Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 29, 2014
My wife and I are planning on attending a wedding later this summer and she decided she wanted to purchase a new dress for the event. Yet after searching a few stores she couldn’t find anything she liked or what she did like she didn’t want to spend that much money on. She was looking at one dress but at $100 for it and knowing she would likely only wear it once or twice she couldn’t justify the cost to herself.
Then the other day she mentioned to me that she realized she was getting too worked up on finding a new dress. She realized she had assumed she needed to find a new one. Yet in reality she had a dress she could wear that she did love. So instead of assuming she needed a new one she changed her point of view. She would look for a dress and if she didn’t find one for under $50 she won’t worry about it and use the backup dress instead. Then with terrible irony, the very dress she was lusting after went on sale for $49. So now she has the dress she wanted at the price she was willing to pay and is extremely happy about it.
I’ve seen this very situation so many times in my own life it isn’t funny (well obviously not the dress part ). People have a nasty habit of focusing on problems rather than looking for solutions. We tell ourselves we can’t retire early (the problem) and then fixate on that thought and often end up reenforcing it in our mind. When in fact we should be looking at solutions like what can I do differently to retire early. Could you spend less than you do right now, or perhaps get a higher paying job or explore retiring in a different location with lower costs or do all of them? Those are solutions, rather than looking at the problem.
Unfortunately I think our training at elementary school often makes people assume there is only one solution to every problem rather than realizing with a bit of creativity there is often thousands of solutions. The trick to finding those solutions is getting into the habit of looking for potential solutions and then tossing the ideas out there to help others come up with additional solutions. This isn’t to say that the majority of the solutions you come up with will be viable, but don’t bother discarding them until you have a look at them to check. Impossible often used as an excuse just because no one has bothered to try out a solution yet.
I’ve often found my education as an engineer has helped me out in my personal life on focusing on solutions rather than problems. After four years of repeating the same process when getting my degree I now do the following steps automatically:
- Define the problem. What exactly are you trying to solve? What is your desired goal or output?
- Define what you know. Figure out what you already know related to the problem and write it down.
- Define what you don’t know. Often you won’t know everything up front so figure out what you don’t know and write that down as well.
- Research the missing pieces. It’s ok to not know some things as long as you can look them up and hopefully reduce the amount of unknowns.
- Generate solution ideas. Try to come up with at least a few different ways to solve the problem. Since often your first idea can end up being impossible or not very practical.
- Test solutions. Now you give some of your solutions a try and discard the ones that don’t work out well.
The method isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does tend to help you focus on solutions which is helpful. The other big suggestion I have for finding solutions is not to bother trying to solve everything at once, give it some time if there is no rush. Often a better solution or idea will come up if you just sit on the issue for a while. After all it has taken me several years to refine my early retirement plan to a workable solution and I’m still modifying the plan as I go.
So how do you focus on solutions rather than problems? What method helps you out the most?