Smart Moms Guide to Solving Any Problem
Lady, You Gotta Problem!
A problem is a project without a to-do list. *
Problems crop up in life on a daily basis. Big or small, we take them in stride, figure things out and move on.
Then there are the other type of problems. The ones that hang around. These can be big and hairy. Or, insignificant. Ridiculously small – like gnats in the face.
Problems we’ve become numb to.
Just plain stumped.
When Did it Become Your Problem?
There are tell-tale signs that you are spinning your wheels over a problem.
- Complaining. Repeatedly. To whomever will listen.
- Exaggeration. Both in your head and to your listener. The issue is getting bigger and bigger.
- Victim territory. The world is against you. The blame finger comes out. You can’t see any options, choices, or solutions.
- Energy plummets. All of this negative emotion zaps energy.
It’s a negative spiral without an end. Maybe the problem is yours and maybe it’s not. But either way it’s stealing your joy, humor and productivity.
There is hope!
Reframing a problem, as a project, puts it into action mode and identifies where the buck stops.
6 Steps to Mastermind a Problem
One: Define the problem.
Now step back.
Is this really the problem, or just a symptom?
The 5W’s and H come in handy. Ask some questions. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
Here’s a simple example:
My family room is always a mess.
What’s making it messy? Unfolded blankets, shoes under the table, 3 projects in progress,
popcorn on the floor, pillows everywhere, remotes scattered around the room.
Who made the mess? Each person in my family (including me, to be fair) left something
behind after we watched TV last night.
There’s the real problem.
It’s not “my family room is a mess”.
The problem is: we aren’t picking up after ourselves when the movie is over.
Now I can focus on a fix.
Two: What Else is the Problem?
Granted the family room example is pretty straight-forward. Probably no deep-dark psychological problems to uncover here.
However, some problems will be more complicated.
I once thought I had a dinner-time problem, which turned out to be a “society expects us to sign up our kids for everything” problem. That was a bigger knot to untangle.
It can be helpful at this stage to find a neutral party. Depending on the problem, your spouse, a friend, even a stranger at the grocery store can serve as a sounding board.
Run the scenario by them and ask for feedback.
Important: Don’t argue with their feedback. Just accept it as fodder for the mill. Write it down if appropriate.
At this point you may decide it’s not a problem after all. Your sounding board may be brave enough to tell you the truth.
And the truth about many of our “problems” is that we need an attitude adjustment.
If it’s still something you need to solve, continue to step four.
Three: Identify All Possible Causes.
List who is involved in the issue.
In the family room I can list each item contributing to the mess.
This may seem like a waste of time, but cataloging every specific aspect of your problem sets you up to create good solutions.
The point is to quantify what seems ambiguous.
From here, it’s time to move to actionable steps.
Four: Identify Solutions
What would “resolved” look like to you?
Why is this important? How will things be different?
Here’s what this looks like for my family room:
To cross this off my list, the family room will be clutter-free before we go upstairs at night. I want to walk into the room in the morning and be able to start cleaning without having to pick up after everyone.
The simple solution to this relatively simple problem is to pause when we are done and put our stuff away. It will take less than 2 minutes for each person to tend to their spot.
Trickier problems will require advanced thinking.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Let all this collected data percolate. Go for a walk, work in the garden, color. Any mindless activity will do.
- If appropriate collect facts, numbers, figures…all objective info you will need to create an action plan.
- Brainstorm every crazy and outlandish idea to solve the problem. This is more fun with a partner. Set a timer and challenge yourself to come up with 100 solutions. This will open up creative options and possibilities.
Back to my family room:
We have too many pillows. I will sacrifice one layer – it’s overkill anyway.
Projects need to come into the room on a tray/basket/box. This will make it quick and easy to collect the parts and take it out of the room.
Friendly reminder to family – we don’t wear shoes in the house. I wouldn’t be so friendly, except the culprit here pays the mortgage.
I will need to be the catalyst for change. But I have a tendency to forget my own proclamations and resolutions about 5 minutes after I make them. I’m going to make a small poster and hang it on the wall on the way out of the room – just long enough to instill the ‘pause and pick up’ habit.
Five: Weigh the Risk/Benefit Ratio
As a mom it’s important to not become a whiner (some might say nag).
Have a solutions-oriented mindset.
You are the parent. Your authority is imbued and (should be) without dispute. Sometimes we need to find our backbone to create positive change.
If this is truly important to you be prepared to: Expect. Inspect. and Firmly Insist.
What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario?
Will consequences come into play? Who will the consequences effect?
It’s easy at this point to slip back into defeat mode and determine ahead of time that you don’t have the power to fix the problem.
Frame the consequences as a challenge, not a punishment.
Keep moving, mom. You’re almost there.
Great job! You’ve moved out of victim territory.
Now it’s time to take all the intel you’ve gathered and create an action plan.
What concrete, physical change can you implement today?
Where’s the Friction?
What areas of life do you want to get a handle on?
What is your biggest problem?
What is causing friction in your day?
What is the greatest source of negativity in your life?
Are there any conflicting needs to address?
Is someone guilty of bad behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud? Is it you?
Are there habits that could begin or end?
What is the state of your finances?
How about family routines? Any improvements here?
What is the messiest area of your home? Is it stressing you out?
Run your problem through the six mastermind steps.
Problem Solving is a Form of Creativity
A shift in thinking makes all the difference.
Rick Steves, the European travel expert says, “If something is not to your liking, change your liking.”
Regardless of the circumstances you still have a choice on how to respond. Sometimes things are just the way they are and the only choice we have is to maintain our dignity or freak out.
Be a solver. Take responsibility.
Creative problem solving is forward thinking.
What is your biggest problem or source of friction?
I would love to see how you apply the 6 steps to mastermind a problem.
Explain your process in the comments so we can learn from one another.
* The idea of turning ambiguous situations into actionable projects comes from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.
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