Problem-solving doesn’t have to be stressful. When we create a step-by-step plan, we can gracefully work through even the toughest issues.

Do you have a problem you’d rather not think about? Perhaps you keep moving it to tomorrow’s to-do list. And when tomorrow comes, you do it again – and again.

Before you know it, the problem has become a giant monster that gets more vicious with each passing day. It’s screaming to be solved, but now it’s almost too overwhelming to deal with.

However, tackling a problem doesn’t have to be so stressful. When you have the right tools in your problem-solving toolbox, you can handle most problems with more success and far less stress.

Whether it’s a relationship problem, a financial problem, or a work problem, problems are a regular part of life.

Some problems can feel overwhelmingly complicated. But when you divide problem-solving into actionable steps, it becomes much easier to tackle.

Here are 5 steps for dealing with a problem:

  1. Identify the problem. In order to find a solution, it can help to identify the root cause of the problem instead of just the symptoms of the issue. To do this, keep asking “why?” until you get to the root. It can also help to journal about how you are feeling and consider where your stress is coming from.
  2. Brainstorm potential solutions. There may be several solutions to your problem. List the pros and cons of each one. Take your time with this. You may even ask advice from a few friends. This will help you weigh in multiple perspectives.
  3. Choose the best solution. Consider solution is the most practical, sustainable, and most likely to succeed. Once you’ve chosen a solution, direct your energy into your choice.
  4. Create a step-by-step plan. Now that you’ve chosen a solution, list out a step-by-step plan to get it done. You can set project goals (e.g. do this task and then this task, etc.) or time goals (work on this task for 4 hours). Taking manageable steps is important, because trying to tackle the problem all at once creates mental chaos and anxiety.
  5. Don’t procrastinate. Putting the problem off until later can create more anxiety. Procrastination also increases your problems if you’re under a time constraint. For instance, if you have to write a 2,000-word report in a week, don’t wait until the night before to start it.

Below are several tips for better problem-solving.

  • Be confident. As best you can, try to be confident that there’s a solution right around the corner (you just have to find it). 2018 research shows that your motivation increases when you’re confident that you will get the desired reward or outcome. Developing this type of positive thinking often first requires building your self-esteem, so that you are confident in your problem-solving abilities.
  • Be proactive. Always think ahead and try to anticipate any potential obstacles. Let’s say that you have a big math exam today and a limited amount of time to take it. Be sure to bring extra pencils in case one breaks.
  • Consider it a challenge. See your problem as a challenge rather than an annoyance or a difficulty. This helps put you in the driver’s seat. The ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism tells us to focus on what we can control and to turn every obstacle into an opportunity for growth.
  • Ask the experts. A good problem-solver doesn’t always try to figure things out alone. Sometimes you need help and expert advice. For instance, if you’re trying to fix an appliance, call someone you know who’s done it before.
  • Don’t complain, just start moving. Complaining uses a lot of energy and makes you feel even worse. Let’s say you have three meetings to attend in one day. Instead of complaining about how much you have to do, start working on a time management solution.
  • Take responsibility. Sometimes, our plans fail, and that’s OK. This is a part of life. Successful people get back on their feet and try again. Look for the lessons in each mistake or perceived failure. Be careful not to blame another person, because this makes you feel less in control.

Certain personality traits can also come in handy. Authors of a 2021 study with college students suggest that a few characteristics are helpful toward developing strong problem-solving skills:

  • curiosity
  • thirst for knowledge
  • positive attitude
  • action-oriented temperament

Although these traits may come more easily to some, anyone can develop their problem-solving skills with a little practice.

Good problem-solving skills are a necessary and important part of daily life.

In fact, we solve problems every day without thinking much about it. For instance, maybe you’re at work and you suddenly realize there’s a rip in your pants. Or maybe you’re a nickel short for the vending machine. What do you do in these situations?

Everyday, we have to handle these little problems with creativity and patience.

When you build up the skills for solving small daily inconveniences, you’re preparing yourself for the times when you encounter a bigger life problem or task. This way, you have the confidence and motivation to work through your stress and grow from a challenging experience.

Problem-solving involves identifying the problem, developing possible solutions, and taking the appropriate course of action.

In many cases, problem-solving can be quite intuitive and not very difficult at all. And the more you practice your problem-solving skills, the more intuitive solutions become.

Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur and CEO of Apple, is quoted as saying, “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.”

The best part is that when you finally overcome a problem, it feels really good!