combining these two types of thinking can help you approach a problem in a collaborative and balanced manner.
5 Problem Solving Strategies to Become a Better Problem Solver - SlideModel

6. Use Appropriate Tools And Techniques

There are many tools and techniques available to support the problem-solving process. Depending on the nature of the problem, you may find one of the following popular techniques helpful:

  • Six Thinking Hats Edward de Bono’s technique encourages a group to approach a problem from all possible angles. Every group member is required to think about the same issues at the same time, by putting on six different metaphorical hats. Each hat has a different colour and represents a particular type of thought process.
  • Fishbone Analysis This is a useful tool which is designed to help the user to systematically analyse the root causes of a problem or issue and to think logically through the different ways in which the problem can be tackled.
  • Argument Mapping This technique is similar to mind mapping and involves creating a visual representation of your thought process in relation to a specific problem. Typically, argument maps consist of box and arrow diagrams, and often look like flow diagrams or brain storms.

7. Consider Different Perspectives

It’s good practice to consider the problem from a range of different perspectives, particularly those of the individuals who the problem affects. Depending on the situation, this could include family members, friends, colleagues, healthcare professionals, therapists, other actively using or drinking addicts or those in recovery already. Considering the problem from these different angles can help you identify effective solutions that you may not otherwise have thought of.

8. Talk About It

It can often be helpful to explain the problem to your Key worker, therapist, sponsor or friends and discuss the various solutions you’re considering. Equally, if you have a trusted colleague, keyworker, sponsor or friend who might be able to help you solve the problem (e.g. because of their background, experience or network) it can be useful to ask for their advice first. When you do this, however, it’s important not to reveal any sensitive or confidential information to the other person that you may not feel comfortable with them knowing or which may find its way to others who could cause further problems for you, such as your boss or probation officer.

9. Be Creative

Don’t be afraid to consider new or even unusual solutions to your problem. If you have evidence to suggest that making changes to working practices, thinking patterns, technology or anything else which may prove to be beneficial, should be considered first and, if necessary, present it to the relevant individuals we mentioned previously. If there is a cost attached to your proposed change or problem, you should provide the necessary evidence to highlight what the overall cost saving and/or other benefits would be if your solution were to be implemented. Likewise, if you need physical help or emotional support, make sure that the relevant people are aware and are able to help you to overcome your problems at the relevant times or places. For example, it wouldn’t solve your problem if you have agreed to attend an appointment with your Keyworker for next Friday and then when you ask a family member to take you, they are working or not available. This would only set you back to the beginning again and wouldn’t solve your problem.

Get inspired with these associative thinking techniques, including ‘random word’ and ‘random image’

10. Be Aware Of Problem-Solving Bias

Our biases can distort the way in which we perceive reality. Biases that can typically prevent us from solving problems effectively are:

  • Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to seek and choose solutions that fit with a preconceived idea of how the problem should be solved.
  • Overconfidence bias: This is when an insufficient range of options is identified, or when the chosen solution is not measured against factual information, because of our confidence in our own judgment.
  • The halo effect: This leads us to make assumptions about others based on a single trait we have witnessed (e.g. ‘she is always cheerful and friendly, so she can’t have caused this problem or be addicted to a particular substance).
  • The bandwagon effect: This compels us to take the same course of action that others have taken, similar to sheep or other farm animals following each other and doing the same thing.
sheep walking | Sheep following each other er.. Sheepishly -… | Flickr

One of the most effective ways to avoid these biases is to be aware of them. However, if you feel as though your particular view, thought process or the solutions available are being distorted by one of these biases, it can be helpful to ask a someone else to help review your current thinking and give you their opinion on the issue too.

Likewise, tiredness can also impede your ability to think clearly and may cause you to have “tunnel vision” or foggy thinking.

Overcoming Threat-Fixation & Tunnel Vision | Sheriff Jim Wilson

11. Take A Break

If you feel as though you’re not making good progress or thinking clearly and objectively, try taking a break from thinking about the problem or get some sleep. Turning your attention to other, less challenging tasks or going for a walk can also be effective ways of doing this. Taking a break will give you the chance to clear your head. The solution may well present itself when you are not focusing so closely on the problem.

12. Persevere & Continue

Don’t be disheartened if you’re unable to solve the problem as quickly as you would like to. Taking your time to find the right solution, when you can is always preferable to jumping to conclusions or rushing into making decisions. Remember to keep those who need to know (e.g. Keyworker, therapist of sponsor) updated in terms of your progress throughout the problem-solving process.

13. Avoid Distractions

When we try to think objectively about our problems and the solutions we need to use to overcome these problems can be made even more difficult because of distractions around us. We try and think of our problems and we often constantly get distracted by phones, notifications, emails, other people, external noises, TV’s and other technologies, music, children and others. If you find these distractions difficult to cope with while trying to find proactive solutions to your problem, try removing these distractions as much as possible. Have a look below to find some ways to reduce these distractions.

Music however, can be a distraction to some people whilst it can help others focus on their task in hand. This is a personal preference and everyone will choose differently. If you enjoy having music on, try listening to music that is softer and more calming rather than music such as rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal or music that has a fast beat or high tones.

DistractionOvercoming Distraction
PhonesTry turning your phone off, putting it on silent, moving it out of your field of vision, put it in another room or give it to someone else if you need to ensure someone will answer your phone if someone calls or text messages you.
Notifications & EmailsTry to turn off notifications if they are on your phone as mentioned above, close email software or put a sign on your door asking not to be disturbed.
Other PeopleTry to find somewhere you can be alone or choose a time when family members or others will be out, let colleagues know you do not want to be disturbed until a set time or use distraction techniques such as ear plugs to block out external noise.
External NoisesClose windows, doors or other openings which allow external sounds in, use ear plugs to block out noise or move to a location where there is minimal or no external distractions at all.
TV’s/TechnologiesTurn off TV’s, tablets, phones, consoles, laptops or other technologies which may distract you. If you have family members, children or colleagues around, ask them to turn it down, use headphones or go somewhere else to watch TV or use their technology elsewhere. You can also ask other colleagues to keep the noise down, put up external signage asking for the same or choose a time or place where this distractions will not occur (where time permits).
MusicTurn off music if you prefer to have silence, ask others who may be listening to music to use headphones, go elsewhere or ask them to stop and continue when you have finished.
ChildrenDepending on the age of the child/children, they may be able to give you their perspective on your problem(s), likewise if they are young, they may cause you to become constantly distracted by them. If possible, ask your partner to take them out for a while. You could also ask family members, nursery schools, play groups ect to look after them to give you some alone/quiet time so you can concentrate on the problem in hand.

And finally… Reflect & evaluate

Once your problem is finally solved, take some time to reflect on which aspects of your approach worked, which didn’t and what you would do differently next time. You may be able to apply some of these experiences, approaches or new knowledge gained the next time a problem arises. You can also help others who may be going through a similar situation to you. In this case, you could pass on your knowledge, experience or solutions which could be applied to their problem too.

Allowing others to come to you with their problems is a sign of respect and appreciation for your input, should they ask you for your advice, opinion or perspective. This “mutual support network” allows each of us to help others whilst also allowing us to be helped when we have a problem that others have already experiences and successfully overcome. This “open door” policy allows us to help and support each other.

You can also find help and support on our help and support page here.

Overcoming Tunnel Vision When Thinking About Our Problems

Where To Go From Here?

Try to apply some of the tools, techniques and information discussed here to your problems going forward. Like anything else, it is a learning experience, for which we aren’t always going to make the right decisions first time around. However, as you continue to use this information, you will hone your problem solving skills, gain further knowledge and mound all of this information into one unique, personal package that will continue to improve and grow the more you use them. Your package will look different from someone else’s so don’t worry if someone else is coping better than you, achieving things quicker than you or even making a bigger amount of success than you. The recovery process is a journey that we are all on once we’ve decided that the quality of life we had before was non-existent and that we deserve and want a better quality of life, greater happiness, success, confidence, satisfaction and becoming content with the greater life that exists after we cease our active using and drinking “lifestyle”.

You can find more help on our help and support page here, find more of our articles and content on our blog, on our social media platforms listed here or you can email us:

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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