Solving Problems

Topics: Problem solving, Thought, Critical thinking Pages: 68 (14816 words) Published: January 24, 2015
Solving Problems

What’s my next move? Our success in life—and sometimes our survival—depends on developing the ability to solve challenging problems in organized and creative ways. How can we learn to be effective problem solvers?

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Copyright © Cengage Learning

Critical thinking can help

creatively and constructively solve problems.

Thinking Critically About Problems

Throughout your life, you are continually solving problems, including the many minor problems that you solve each day: negotiating a construction delay on the road, working through an unexpected difficulty at your job, helping an upset child deal with a disappointment. As a student, you are faced with a steady stream of academic assignments, quizzes, exams, and papers. Relatively simple problems like these do not require a systematic or complex analysis. For example, to do well on an exam, you need to define the problem (what areas will the exam cover, and what will be the format?), identify and evaluate various alternatives (what are possible study approaches?), and then put all these factors together to reach a solution (what will be your study plan and schedule?). But the difficult and complicated problems in life require more attention.

Problems are the crucibles that forge the strength of our characters. When you are tested by life—forced to overcome adversity and think your way through the most challenging situations—you will emerge a more intelligent, resourceful, and resilient person. However, if you lead a sheltered existence that insulates you from life’s trials, or if you flee from situations at the first sign of trouble, then you are likely to be weak and unable to cope with the eruptions and explosions that are bound to occur. Adversity reveals the person you have become, the character you have created. As the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius explained, “So it is more useful to watch a man in times of peril, and in adversity to discern what kind of man he is; for then, at last, words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off, reality remains.”

The quality of your life can be traced in large measure to your competency as a problem solver. The fact that some people are consistently superior problem solvers is largely due to their ability to approach problems in an informed and organized way. Less competent problem solvers just muddle through when it comes to confronting adversity, using hit-or-miss strategies that rarely provide the best results. How would you rate yourself as a problem solver? Do you generally approach difficulties confidently, analyze them clearly, and reach productive solutions? Or do you find that you often get “lost” and confused in such situations, unable to understand the problem clearly and to break out of mental ruts? Of course, you may find that you are very adept at solving problems in one area of your life—such as your job—and miserable at solving problems in other areas, such as your love life or your relationships with your children.

Becoming an expert problem solver is, for the most part, a learned skill that you can develop by practicing and applying the principles described in this chapter. You can learn to view problems as challenges, opportunities for growth instead of obstacles or burdens. You can become a person who attacks adversity with confidence and enthusiasm.

Introduction to Solving Problems

Consider the following problem:

My best friend is addicted to drugs, but he won’t admit it. Jack always liked to drink, but I never thought too much about it. After all, a lot of people like to drink socially, get relaxed, and have a good time. But over the last few years he’s started using other drugs as well as alcohol, and it’s ruining his life. He’s stopped taking classes at the college and will soon lose his job if he doesn’t change. Last week I told him that I was really worried about...
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