How to Problem Solve

How To Problem Solve

As we mentioned last week, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between worrying and problem solving. Today we’re going to explain the 6 steps to effective problem solving.

To explain this example, let’s pretend you’re worried because your gas and phone bill is due at the same time, and you don’t have enough money to cover both. It’s real problem, occurring in the here and now, which you can actually do something about. Therefore, we can actually use problem solving to deal with it.

Identify & Define the Problem

Be sure to state the problem as clearly as possible. Be objective, like a scientist looking at the situation from the outside. Note any behaviours, the situation, timing and circumstances that make it a problem, as opposed to subjective feelings.

“The gas and phone bills are due at the same time. I don’t have enough money to cover both this month.”

Generate Possible Solutions and Options

List out every possible solution you can think of. Try to be creative, and forget about the quality of the solutions. If you allow yourself to be creative, you may come up with some options that you would not otherwise have thought of.


  • Ring both companies, and see if I can negotiate to pay it off gradually
  • Prioritise -I can live without a phone for a while, but not the gas, so I’ll pay that first
  • Borrow money from a family member or friend to pay both bills
  • Pay bills on my credit card, then pay that off later
  • See a financial counsellor, they may be able to help me sort it out
  • Get a second job
  • Don’t pay the bills and move in with a friend instead


Once you’ve listed all of the possibilities, eliminate the less desirable or unreasonable alternatives; but only do this after as many possible solutions have been listed. Then list the remaining options in order of preferences.

Preferred Solutions/Options

  1. Ring both companies and see if I can negotiate to pay it off gradually
  2. See a financial Counsellor
  3. Prioritise
  4. Get a second job

Evaluate Your Alternatives

Evaluate the top 3 or 4 plans in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

Potential Solution #1I may be able to keep both the phone and gas on.
I will feel I have done something.
I will feel embarrassed having to ring the companies.
I may not get what I want.
I will still have to pay eventually.
Potential Solution #2They are experienced and will know what to do.
I'll have support.
Someone to help me.
Companies will listen to them.
I will need to do some research to find a free service - this will take some effort.
Potential Solution #3The gas will stay on
I can still use the pay phone
I will survive
Problem will be reduced
I won't have a phone on hand if I need it.
I may have difficulties getting the phone reconnected in the future.
Potential Solution #4More MoneyI will be too busy - no time for myself.
This won't solve the immediate problem.

Decide on a Plan

Decide on one, two or more plans. Specify who will take action, when the plan will be implemented and how the plan will be implemented.

Action StepsWhoWhen
Contact gas and phone companies to negotiate options for paying the bills (pay off gradually or extend payment)MeMonday Morning
If that doesn't resolve the problem, contact MABS to ask about free financial counsellorsMeMonday Afternoon
Visit financial counsellor for adviceMeTuesday
If that doesn't resolve the problem, pay gas bill and use pay phone temporarilyMeWednesday

Implement Plan

Implement your plan as specified above

Evaluate the Outcome

Evaluate how effective your plan was. Decide whether the existing plan needs to be revised or whether a new plan is needed to better address the problem. If you are not pleased with the outcome, return to step 2 to select a new option or revise the existing plan, and repeat the remaining steps.


Remember, this problem-solving strategy needs some practise, especially if you’re not used to using it. But it CAN help with difficult situations. Remember, problem solving is more productive than worrying, and it will reduce your anxiety and allow you to come away with a plan of action.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

This article was adapted from:

Saulsman, L., Nathan. P., Lim, L., Correia, H., Anderson, R. & Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering your worries. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.

6 Effective Steps to Problem Solve a Situation
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