When we break it down, life is just a series of problems we must solve.
With every goal we pursue, there will be obstacles. Problem-solving skills are required to overcome them.
Some people shy away from these problems, while others do their best to tackle them with mixed success.
A small percentage of people are simply exceptional at problem-solving, however. They get past challenges with ease and make right decision after right decision.
Are you one of these people?
There are some signs. Today, we cover six of them.
How many do you have?
Let’s find out.
1) You analyze problems objectively and deeply
“Logic, reason, and common sense are your best tools for synthesizing reality and understanding what to do about it.” – Ray Dalio
We are often so tied up in our emotions, preconceived notions, and ingrained habits that when solving a problem, we are blinkered from seeing a solution, or at least the best solution.
This was one of my key takeaways from hyper-successful investor Ray Dalio’s book Principles. Throughout the book, he details his journey as well as the systems that allowed him to make good decisions and overcome problems.
While the book has so many lessons that we could all learn from, one of the biggest for me was that we must analyze problems objectively to find lasting solutions.
In his writing, he encourages readers to “Embrace reality and deal with it.”
As I see it, the problem is that we often don’t know what reality is as we are too focused on our perspectives. Really solving problems requires us to look at things objectively and question our views.
He writes. “My painful mistakes shifted me from having a perspective of ‘I know I’m right’ to having one of ‘How do I know I’m right?’”
He also urges us to “diagnose problems to get to their root causes”, with root causes being the underlying problem.
That is, often, we look at problems on a surface level. For example, if you are the sort of person who often misses deadlines, the surface problem is probably that you don’t have enough time, but the underlying problem might be that you are disorganized.
While I am not perfect at it, a habit of truly and deeply analyzing problems at their root has helped me to become more effective at solving them.
If I am preaching to the choir here, you are probably an exceptional problem-solver.
2) You learn from your past mistakes
“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey
Learning from our past failures is something that sounds obvious. When something goes wrong, we often say, “Well, we live and learn,” or something like that. But the problem is many of us don’t learn from our mistakes.
We forget them and repeat them. It’s surprising how short of a memory we can sometimes have.
I have made the same mistakes in relationships, business, and every other area of my life. I am sure you can think of some examples in your own life.
Truly learning from our mistakes, you see, requires self-reflection. Without deep reflection, we are destined to make new mistakes for the same reason or, worse yet, make the same mistakes.
Some people do this intentionally through journaling, whereas others have a natural tendency to reflect and do it subconsciously.
While I am often ‘in my head’, organizing my thoughts is more manageable when I put pen to paper; reflecting on my past mistakes through journaling has helped me to make better decisions.
Whatever way the reflection materializes, learning from your past experiences and past blunders is a key sign you are, or at least are on your way to, becoming an exceptional problem solver.
The next sign is a big one and is key to solving so many problems that require us to work with others.
3) You can put yourself in others’ shoes
“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”- Walt Whitman
Many, if not most, of the problems we encounter in life, require us to deal with people effectively and be diplomatic.
A key part of being able to solve problems, therefore, is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes.
This is alluded to in so many books on the topic, but none stuck with me as much as in Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Principle 17 reads, “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.”
This ability saves so much time and allows us to come up with creative solutions that everyone can agree on and, as a result, move past roadblocks.
Problems will always remain if we don’t do this next thing, however.
4) You plan and take action
“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso
No matter how good you are at analyzing problems, reflecting on past mistakes, and empathizing, problems don’t get solved without a decent plan that is executed.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, many of us get stuck in the analyzing or planning phase of problem-solving and never make it to the action stage, rendering all of our efforts futile.
People with problem-solving prowess know that taking action is the only way to really solve a problem. We need to execute the plans we make.
5) You are resilient
“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” – Steve Jobs
Despite our efforts in all the previous steps, some problems will persist. Many will be so challenging and persistent that we may feel the desire to throw in the towel.
Great problem solvers, however, show resilience and keep going in the face of difficulty, even when it seems all hope is lost.
I’ve written about this a few times, but one of the greatest examples of such resilience is provided in the story of J.K Rowling. When she wrote her first Harry Potter novel, she had a problem to solve: get the book published.
Sounds easy, right?
She’s no average author, and surely a publisher could easily recognize the value of a book that would sell 120 million copies.
You may have guessed by now that this wasn’t the case. Her now world-famous first novel was rejected no less than 12 times.
If Rowling had not had the resilience to keep going, she would never have solved this problem, and the world would not have what is one of the most celebrated book series ever.
Most of us don’t have the problem of trying to get our novel published. However, we all have relationship, career, or money problems.
Do we give up on solving problems all too soon?
Excellent problem solvers sure don’t. They know that some things take time, and we often need to persevere to see the results of our efforts.
6) You have a history of solving problems
This is an obvious sign and the most concrete; those who are exceptional problem solvers have a history of well, solving problems.
And you might, too.
A lot of people do not give themselves the credit they deserve. They are so concerned about the problems they need to tackle today to take stock of the problems they have solved in the past.
Ask yourself, “What problems have I solved?”. Think about the past week, month, year, or even the past five years. Write the problems you solved down if you need to.
You might realize you are a better problem solver than you think.
The bottom line
Many of us struggle to solve problems due to our preconceived notions, lack of reflection and empathy, failure to take action, and tendency to call it quits.
However, some stand out as exceptional problem solvers. If you can relate to all or most of the above signs, you are likely one of these rare beings.
If you can’t identify with the above behaviors, remember that today is the day to start getting better, and you can take steps to foster such habits in your own life.
As always, I hope you found this post enjoyable to read and that it provided some food for thought for your journey to becoming a better you.
Until next time.