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Three Suggestions for Effective Problem-Solving

Make Your Own AnthologyEmotionally sensitive people are often creative and able to think outside the box. When it comes to solving problems though, their emotions can get in the way of using their strengths.

Problems can be upsetting, and emotionally sensitive people tend to get easily discouraged, so they avoid problems or spend so little thinking about solutions that they have little hope the solutions are out there.

Others have the idea that problems are easier to solve than they are and so they blame themselves when they aren’t able to come up with solutions quickly and easily. They may see the difficulty they are experiencing as a reflection of their being broken or inadequate in some way, such as being too inconsistent or not smart enough or too lazy.

Usually, the character flaw the emotionally sensitive are certain they have comes from people telling them that negative events happened in their life because they are a certain way. When you’re told that at a young age it often becomes true at such a deep level you don’t question it.  Others don’t face problems because they don’t want the tension or fear that comes with problems.

Understanding some of the best strategies to use when problems occur can help overcome those reactions. In the book, Solving Life’s Problems, the author talks Marvin Levine’s ideas about limited ability. Levine says that there are three important activities for the mind during problem solving: taking in information, retrieving the needed information and putting the pieces together. Often, however, we can’t do all of these well at the same time.

When we try to remember information, we are limited in understanding the whole picture and how it all fits together. The brain can only do so much at one time.

If you’re anxious and worried that you can’t solve the problem, or that the situation is a negative judgment of your character, then the task becomes understandably overwhelming. In addition, people who are not invalidating themselves are not likely to understand why you are overwhelmed. That adds to your negative judgment of yourself and makes the whole process more difficult the next time you have a problem to solve.

Levine has suggestions for helping the mind be more efficient. These suggestions seem particularly important for the emotionally sensitive.


We will likely do better at remembering information, taking in data, and putting facts together in a meaningful way if we write down the important points. The mind is then freed freed from having to remember and can concentrate on creative solutions. So make lists of the important points, draw diagrams of the connections between facts and write down your priorities. You can also write down possible solutions, likely outcomes of those solutions, and the pros and cons of those solutions.

Overcome Poor Self-Confidence: Visualization

Low self-confidence in problem solving, as well as fear and other less desired emotions, leads people to give up or avoid the problem solving process. Levine recommends using visualization. First, visualize your life as it might be after you have solved the problem. For now, don’t think about how you will solve the problem. This can help you develop hopefulness. Hope is critical.

The authors of Solving Life’s Problems quote Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning) who said that the ability to visualize the future is “salvation in the most difficult moments of our existence.”  When he was in the Nazi concentration camp, he often visualized his life after he was released. He found this helped him rise above the suffering of the moment, almost as if it were already past. This can help you create hope and hope helps motivate you to keep going.

Too many times we use visualization in a negative way. Instead of visualizing what will happen when the problem is solved successfully, we visualize the problem not being solved. We “see”  all the catastrophes that could happen, how the problem could blow up and destroy all we value, and our devastation. That tends to destroy hope and demotivate us to work on the problem. Instead we are stuck in a fight, flight or paralysis reaction.

A second way to use this tool is to visualize the solutions being carried out. See as much detail as you can. If barriers come up, consider how to cope with them. Visualization is effective practice, almost as effective as actually doing the activity.


Break the problem down into smaller problems. For example, if your problem is that you have to get an important application turned in and you only have a couple of days to do it, make a list of the steps you need to take. Then for each step, look at what you need to do. Perhaps you need three references. How can you get the references in the fastest way possible? Consider each step in the same way. Recognize your successes.

Instead of looking at the goal, which could be overwhelming, looking at each step makes the process seem possible.

Remember that any new skill, as well as overcoming fear, takes practice.

Note to Readers:  My sincere thanks to everyone who has completed our second survey. The responses are terrific and so many of you have contributed.  If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on our new survey about being emotionally sensitive. Results will be given in a future post.



Nezu, A.M., Nezu, C. and D’Zurilla, T. Solving Life’s Problems. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2007.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Harold Abramowitz

Three Suggestions for Effective Problem-Solving

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). Three Suggestions for Effective Problem-Solving. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 20 May 2012
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