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12 Steps to Effective Problem-Solving

By Michele Soloway

  1. Do not panic or react/overreact emotionally.
    Panicking, reacting or overreacting emotionally colors whatever situation you are facing with a negative light. It also feeds your negative feelings about yourself, causing you to feel overwhelmed, unable to face the problem, incapable of dealing with the situation, etc. It is very important for you to remain calm, rational, and nonjudgmental.
  2. Do not make a rash decision.
    It is never a good idea to make a decision until you have all the facts at hand, which is something you rarely have at first appearance. Take time to investigate the situation before making a decision. Make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision based on all the facts.
  3. Step back and view the situation objectively.
    Sometimes the situation can seem overwhelming, just because you are in the middle of it. Taking a step back and viewing the situation as if you were someone else not so closely involved helps you to have a more objective view instead of an emotional one. It also helps to see both sides of an issue.
  4. Identify the problem.
    You've heard the expression, "You can't see the forest through the trees." Sometimes the problem is hard to identify with all the "trees" surrounding it. Search the situation and identify the problem specifically, and you may find the problem is not as complicated as you thought at first.
  5. Decide if this is your problem, or if it is someone else's.
    Some of us find it difficult to break the habit of trying to solve not only our own problems, but everyone else's as well. Remember that it is ok to let other people solve their own problems without your help. This does not mean that you don't care about the other person or their problem, but that you trust them enough to solve their own problems their own way, without your help.
  6. Think about what you can do about the problem.
    If you decide this is, in fact, your own problem to solve, think about what you can do about the problem. Sometimes just thinking about what you can do about it is enough, and you can mentally brainstorm a solution. If you do not have to make a decision right away, however, you might want to make a list of pros and cons, or advantages and disadvantages, or even write out alternate solutions to a given problem, and then make your decision.
  7. Re-frame the situation in a positive light.
    Say, for instance, that you have just dropped dinner on the kitchen floor. Instead of looking at it as a catastrophe, look at it as a chance to take your husband up on that oft-promised romantic dinner out. Or, say, your landlord has just given you a 30-day notice to vacate. Look at it as an opportunity to find a better place to live.
    For every negative problem, there is a positive solution. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder, be a little more creative, to see the "silver lining" in the dark cloud.
  8. Try to find a positive emotion in the situation.
    This is like #7, only about your emotions. You can choose your emotions. In other words, you can not only choose to be optimistic or pessimistic about the situation or problem, but you can also choose how you react emotionally to it. At first you may react with fear or anger, but you can choose to replace that initial emotion with a positive one, such as hope or courage.
  9. Do not do anything to make the problem worse.
    There may be times that the best decision you can make is to make no decision at all. You may not be able to do anything to help your situation at that very moment in time-you may even have no control over the situation at all. But at least do not do anything to make the problem worse.
  10. Do not think in terms of right or wrong but, rather, in terms of effective and ineffective.
    It is best to face a problem non-judgmentally rather than judgmentally; that is, don't think of it in terms of right and wrong decisions or choices. It is better to think of it in terms of what would be the most effective decision or choice. Sometimes asking yourself, "What would work best in this situation?" is better than agonizing over "What is the right thing to do?"
  11. Make sure that whatever you decide to do is the most effective thing for you to do in the situation.
    Think of good-better-best solutions, then pick the best. Although it is good to compromise in some situations, doing the most effective thing in any given situation should be the best solution for the problem.
  12. Do what you can do to improve the situation or solve the problem.
    When all is said and done, do what you can do to improve the situation or solve the problem, and leave the rest alone. Having worked steps #1-11, step #12 is your action step, the step where you do what you have decided to do. But always remember this: Sometimes the best decision you can make is to make no decision at all (or to postpone your decision until you have all the facts).

About the Author

Michele Soloway has dealt with bipolar disorder from a very young age. Her grandmother, mother, brother, herself, and her teenage son all have the disorder. She also lost her sister to suicide because of bipolar disorder. Michele has a blog for bipolar survivors at, and is also a contributing writer to and

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Cutting and other forms of self-mutilation may be hard for many people to understand. People who self-harm are more likely to have an underlying emotional problems, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). According to a study by German researchers, people with BPD may engage in self-injury because they get a sense of emotional relief from physical pain. BPD is a complex set of... Read More

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