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Thinking Differently About Problem Solving

Problem Solving

I am Neha Patel, a 24 year old housewife. My husband and I have been having a lot of conflicts around my decision making capacity. He is in insurance sales and always accuses me of not being methodical and organized in any situation leading to impulsive decisions or inadequate solutions. I do not understand as to how to deal with this situation. I also admit that what he is saying is true to an extent, but I am simply unable to find a way out. Please advise.

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A problem is a conflict or difference between one situation – where we are and the situation which we want to create – out goal. Problem solving is the process of thought and goal directed actions to reduce the discrepancy between one state of affairs and another. In trying to reach the solution, we use information available from memory and the here-and-now perception of the problem situation before us. We process this information according to the rules that tell us what we can and cannot do. Thus problem solving is often considered a form of rule-guided motivated information processing. One process is algorithms – a set of rules which if followed correctly, will guarantee a solution to a problem – for e.g. rules of multiplication of numbers. However, we do not have algorithms for most problems we encounter – therefore we must use heuristics. Heuristics are strategies, usually based on our past experience with problems, that are likely to lead to a solution, but do not guarantee success. One common strategy is to break the problems down into smaller sub-problems, each a little closer to the end goal.

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Life abounds with situations in which you must choose between alternatives. Assigning probabilities to these factors and weighting them is an almost impossible task. You would always try to maximize the expected gain and minimize the possible loss, in other words trying to make the optimum decision. Most decisions are risky in the sense that we cannot be sure of the outcome. In the more complex decisions about life, we do not know the precise likelihood of various outcomes, we can only make out own estimates of the probabilities. A tossed coin, for example normally has a 50/50 chance of coming up heads or tails. Even if for the past 4 times it has come up heads, the probability of it coming up tails is 50 % next time. Gambler’s fallacy is the thinking that feels that if the coin has come up heads for the past 4 times, it is likely to come up tails this time because it is due for success this time. However the logic of the probability says that every event is independent.

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Another method of making decisions is a representative situation. If the current situation is something similar to what you have already experienced, it may guide decisions. However, you can be misled by surface similarities. It is also true, that the first situation may not be representative of the true state of affairs. Another method is adjustment. You can start with a subjective estimate and raise or lower your decision depending on the circumstances. The final outcome will depend on the starting point.

Weighing alternatives can help tremendously in decision making. It involves making a list of the desired attributes in the solution and then giving weights to those attributes on the basis of their importance. Then you can assess the utility of each attribute multiplying by the weight to give an overall value for that attribute.

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These are the processes by which decision making is helped. In your day to day life, if you can utilize some of these processes, it would help you tremendously. The other matter you might want to look into is whether you are overlooking things in order to express anger towards some factor with your husband. It is very difficult to keep on making mistakes all the time. Alternatively, it is equally possible, that your husband may have some grievance towards you in a matter which may be difficult for him to express and henceforth he is picking holes in all your matters. So a clear understanding of each other’s expectations and roles may also help to solve matters for you. As your age suggests that you are very young, you should look into matters of sexuality as this is often the most common cause of marital conflicts in early stages of marriage. So try and use both the problem-solving concepts and your emotions for a solution.

Dr. Darshan Shah

Dr. Darshan Shah, a renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist, is committed to make a difference in the area of mental health and help individuals cope with feelings and symptoms; change behavior patterns that may contribute to one’s illness and henceforth contribute to their newly improved pathway of life.