How To Improve Problem Solving Skills: 12-Step Guide

In this new article you’ll learn how to improve problem solving skills.

Problem-solving skills extend beyond the realm of mathematics assignments. They are crucial in numerous professional fields, including accounting, computer programming, detective work, and even creative pursuits such as art, acting, and writing.

Although specific problems differ, there are common approaches to problem-solving, notably the one initially introduced by mathematician George Polya in 1945. By adhering to his principles of comprehending the problem, developing a strategy, implementing the plan, and reflecting on the process, individuals can enhance their problem-solving abilities and effectively address any challenge in a systematic manner.

How To Improve Problem Solving Skills:

1. It is crucial to establish a clear definition of the problem at hand.

This seemingly straightforward step is of utmost importance, as it can determine the effectiveness or failure of your solutions. To define the problem accurately, it is necessary to inquire and examine it from various perspectives.

For instance, you should consider whether there is a single problem or multiple issues intertwined. Additionally, try restating the problem in your own words to gain a deeper understanding. By investing time in comprehending the problem, you will be better equipped to generate suitable solutions.

When faced with a situation as a student with limited funds, it is essential to formulate relevant questions. What is the core problem? Is it a matter of insufficient income? Are you spending excessively? Or perhaps unexpected expenses have arisen, or your financial circumstances have changed? By identifying the specific issue at hand, you can focus your efforts on finding an effective solution.

2. Clearly stating your objective is another approach to delve into the essence of the problem.

It involves identifying what you aim to achieve and what you seek to uncover. It is important to consider the known and unknown aspects of the problem and determine where to gather relevant data that will aid in accomplishing your goal.

For instance, let’s consider the ongoing issue of money. What is your specific objective? Maybe you constantly find yourself lacking funds to enjoy weekend activities such as going to the movies or clubs. In this case, you decide that your goal is to have more disposable income. Excellent! By establishing a clear objective, you have further delineated the problem at hand.

3. Systematically gathering information is vital to gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem and your desired outcome.

It involves collecting relevant facts, reaching out to individuals or experts connected to the problem, and exploring resources online, in print, or elsewhere. Once you have gathered the data, it is crucial to organize it effectively.

This can be done through techniques such as rephrasing, condensing, summarizing, or even creating visual representations like charts or diagrams. While this step may not be necessary for simple problems, it becomes essential for more complex issues.

To address your shortage of funds, for instance, you would want to obtain a detailed overview of your financial situation. Collect data by reviewing your latest bank statements and engaging in discussions with a bank teller.

Keep track of your income and expenditure patterns in a notebook, and subsequently, create a spreadsheet or chart that visually depicts your earnings alongside your expenses. By systematically gathering and organizing this information, you will have a clearer understanding of your financial landscape and be better equipped to tackle the problem.

4. Analyzing the gathered information is a crucial step in gaining a deeper understanding of your situation.

By searching for connections and relationships within the data, you can uncover valuable insights. Begin by examining the raw data itself. At times, it may be necessary to break down the information into smaller, more manageable parts or rank it based on its importance or relevance. Utilizing tools such as charts, graphs, or cause-and-effect models can be helpful in this analysis process.

Let’s consider the scenario where you have collected all your bank statements. Take a closer look at them. Examine when, how, and from where your money is coming in. Explore where, when, and how you are spending your money. Identify any recurring patterns or trends in your financial transactions. Determine whether you have a surplus or deficit in your overall finances. Pay attention to any unexplained items or discrepancies that require further investigation. By analyzing these aspects, you can gain valuable insights into your financial situation and identify areas that require attention.

5. Now is the opportune time to generate a wide range of potential solutions.

Based on your analysis of the data, let’s assume you have identified a net deficit of funds, meaning you are spending more than you are earning. The next step is to explore various options without evaluating them at this stage.

You can employ techniques like brainstorming or reverse brainstorming (1). Reverse brainstorming involves asking yourself, “How could I potentially cause this problem?” and then reversing the answers to generate solutions. Additionally, seeking input from others and asking for their suggestions can be beneficial.

Considering your specific problem of a lack of money and the goal of having more spending cash, what options come to mind? Without evaluating them yet, think of potential solutions.

For example, you could explore acquiring additional income through a part-time job or by taking out a student loan. Alternatively, you might consider saving money by reducing your expenses or finding ways to lower other costs.

To assist you in generating solutions, here are a few strategies you can employ:

  1. Divide and conquer: Break down the problem into smaller, manageable components and brainstorm potential solutions for each of them individually.
  2. Utilize analogies and similarities: Seek resemblances between your current problem and ones you have encountered in the past. By finding commonalities, you may be able to adapt previously successful solutions to the present situation.

6. Evaluating the solutions and making an informed choice is crucial for achieving the best possible outcome.

Similar to how you analyzed the raw data of the problem, you must now assess each potential solution for its suitability. Depending on the situation, this evaluation process may involve conducting tests, running experiments, using simulations, or engaging in “thought experiments” to understand the consequences of each solution. Ultimately, you should select a solution that aligns with your needs, appears viable, and does not create further complications.

Let’s consider how you can raise money in your situation. Review your expenditures and observe that you are primarily spending on essential needs such as tuition, food, and housing.

Can you find ways to reduce costs, such as finding a roommate to split rent expenses? Is it financially feasible or advisable to take a student loan solely for weekend entertainment? Can you allocate some of your study time to work part-time?

Each solution will have its own unique circumstances that require evaluation. It is essential to run projections and develop budgets to understand the financial implications.

However, personal considerations also come into play. Are you willing to make compromises on basic necessities like food or housing? Are you comfortable prioritizing finances over your education or taking on debt? These are factors that should be weighed in the decision-making process.

7. Implementing a solution provides an opportunity to assess its effectiveness in practice.

It is advisable to start with a limited or trial-scale implementation to test the outcomes before fully committing. However, there may be instances where you choose to implement the solution comprehensively from the outset.

It is crucial to keep in mind that unexpected problems can arise during this stage, which you may not have anticipated during the initial analysis and evaluation, especially if the problem was not properly structured.

For example, let’s say you decide to reduce costs as a solution because you were unwilling to take on debt, compromise your study time, or find a roommate. You create a detailed budget and make cuts in various areas, diligently saving a few dollars here and there. You commit to a month-long trial period to see how well the solution works in practice.

During the implementation phase, it is important to monitor the progress closely and be prepared to adapt if any unforeseen challenges arise. By being proactive and responsive, you can address unexpected issues and refine your solution to achieve the desired outcome.

8. Reviewing and evaluating the outcome is crucial to determine the effectiveness of the implemented solution and whether any adjustments are necessary.

Reflect on whether the solution has allowed you to achieve your desired goal. Assess if any unforeseen new problems have arisen as a result. This review should encompass both the initial problem and your problem-solving process as a whole .

In the specific case of your trial period, the outcome is a mixture of successes and challenges. On the positive side, you have managed to save enough money during the month to engage in enjoyable weekend activities.

However, new problems have emerged. You find yourself in a situation where you have to make difficult choices between spending money on leisure activities and fulfilling basic needs like food. Additionally, you require a new pair of shoes, but it is beyond what your budget allows. These unexpected obstacles indicate that the current solution may not be sustainable or entirely effective.

Considering these factors, it may be necessary to explore an alternative solution that addresses the newly identified problems. By critically evaluating the outcomes and being open to adjustments, you can refine your problem-solving approach and seek a more suitable resolution.

9. It is important to remember that it is perfectly normal if your initial solution does not yield the desired results.

Problem-solving is an iterative process, and it often involves generating multiple potential solutions that need to be evaluated individually. If your first solution successfully addresses the problem, then you have found a suitable resolution. However, if it falls short, it is necessary to seek alternative solutions and restart the problem-solving cycle.

In light of your experience after a month, you come to the realization that your initial budget is not effective in resolving your financial constraints. As a result, you decide to explore another approach by seeking part-time work.

Fortunately, you find a suitable work-study job on campus. With this new source of income, you can create a revised budget that provides you with additional funds without significantly compromising your study time. This revised approach shows promise as a potentially effective solution.

By adjusting your strategy, implementing the new solution, and carefully reviewing the outcome, you have taken a step forward in addressing the problem. Remember to repeat this process if necessary until you ultimately find a successful resolution. Embracing the iterative nature of problem-solving allows for flexibility and the opportunity to refine your approach over time.

10. Engaging in regular mental exercises is essential to enhance your problem-solving skills, much like strengthening a muscle in your body.

Consistent practice can lead to improved mental agility and effectiveness. Research suggests that activities such as brain games can contribute to mental flexibility and cognitive development.

There are numerous games and activities you can incorporate into your routine to stimulate problem-solving abilities. Word games, for example, can be highly beneficial. Games like “Split Words” challenge you to match word fragments to form words within a specific theme, such as “philosophy.” Similarly, in the game “Tower of Babel,” you need to memorize and correctly match foreign language words with corresponding pictures.

Mathematical games are another effective way to put your problem-solving skills to the test. Whether they involve numbers or word problems, these games require you to activate the analytical parts of your brain.

For instance, consider a problem like: “James is currently half as old as he will be when he is 60 years older than he was six years before he reached half his current age. How old will James be when his age is twice what it was 10 years after he was half his current age?”

In addition to games, reading books can greatly contribute to expanding your perspectives and knowledge. Through reading, you expose yourself to diverse ideas, scenarios, and insights, which can stimulate your problem-solving abilities and enhance your overall cognitive skills.

By incorporating regular mental exercises, such as games and reading, into your routine, you can continually develop and refine your problem-solving capabilities over time.

11. Recent research suggests that playing video games can have positive effects on certain cognitive abilities.

Contrary to common misconceptions, video games are not inherently intellectually lazy. In fact, they can enhance spatial perception, reasoning, and memory. However, it’s important to note that not all games offer the same benefits. While first-person shooter games may improve spatial reasoning, they may not be as effective in developing problem-solving skills.

To harness the cognitive benefits of gaming, it’s advisable to choose games that require strategic or analytical thinking. Puzzle games like Tetris can provide an engaging challenge that exercises your problem-solving abilities. Alternatively, if you prefer role-playing or strategy games, titles such as “Civilization” or “SimCity” can offer opportunities for strategic decision-making and critical thinking.

By selecting games that stimulate strategic or analytical thought processes, you can enjoy the benefits of video gaming while actively enhancing your problem-solving skills. It’s essential to strike a balance between entertainment and cognitive engagement to make the most of your gaming experiences.

12. Engaging in a hobby can be an excellent avenue for further enhancing your problem-solving skills.

Choosing a hobby that involves active problem-solving or activates relevant areas of your brain can contribute to your cognitive development. One such hobby is learning a foreign language. Language learning engages both hemispheres of the brain, stimulating the areas responsible for analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving.

In addition to language learning, there are several other hobbies that can foster strategic and systematic thinking. Activities such as web design, software programming, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, and chess all require you to think critically, plan ahead, and approach problems in a systematic manner. By immersing yourself in these hobbies, you can further sharpen your problem-solving abilities and cultivate a more comprehensive skill set.

By actively pursuing a hobby that involves problem-solving, you can continue to refine your abilities outside of specific problem-solving tasks. The diverse challenges presented by different hobbies provide opportunities for growth and the application of problem-solving strategies in various contexts.

In summary, to improve problem-solving skills, several strategies and activities can be employed:

  1. Define the problem clearly: Take the time to fully understand the problem by asking questions and considering different angles.
  2. State your objective: Clearly articulate what you want to achieve or discover, keeping in mind the problem’s knowns and unknowns.
  3. Gather information systematically: Collect relevant data from various sources and organize it in a meaningful way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the problem.
  4. Analyze information: Look for patterns, relationships, and connections within the data to gain insights into the problem and its underlying causes.
  5. Generate possible solutions: Brainstorm a range of potential solutions without evaluating them initially, employing techniques such as brainstorming or reverse brainstorming.
  6. Evaluate the solutions and choose: Assess each solution based on its suitability, feasibility, and potential impact, and select the most appropriate one to implement.
  7. Implement a solution: Put the chosen solution into action, either on a trial scale or fully, and monitor its effectiveness.
  8. Review and evaluate the outcome: Assess the results of the implemented solution, considering whether it has achieved the desired goal and identifying any unforeseen problems.
  9. Adjust if necessary: If the initial solution does not yield satisfactory results, reconsider and adjust it or explore alternative solutions, repeating the problem-solving process.
  10. Engage in regular mental exercises: Practice problem-solving regularly through activities like word games, mathematical puzzles, reading books, or playing video games to strengthen and enhance problem-solving skills.
  11. Take up a hobby: Pursue hobbies that involve active problem-solving or stimulate relevant areas of the brain, such as learning a foreign language, web design, programming, puzzles, or strategic games like chess, to further develop problem-solving abilities.

By following these steps and incorporating regular practice and engagement in problem-solving activities, individuals can continually improve their problem-solving skills, becoming more adept at addressing challenges and finding effective solutions.

Thank you for reading this article about how to improve problem solving skills and I really hope that you take action my advice.

I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky
Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here