problem-solving techniques

Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills

July 21, 2023
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We face problems every day. Whether it's a complex problem at work or a personal issue that needs solving, having good problem-solving skills is essential for success in both your personal and professional life. 

If you’re feeling a little rusty in the problem-solving department, there are many ways to enhance your problem-solving abilities, like cognitive training techniques and brain games. That’s right: Games can help improve your cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory, which are essential for effective problem-solving. 

So if you’re ready to learn how to improve your problem-solving skills with some of our recommended cognitive training techniques and tips, keep reading. And you’ll be making quicker, more confident decisions in no time. 

What is Problem Solving, and Why is it Important?

Problem-solving is, well, the process of identifying, defining, and finding a solution to challenges or difficulties. It involves several steps, including recognizing the existence of a problem, understanding its nature, generating potential solutions, evaluating those solutions, and then implementing the best one. 

Problem-solving is an essential skill that enables you to navigate various aspects of your personal and professional lives effectively. In your workplace, for example, you can quickly identify issues and implement appropriate solutions, contributing to increased productivity and efficiency. In your personal life, good problem-solving skills can help you navigate relationships, make informed decisions, and cope with unexpected situations.

Good problem-solving skills not only help you make better decisions but also improve your critical thinking abilities, allowing you to find effective solutions to complex problems. And by developing and honing your problem-solving skills through cognitive training, you can become more adaptable and resourceful, capable of tackling a wide range of challenges that life throws your way. 

The Science Behind Cognitive Training for Problem Solving

So, what is cognitive training? And what does science have to say about it? 

Cognitive training involves a range of activities and exercises that target different cognitive functions. These may include puzzles, memory exercises, or brain games that require strategic thinking. The goal is to stimulate your brain and enhance its ability to process information, reason effectively, and retain information. By engaging in cognitive training, you can boost your mental capabilities and improve your overall problem-solving skills.

As you engage in cognitive training exercises, you’ll experience improvements in processing speed (the ability to absorb and process information quickly), reasoning (logical thinking and decision-making), and working memory (the capacity to hold and manipulate information over short periods). These enhanced cognitive abilities directly contribute to more effective problem-solving skills.

By understanding the principles behind cognitive training and consistently practicing these types of exercises, you can enhance your problem-solving abilities and apply these skills in various aspects of your lives. But not before you learn how to identify problems, which is a key first step to finding effective solutions. 

The Problem-Solving Process

Effective problem identification is a crucial first step in the problem-solving process. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Define the Problem: Clearly articulating the issue at hand is essential for understanding its scope and complexity. So take time to describe the problem in detail, considering the context, constraints, and possible repercussions.
  • Gather Information: Collect relevant data and information about the problem. This may involve research, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Having accurate and comprehensive information is critical for informed decision-making during the problem-solving process.
  • Involve Others: Collaborate with your team or other people to ensure diverse perspectives and insights are considered. A good idea can come from everywhere, and a collective approach can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
  • Identify Root Causes: Once the problem is defined, delve deeper to identify its underlying causes. Use techniques such as the "5 Whys" method or cause-and-effect analysis to pinpoint the factors contributing to the issue. Addressing these root causes is crucial for developing long-term, sustainable solutions.
  • Select a Problem-Solving Strategy: Employ various problem-solving methods to devise a solution that tackles the root causes effectively. These may include brainstorming, evaluating pros and cons, or implementing a trial-and-error approach. The strategy you ultimately choose should be adaptable and considerate of potential challenges or obstacles.

By following these tips for problem identification and employing problem-solving techniques, you can increase your chances of finding effective and lasting solutions to the issues you face.

6 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Here’s the truth: You can’t effectively solve a problem without using your critical thinking skills. 

Critical thinking is the process of objectively analyzing information, evaluating the credibility of arguments, and making informed decisions based on logic and reasoning. It involves things like questioning assumptions, considering multiple perspectives, and weighing evidence before reaching a conclusion.

Think about it: Having the ability to analyze information, evaluate arguments, and make reasoned decisions allows you to approach problems logically—and we have a few tips to help you improve your ability to do just that: 

  1. Break Down Information: To sharpen your critical thinking abilities, practice breaking down complex information into smaller components. Identify patterns, relationships, and underlying principles that can help you better understand the situation.
  2. Evaluate Arguments: Develop the habit of assessing the credibility and relevance of arguments presented to you. Consider the source of the information, identify any potential biases, and scrutinize the validity of the evidence provided.
  3. Make Reasoned Decisions: When faced with a decision, take time to gather all relevant information and consider possible outcomes. Weigh the pros and cons before arriving at a well-reasoned conclusion that takes into account both short-term and long-term consequences. (We love a good pros and cons list.) 
  4. Play Brain Games: Regularly engaging in brain games such as Sudoku, crosswords, chess, or logic puzzles can be an effective way to enhance critical thinking skills. These games require you to analyze information, evaluate potential moves or solutions, and make strategic decisions based on reasoning. We’ll go into more detail about this later, so hang tight. 
  5. Try Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness can enhance attention, concentration, and emotional regulation, all of which are critical for effective problem-solving. And if you're interested, you can try it for free for an entire year with the Balance app.
  6. Consider Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychotherapy technique that helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By learning to recognize unproductive thinking habits, you can develop more constructive approaches to problem-solving.

By exploring these various cognitive training techniques and consistently incorporating them into your daily life, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing your problem-solving skills and tackling life's challenges more logically and effectively.

How to Approach Problems with a Critical Mindset

Approaching problems with a critical mindset is a great way to turn critical thinking into a habit. But what does that mean, and how do you do it? Let’s break it down:  

  • Embrace Critical Thinking: Develop the habit of questioning assumptions and challenging conventional wisdom when faced with a problem. This will help to uncover hidden biases or overlooked factors that may influence the issue at hand.
  • Consider Multiple Perspectives: Explore different viewpoints and perspectives when assessing a problem. This allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the situation and can lead to innovative solutions that might not have been apparent from a single viewpoint.
  • Evaluate Evidence: Gather relevant information and carefully evaluate its credibility and reliability. Assess the strength of the evidence supporting various arguments or positions before making a decision.

By following these tips, you can develop a critical mindset that habitually enables you to approach problems more effectively, leading to well-informed decisions and lasting solutions.

Problem Solving Methods & Techniques

Now that you know a bit about how to approach a problem, here’s how you can implement these problem-solving techniques in your daily life:

  • Understand the Context: When applying problem-solving techniques in different settings, it's essential to consider the unique context and constraints of each situation. The approach that works well in a professional environment may not be suitable for a personal issue, so tailor your strategies accordingly.
  • Adapt and Be Flexible: Effective problem-solving requires adaptability and flexibility. Be open to changing your approach if circumstances shift or new information emerges. This willingness to adapt will help you find solutions that are relevant and sustainable in the long term.
  • Communicate and Collaborate: In both workplace and personal settings, communication and collaboration are key to successful problem-solving. Share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with team members or stakeholders, and actively seek their input. A diverse array of perspectives can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.
  • Learn from Experience: Reflect on past problem-solving experiences and learn from both successes and failures. Apply these lessons to future situations to continuously improve your problem-solving skills.
  • Practice Regularly: To develop strong problem-solving abilities, practice regularly by tackling problems in various aspects of your life. The more you practice, the more adept you'll become at identifying problems, generating solutions, and making well-informed decisions.

How to Practice Effective Decision-Making

By now, you know how to approach a problem. But how do you solve one? 

Effective decision-making skills are closely related to problem-solving skills, and the two can work together to help you achieve better results. So the next time you have to make a decision, give these steps a try: 

  • Gather Information: Just as you need to gather information to understand a problem, you also need to gather information to make informed decisions. This may involve conducting research into various options, consulting with experts, or seeking input from those affected by the issue. Comprehensive and accurate information is crucial for evaluating potential solutions.
  • Evaluate Options: Once you have gathered enough information, carefully assess the different options available to address the problem. Consider factors such as feasibility, impact, costs, and potential risks when weighing the pros and cons of each alternative.
  • Make a Decision: After evaluating the options, select a solution based on the available information and your assessment of its effectiveness in addressing the root causes of the problem. Ensure that your chosen solution is sustainable in the long term and takes into account any potential challenges or obstacles that may arise.
  • Monitor Outcomes: Track the outcomes of your decision to gauge its effectiveness and learn from the results. Be prepared to reassess and adjust your approach if necessary, based on feedback or changing circumstances.
  • Refine Your Decision-Making Skills: Continuously work on improving your decision-making abilities by reflecting on past decisions, learning from both successes and failures, and seeking opportunities to practice these skills in various aspects of your life.

The result of putting this into action? Better outcomes and greater success. That’s a win-win if we ever saw one. 

Benefits of Brain Games for Improving Problem-Solving Skills

One fun way to improve all of these problem-solving and decision-making skills we’ve discussed is by playing brain games. 

Brain games stimulate your mind and foster the development of various cognitive abilities like processing speed, reasoning, and working memory, which are all essential for effective problem-solving. 

These games challenge you to think critically and make decisions based on logic and strategy. And as a result, they help cultivate a more agile and adaptable mindset that is valuable for tackling real-life problems. (Did we mention they’re also fun?) 

One popular brain training app that incorporates a wide variety of games is Elevate. 

With more than 40 games spread across math, reading, writing, speaking, and memory skills, the Elevate app offers personalized training programs based on your goals, and it adapts to your skill level and performance over time. 

By incorporating brain games into daily routines or cognitive training programs, you’ll be able to make big improvements in your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, making it easier to tackle challenges in both personal and professional aspects of your life. Oh, and did we mention they’re also fun to play?

Start Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills Today

By knowing how to identify a problem, approach it with a critical mindset, and implement a few key problem-solving techniques, you’ll be able to tackle your next challenge with ease. 

And if you’re ready to up-level your overall problem-solving skills with the help of brain training games, download the Elevate app on iOS or Android today and discover 40+ brain training games, personalized training programs, and expert guidance to help you optimize your cognitive abilities and improve your overall performance in daily life. 

With the Elevate app, you can take control of your cognitive function and become a more effective problem solver. It’s what we like to call a no-brainer decision! 

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