• Apollo

Drafting a rational problem solving tool

Structure builds integrity

I have recently been more motivated to develop certain rudimentary tools to help me in my daily issues. One such tool that has been on my mind is a problem solving tool, like a certain behavioral paradigm when faced with a tough challenge.

Generally, humans fare quite poorly with problem solving skills, as is evident from their poor habits. Perhaps it isn't a question regarding problem solving, but rather incompetence and a complete lack of care, but either way many tend to give up too easily. This can be formulated into a very simple behavioral pattern illustrated below:

As is evident from the graph, many generally encounter a problem, attempt to fix it and then accept failure.

This is a very intuitive way to combat problems, and sometimes it works. But for big challenges it often creates issues. Lets propose the following theoretical example: Matthew, a person who has never been interested in studying decides in their late teens that they want to get to medical school and become a doctor, so they start studying. Having never studied previously, he just picks up the book and reads in a relatively uncoordinated but chronological fashion. Now, having prepared for the exam for the first time in their life, Matthew is expecting a great grade as a reward for all his hard work: he is presented with a C, and he deems his entire operation to be a failure.

As real life problem solving often isn't as uncomplicated as the absolute values in mathematics, perspective matters immensely. This C might just have been this person's first C, or at least a first consistent C. It could even be considered a great success, as improvement is often slow and very rarely drastic. Still, the only issue for Matthew isn't his framing of the result, but the lack of structure of his problem solving. Let's propose the following model:

In this model a notable change in structure happens in identifying the problem itself. To effectively eliminate the problem, one needs to very carefully pin it down not to spend resources focusing on the wrong factors. Matthew just spent a lot of time studying for the first time ever and yet he got a C – if he keeps doing the same thing, he might eventually improve, but if we assume that he spent maximal effort (say 8 hours of studying per day), continuing with the same approach might not yield drastically better results over time.

That is why the problem itself needs to be re-identified: Matthew thinks his problem is that he is getting poor grades because he is not studying enough. Having tried "studying more" and receiving a C, it is evident that quantity does not solve the problem. What Matthew now needs to consider is performing a "voluntary emotional detachment" and looking at the problem from an objective standpoint: Why has he gotten bad grades in the past, then? Is it not following the teaching in class, revising with homework or preparing for exams by re-reading the course material? Perhaps the solution actually lies in all of those factors, instead of just "studying more". With the problem being identified, Matthew's problem is not "I'm not studying enough", but instead "I do not know how to study optimally".

Following this identification process, the graph illustrates a systemic approach. Matthew has now tried studying by reading the course material in an unplanned but still chronological manner. He now knows that this method is more optimal than not reading at all, but is it very effective? Perhaps his second attempt should be focusing on the rest of the options that he has: he has never quite paid attention in class, so that's one great point to start.

Many don't pay attention in class because they're either sleep deprived, focused on something else or are just simply struggling with focusing their attention. Depending on Matthew's issue, getting it resolved might create a tremendous breakthrough. Many with attention deficit disorders have always considered paying attention in class a rather impossible task, and justifiably so. This belief is often reinforced by societal pressure exerted by peers or family, dividing them into being "the stupid" and others, without attention deficit problems "the intelligent". Once these people have identified their issue and received treatment such as therapy, medication or both, their world changes drastically. It is no longer the stupid people and the intelligent people, but rather people with problems and people without. Sometimes difficult and persistent problems are worth looking into rather than determining that what exists now will not change.

Try to implement such a problem solving model to your current or next problem that you've stressed about. Perhaps being analytical and more thorough about the execution of your plan will help you in overcoming your challenge. I will apply this model into my academic career and I will post the results of my experiment once I have collected enough data.


The Rational Society is committed to presenting ideas related to the rational school of thought, focused on improving personal issues, overcoming challenges and fulfilling ambitions. It is not a dogmatic ideology but an established mode of thought with the explicit goal of guiding the person to the most logical, healthy and beneficial choice.