Have you ever felt like the answer was right in front of you all along? When making a major life decision, it’s easy to overthink your options. All the “what-ifs” and “buts” can make it seem like there is no right decision -- it happens to the best of us.
Sometimes the best path forward is clearly defined, while other times it’s not. Fortunately, a proactive, mindful approach can help you see your options clearly to make the best choice moving forward.
A Process for Mindful Problem Solving
Before you make any major life decision, it’s important that you take a moment to slow things down. Breathe. It’s natural to feel emotionally charged when there is some sort of stake on the line. Don’t get caught up trying to uncover the “right” and “wrong” answers. You will naturally identify the best solution as you ask yourself these 5 questions:
1. What is your challenge?
The first step is to define the problem you are trying to solve. This is typically the major life decision you are trying to make. From choosing a field of study, career path, life partner, and more. You want to be crystal clear about what it is you are trying to solve.
Try asking yourself questions like:
What’s the challenge you are facing?
Why is this a challenge that must be addressed now?
What important details am I dealing with?
What do I want the outcome to be?
What bothers you about the problem?
What doesn’t bother you?
Who is involved?
Where does the problem occur?
When does it happen?
Why is it happening?
How does it happen?
How does it make you feel?
How do you react/respond?
Sometimes the problem you are facing will be very clear and already pre-defined. Other times the problem may be vague or require more effort to put it into words.
2. What are your possible outcomes?
Now it’s time to brainstorm all of the possible solutions to your challenge. It’s natural for our minds to focus on one “ideal solution”, but it’s important to let your mind search for multiple solutions. Think of this as an opportunity to brainstorm possible outcomes you may not have previously thought of.
To help you get started try thinking about solutions in terms of what it looks like you doing, feeling, and seeing. Focus both on what you do want to happen, as well as what you do not want to happen. Decide on your top 3 possible outcomes and keep these in mind.
3. What are your strategies to achieve these outcomes?
This is where you develop your ideas to craft a truly workable solution -- a plan you can implement to overcome your challenge. Try to think of as many strategies as you can for each of your 3 possible solutions from the previous step. These are actions you can take that will help you achieve a particular outcome. Remember, any idea is fair game at this point. Don’t criticize the merits of your ideas at this stage... we will get to that!
4. What are the consequences of your strategies?
In order to determine the best plan of action moving forward, consider the likelihood of success for each of your strategies from the previous step. Once you’ve done that, consider which of your outcomes from Question #2, has the most strategies that are likely to succeed. Of course, you’ll need to implement a specific strategy, but this is where you’ll have the best chances of success.
5. How can you implement this plan of action?
Now that you’ve arrived at a specific strategy to achieve a particular outcome, the final piece of the puzzle is to put it into action. Break your strategy down into a series of steps that take you from your current situation to your chosen outcome. By this point, you’ll have made a very intentional, mindful decision about the best course of action to overcome any challenge.