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Steps 5-7: Planning a Solution

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

5. Educate Yourself About Problem Solutions. Learn about the different methods available for helping yourself manage your problems and issues. You may not know what to do about your issue at first, but it is overwhelmingly likely that other smart people have thought and written about how to best solve the problem you are experiencing. Read what these authors have to say about solving your problem. Alternatively, consult with other people whose opinions you respect, asking them how they have solved problems similar to the one you are faced with.

Example: Bob isn't necessarily aware of this, but his decision with regard to how he will approach Sam about his toolbox can be understood in terms of assertiveness theory, which is a way to think about problems people have in communicating with one another. Basically, people's communications can be classified into one of three categories: Aggressive communications (where one person abuses another person), Passive communications (where one person allows another person to abuse them by not defending themselves), and Assertive communications (where one person defends themselves against another's abuse, but does not attempt to abuse the other person in turn). In our example, Bob chooses to act assertively in his communication with Sam (by stating clearly that he is upset and wants his tools back, while also communicating that he values the friendship), rather than aggressively (where he might yell at Sam and call him a "freeloader") or passively (where he might swallow his anger and let Sam get away with being late yet again).

6. Choose The Best Solution For You. After learning as much as you can about different ways your problem can be solved, make choices about which of these ways will work best for you personally, based on your understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Example: Bob clearly chose to use his strengths (in keeping his temper under control, in being willing and able to speak his mind clearly) to resolve his problem. He may not have been particularly aware that these abilities of his are strengths. Nevertheless, he chose a plan that made good use of what he knew he could accomplish, given the situation he found himself in.

7. Write Your Plan Down. Having figured out: 1) what problems you wish to change; 2) how to break those problems down into small, manageable parts; 3) what your goals and objectives are with regard to your problems; 4) how you will measure progress towards addressing your problems; 5) what your problem-solving options are (various ways your problems might be approached); and 6) which methods and options will work best for your specific situation and personality, then sit down and actually create a plan. Write your plan down on paper or in a computer file, choosing which methods, techniques and approaches you will use as you carry out your plan, and what deadlines you will keep to. Write down a separate plan for each manageable problem and goal you have identified.

Example: If Bob were to write down his plan, it would look something like this:

Goal 1 -- To stop the anger I feel toward Sam.

  • Method - Talk with Sam about returning the things he borrows to me on time.
  • Measurement - Relief at having said what I plan to say.
  • Deadline - This evening.

Goal 2 -- To get the items back from Sam when I expect them.

  • Method - Tell Sam exactly what I want and explain that I won’t lend to Sam again if Sam doesn’t return something to me when he says he will.
  • Measurement - 1) Sam returns something he borrows next on time or doesn’t. (If he doesn’t, I stop lending to Sam.) 2) Sam returns future items he borrows on time or doesn’t. (If he doesn’t, I stop lending to Sam.)
  • Deadlines - Next time Sam borrows and the times after that.

Goal 3 -- To maintain my friendship with Sam.

  • Method - When I talk with Sam this evening, I will stay calm and reasonable and use "I" statements" to explain how I feel, in spite of my anger.
  • Measurement - I will know I have succeeded if I carry out this method as described here, but the rest will be up to Sam.
  • Deadline - I will know the friendship has been maintained by our interactions and activities together over the next several weeks.