Problem-Solving Skills: 5 Habits You Should Ditch Right Now

6 minutes read -
Matt Coates
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Table of Contents
Summary: Problem-solving is a beneficial skill to have in today's working environment. Learn the ways to develop this skill.


Problem-solving skills are a constant source of strife for busy working people. Problems can snowball, stress can hinder your productivity, and it doesn’t help when the boss is watching.

Here are some bad habits you can get rid of for better problem-solving and a more effective workday. With proper implementation, you can transform these bad habits into good habits and greatly increase your problem-solving skills.

1. Procrastinating

Procrastinating is the opposite of problem-solving.

When a decision is looming and a job or reputation is on the line, there are several common ways people react:

  1. Putting it off until the last minute, then throwing themselves into it;
  2. Looking for loopholes or excuses;
  3. Failing, and spending remaining effort looking for an excuse or source of blame.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

These options certainly don’t look appealing, yet they end up being a reality. If you constantly find these to be your frequent actions, you may be averse to conflict. If anything, conflict aversion is rarely about the problem so much as it is about our mindset.

An effective problem-solving mindset involves embracing a healthy amount of conflict on a regular basis and looking for opportunities hidden within that problem. Easier said than done, right?

Not quite! If you start the process by listing your options (even unfavorable ones you might have discounted from the beginning) and write down the pros and cons of each, it will clear the mental haze. You will also get rid of factors that are fear-based, not reason-based.

2. Doing It Alone

Another great way to rid of fear-based reasoning is by sharing the load! Problem-solving skills are something you need to hone on your own, of course, but there’s no need to try and fix everything yourself. A diverse group of people creates checks and balances, challenging your problem-solving fears.

Team problem solving may seem like it brings more conflict, but it doesn’t! It’s an evolved trait that humans (and other animals) have used over the centuries to thrive in changing, fast-paced environments. Odds are, your environment is that way, too!

Keep in mind that, while your boss or superior may appreciate your independent work, sometimes that can limit the mind and opportunities for inspiration. It can be more efficient to create a team-building effort and play off each other’s strengths than to do something alone and let your project suffer.

Team problem solving

Experience comes with practice, both alone and in groups. The independent part can still be present in either situation: it’s a matter of learning when you need help and creating good habits around asking for it when you do.

Don’t forget to let your workplace work for you, not the other way around. Check out mind tools for more ways to further your team-oriented problem-solving!

3. Worrying or Stressing

Do you worry about a task or project more than actually working on it? Have you addressed the first red flag making you stressed?

Examine your problem-solving abilties to see how much of a role stress plays

Does stress prevent you from seeing obvious solutions? Do trial and error continually fail you? Edward O’Neill offers several problems that test our framework for solving problems.

Stress isn’t all bad, don’t get us wrong. There’s a time and place for stress that’s different for everyone. There is such a thing as good anxiety, which is just a “power mode” of sorts. Your brain anticipates possible problems and goes into high gear to help you solve problems and adapt to changes along the way.

Eliminate the symptoms of stress

This can help clear your mind a bit, especially if you’re not in full control of the problem you’re trying to solve.

You can try taking short breaks outside to relieve stress, aiming for as natural a setting as possible. Drink plenty of water, eat as healthy as you can, experiment with stress-relief foods (chocolate is a great go-to for stress relief). Listen to a song that takes you to your happy place. Look at art that inspires or moves you. Make good habits out of this type of self-care. This is undeniably one of the best problem-solving strategies out there.

Take action against stress

When the symptoms of stress can’t be put off, it’s time to work through the stress before it causes more problems than it helps to solve. If we don’t listen to a stressful thought and address it the first time, it will usually pop back up (more worrisome than ever) later.

This can drastically reduce your productivity and especially your momentum, which is a super effective problem-solving strategy.

Huffington Post talks about the concept of worrying well, which channels healthy amounts of stress to eliminate bad stress (that shows up later as weight or sleep problems, and more). This keeps your mind moving forward, instead of getting stuck on one particular stressor.

Start one step ahead of stress

Give yourself time in the morning to start the day off right. You were designed to take action when attacked with worry or problems.

Solve a few small problems (working out, doing a mini Sudoku puzzle, organizing papers or lists) before you head to work. This way, those problems won’t negatively affect bigger problems, and you won’t start the problem-solving process feeling so overwhelmed.

Bookend your day with self-actualized positivity; this can be as easy as writing down something great about yourself that a bad day can’t take away from you, perhaps once when you wake up and once before you get into bed.

This exercise will help you over time, not just each individual day!

4. Only Thinking With Your Head

Thinking with our hands comes naturally in some situations, but rarely problem-solving or decision making; still, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving (literally) go hand-in-hand!

Picture having a conversation with someone or giving a presentation: there is movement, gesturing, hands-on demonstrations, etc. This moves the thinking process along and helps actualize our ideas. Surprisingly, thinking alone is not one of the best problem-solving strategies.

Even if you think you’re all intellectual with clumsy hands, that doesn’t matter! You can still physically interact with your environment to further productive problem solving, regardless of your fine motor skills.

If moving makes you uncomfortable, put pen to paper and write down or map out your problem. This alone will change your mode of thinking and focus you on the possible solutions.

5. Skimping On Sleep

Busy people can try to go to bed early and get good sleep, but learning how your body relaxes is most important.

Research shows that the more REM sleep you get, the better you will be at creative and effective problem-solving. Even mid-day naps help with problem-solving skills and mental clarity, which is why so many companies are including opportunities for R&R in the workplace.

For creative problems that you’ve already been working on — the passage of time is enough to find solutions; however, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.

– Sara Mednick, Ph.D., University of California San Diego

This means you need to make your bedtime or nap time as relaxing as possible (studies show that imitating sounds and feelings related to the nature of the womb are the best ways to kick your relaxing instincts into high gear).

Also, this Dormio app works wonders in helping you to fall asleep quickly and soundly.

Feel free to use a smart app to track your REM sleep and test different sleep aids, such as white noise or looped instrumentals. Whatever you choose, we hope it refreshes your mind and problem-solving strategies.

FAQ about problem-solving skills

What is the meaning of problem-solving skills?

Problem-solving is a complex skill. It involves critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, and information processing. Effective problem-solvers use a systematic approach that allows them to break down difficult problems into smaller, more manageable parts

What is an example of problem-solving skills?

For example, in customer service you might find a scenario like, “How would you handle an angry customer?” or “How do you respond when a customer asks for a refund?” Practicing how you might handle these or other scenarios common in your industry can help you call upon solutions quickly when they arise on the job

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Matt Coates

Matt Coates

Matt is a copywriter for Mindvalley. As a professional word putterer, he can be found constantly squeezing his creative juices to concoct personal growth narratives to transport people to a place where great potential knows no bounds. He is also on a quest to be seriously funny.
Written by

Matt Coates

Matt is a copywriter for Mindvalley. As a professional word putterer, he can be found constantly squeezing his creative juices to concoct personal growth narratives to transport people to a place where great potential knows no bounds. He is also on a quest to be seriously funny.

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