Problem solving of everyday life: what it is, how it is done

Problem solving of everyday life: what it is, how it is done

Il problem solving it should be studied in schools.

Our existence, in fact, whether one looks at it from the short-term perspective of a day, or from a broader temporal perspective than life itself, it is made up of problems.

And I don't mean this in necessarily negative terms.

A problem can in fact be fun and stimulating, it can make us grow, it can transform us for the better.

I therefore prefer to define a problem in a somewhat aseptic way, simply how an obstacle, a difficulty which prevents us from reaching one of our goals.

In short, something that stands in the way between what we want and reality objective.

Problem solving, that is the art and science of removing or overcoming problems, it is therefore a fundamental ability to realize ourselves.

Three levels of problem solving

1. Are you walking in the jungle when, between you and your desire not to be eaten, a saber-toothed tiger stands in the way.

It is a big problem.

Your nervous system goes into alarm and instinctively presents you with a binary choice between two unique options: fight or fly, or fight or flee.

2. You are a squirrel and, between you and the peanuts at the back of the room, some mad scientist has put up a series of obstacles that you have to overcome.

It is a big problem.

Your nervous system is activated and pushes you to implement a strategy called trial and error, that is trial and error. 

Problem solving of everyday life: what it is, how it is done

That is, you will begin to try different solutions choosing those that lead you to more positive results e discarding those that lead you to more negative results.

3. You are a manager stressed by the continuous and inexplicable decline in sales, you are a guy in love with his best friend, you are a student who wants to organize the vacation of a lifetime but has no money in his pocket.

They are good problems.

Your nervous system gets activated for represent mentally the problem from various angles, generate a large number of alternative solutions, evaluate them and finally choose a.

It is a strategy that is called problem solving.

We humans invented it about 250 years ago, the first time we sat on a stone to think, and it makes us unique as a species.

The uniqueness of problem solving

Think about fight or fly for a moment. As we have seen, it is a strategy that serves to solve certain types of problems.

Its limitation is that it cannot be improved upon.

That is, you can certainly train to fight better or run faster.

But with the fight or fly you can't systematically produce alternative solutions in greater numbers and quantities. Because there is no time to do it and because the risk is too great.

even the trial and error it has big limitations.

First, it addresses what is clearly practicable at that moment. That is, it does not create new possibilities.

Besides, we can't always afford it the error rate typical of this strategy.

Or, to be honest, if the consequences of your mistake are fatal, along with the solution you have chosen  you yourself will be discarded. 

Il problem solving is instead able to overcome or mitigate all these problems because:

  • Generate a higher number of solutions
  • It can be trained
  • Create solutions even outside of the seemingly viable ones
  • It also contemplates the possibility of error, but works in such a way as to significantly lower the percentage

I 4 step del problem solving

Step 1 The Detective Game: Identify the Problem

It is the most important step, the sine qua non. 

If you don't realize you have a problem e you don't exactly define its characteristics, it's impossible for you to fix it.

Sometimes the problem manifests itself in the form of negative events / results. For example, "They failed me in the exam", "they fired me", "I'm in the bill".

Other times, however, you find yourself with quite inaccurate negative feelings: "I feel tired / unmotivated /", "there is something wrong", "I don't know what's happening to me".

In any case, the problem must be precisely circumscribed. To do this you can use a very common technique in Coaching and that consists of ask you specific questions and give you answers.

A bit like Gigi Marzullo did in his famous show :))

Let's take a simple example starting from the sentence “My problem is that I can't get up early in the morning”.

As stated, the solution would simply be to set the alarm, but let's investigate a little more.

"I can't get up as early as I would like"


"Because I'm always tired"


"Because I always go to sleep late"


"Why am I watching TV until 2 am"

Ah, here's the problem!

In short, when you have a problem, play detective and don't settle for the first answer.

Dig, question after question, until you find the answers that matter.

Step 2: Problem solving with the right hemisphere: generate alternative solutions 

If the previous was the most important part, this is the most stimulating, and it is the very essence of problem solving: your right brain - where creativity resides - must come up with ideas to solve the problem.

As many ideas as possible.

And you have to write them all in order on a sheet of paper for have them all available in the next step. I recommend, it is really important: an idea when it is written it is not forgotten and takes on a whole other strength. 

As in brainstorming, the fundamental element is the quantity of ideas you generate. In this moment, you don't have to worry about quality, because you will take care of it in the next phase.

Indeed, at this stage it is really essential suspend all judgment about the ideas you generate.

If Copernicus, in order to solve the problem that his astronomical measurements were incompatible with the theories of the time, had not departed from the consolidated idea for centuries that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe, he would hardly have come to terms with it.

Or, in other words, your established belief system makes you navigate safely, but at the same time it restricts and inhibits you.

If you aren't able to turn it off for at least a while, you always end up with the usual 3-4 alternatives.


If you always do the same things you will always get the same results! (Einstein? You never know with facebook phrases)

Learn to make the right hemisphere speak too, for which nothing is too absurd or daring, and you will see that you will break out of the usual patterns.

Step 3 Problem solving with the left hemisphere: Evaluation and selection of alternatives.

If step 2 is to be the realm of your right hemisphere, then in step 3 the left brain comes into play, that which it weighs, evaluates and decides in a logical way.

Except that life is not mathematics and therefore, in this case, logic has big limits and you will find yourself, once you discard most of the solutions thought up in phase 2, with a narrow range of alternatives, all possible.

Then evaluate them on the basis of three parameters:

  • Expected results
  • Time
  • risks

In my experience it is above all on risk management that you need to focus.

In fact, once we have a plan to solve a problem, we tend to get excited and forget the fact that things can also go wrong.

It is an attitude due to social pressure: no one wants to pass for the Cassandra on duty or for the grouchy Smurf. And then, what the heck, Gurus say they are optimistic and visualize success!

The result is that, when the solution we have thought of does not work, we find ourselves crashed to the ground and without any plan B.

A good problem solving instead must contemplate the possibility of failure and must always have a plan B.

Step 4. Between Saying and Doing: Implementation and monitoring of solutions

Having found a solution does not mean that the problem is solved.

Especially in the world of work, it is very common to see that a solution, in the implementation phase, is left to itself to switch to the resolution (at this point unrealistic) of the following problem.

In the personal sphere, on the other hand, it happens that, having found a solution to the problem, we abandon it because we don't like it or because we don't have the courage to carry it forward.

Problem solving is completed only when it gives rise to:

  • To a detailed action plan
  • To a results monitoring system.

Otherwise it is essentially useless. Hours and hours of meetings or days of thinking looking at the wall then get nowhere.

Any solution then, however perfect on paper, it needs some correction in practice.

If you monitor it, you notice it and make adjustments.

If not, you find yourself a few months later wondering why you didn't get the expected result.

Finally, there is a special group of people, what I call the perfectionist procrastinators, which with the excuse of finding a perfect solution in the end never leave the "solving" phase.

It is a clear symptom fear of taking action.


  • A solution so and so but carried out consistently, it often gives great results, also because it can be progressively adjusted over time
  • A solution very bright but that is not implemented, leads nowhere

Problem solving and mental attitude

In addition to sequentially following the 4 specific steps I have just described to you, you must have the right mental attitude.

Whenever you get caught up in negative emotions and feelings, your brain shifts a little bit towards fight or fly mode.

We have seen that she is perfect when you meet a tiger, but when it comes to complex problems it limits your ability to generate and evaluate ideas.

This is a very common situation in working groups: personal dislikes or competitive mechanisms heat the spirits of meetings and inevitably the quality of the solutions is loweredi generate.

But also at the level of personal problem solving similar situations occur, when the stress and fear generated by uncertainty limit your ability to solve problems.

Likewise, overly positive emotions and feelings also damage your problem-solving ability by making you overestimate your abilities (or those of your organization) e underestimate the obstacles.

Says the wise:

Don't promise when you're happy, don't answer when you're angry, don't decide when you're sad

If you have to do problem solving and you feel that negative or positive emotions are affecting you, take 4 big breaths and try to bring you back mentally to a neutral mood and mental attitude.

Analytical Problem Solving Vs Eureka Moments!

We have seen how problem solving leads to a solution through a process orderly, methodical, well defined. 

However, this is not always the case.

It is said that Gerone, Basileus of Sicily and king of Syracuse, asked Archimedes to find a way to find out if a gold crown contained, in addition to pure gold, also less precious metals.

Archimedes had thought about the problem for weeks without finding any solution.

One day, while he was in the bathtub, suddenly he "saw" the solution. It's a bit complex to explain here, but for those curious here is a link.

However, the solution he found led him to formulate the Archimedes principle: the buoyancy that an object undergoes in water is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

The intuition hit him so deeply that it is said he jumped out of the bathtub and ran naked around the house shouting “Eureka” - I found in Greek - anxious to pin the intuition on a parchment (Remember? Ideas must be written!).

Problem solving of everyday life: what it is, how it is done

The solution of a problem therefore, sometimes it comes as sudden as lightning. Not as a result of a problem solving process, but as pure intuition / inspiration.

Don't be fooled, however, that this intuition occurs completely at random.

It must be prepared through:

  • I study. Archimedes had passed days thinking about the problem
  • Attention and curiosity for everything around you. Millions of people use the bathtub, but only Archimedes came out naked with a principle of physics in his head

In short, get ready and always keep the antennas straight: you will see that they will also arrive the great revealing moments. 

I limiti del Problem Solving

Facing life, work, study, even relationships, knowing and applying the problem solving methodology, can give great results.

As always, however, there is a BUT…. 

Thinking solely in terms of problem solving tends to focus individuals and organizations only on the short term and on what is evident.

The problem solving that is it is a reactive system, which starts up only in the presence of the problem.

But sometimes it's something we all know, when a problem arises it is already too late.

Those who work in the medical field know this well.

It is only in the last decades that, thanks to a total change of mentality, we began to try to anticipate problems through massive prevention campaigns.

So much so that a real new medical branch was born, that of preventive medicine, which among other things is giving exceptional results.

I have the feeling that, at the level of small organizations and daily life, we are very far from that kind of mentality.

We continue to await for the problem to arise and to take initiatives only after it has exploded in all its evidence.

Partly because of the confidence we have in our problem-solving skills.

Partly because, under the pressure of everyday life, we do not have the time and attention to grasp the “small, silent transformations which then suddenly explode into events” (cf. Francois Jullien).

Prevention is better than cure, my friend.

So don't just continually search for solutions to react to the life that happens, but take your time every day to look away.

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