While it might seem like some people are just born with stronger problem-solving skills, there are strategies that anyone can use to improve them.
That’s right, it’s possible to significantly enhance your abilities in this area — and the best part is, most of these activities are also pretty fun!
What Are the Different Types of Problem-Solving Skills?
Before we get to the engaging activities, let’s refine our understanding of problem-solving skills, which are any techniques that help you consistently:
- Understand the causes of problems
- Overcome short-term crises
- Create strategies to solve longer-term problems
- Turn problems into opportunities
You’ll be able to solve problems in your role better as you grow in your industry-specific knowledge. But there are also a few universal problem-solving skills we all need:
- Defining the Problem: Deeply understanding a problem through research, leading to better solutions. Research can include interviewing, reading books and emails, analyzing financial data, searching your organization’s intranet, and organizing your findings.
- Brainstorming: Creating a myriad of new solutions quickly. In group brainstorms, allow everyone to state ideas. Appreciate all input, and avoid criticism. Then, organize solutions into groups around common themes.
- Analyzing: Using disciplined thought processes to evaluate each possible solution. Besides listing their costs and benefits, you might apply deductive reasoning, game theory, and the rules of logic (including fallacies) to them.
- Managing Risk: Anticipating and trying to avoid the downsides of key solutions. Your team can list potential risks, rate how likely each is, predict a date by which each might either happen or no longer be an issue, and devise ways to reduce those risks.
- Deciding: The ability to decide on a solution and move forward with it. After an appropriate amount of time, an analysis of possible solutions, and feedback from team members, a designated decider must choose and implement a solution.
- Managing Emotions: Applying emotional intelligence in order to improve your and your team members’ ability to think clearly. This requires you to recognize emotions in yourself and others, manage feelings, and channel emotions into useful work.
10 Exciting Activities to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Use these ten creative tips to improve problem-solving skills, develop more strategic ways of thinking, and train your brain to do more.
1. Dance Your Heart Out
Did you know that dancing has a positive impact on neural processing, possibly developing new neural pathways to go around dopamine-depleted blockages in the brain?
This means that if you engage in ballet or another form of structured dance, doing so may facilitate convergent thinking. In other words, it may help you find a single, appropriate answer to a problem. If you need help with divergent thinking (finding multiple answers to a problem), engaging in more improvised types of dance such as hip-hop or tap might just do the trick.
2. Work out Your Brain with Logic Puzzles or Games
The winning strategy when playing chess, Sudoku, a Rubik’s Cube, or other brain-boosting games is actually to work the problem backward, not forward. The same strategy can apply to realistic strategic-thinking situations.
To build up your brain muscle and develop new problem-solving techniques, practice some logic puzzles and other games.
3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
More than any other sleeping or awake state, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep directly enhances creative processing in the brain. REM sleep helps “stimulate associative networks, allowing the brain to make new and useful associations between unrelated ideas” and are “not due to selective memory enhancements” such as memory consolidation, which occurs when awake.
4. Work out to Some Tunes
A study of cardiac rehabilitation patients tested verbal fluency after exercising with and without music. Results showed that when they listened to music while working out, participants more than doubled their scores on verbal fluency tests in contrast to when they worked out in silence. According to the study’s lead author, “The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize the cognitive output.”
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5. Keep an “Idea Journal” with You
You’ll be able to quickly record important thoughts, write down personal experiences, make sketches, and explore ideas when you keep an “Idea Journal” with you at all times. Working out problems by sorting your thoughts on paper and then viewing them more objectively is easier than having all your thoughts stuck in your head (and will provide better problem-solving strategies).
6. Participate in Yoga
The powerful combination of body awareness, breathing, and meditation that is required during yoga practice has been shown to significantly raise cognitive test scores. Other results from a University of Illinois study include shorter reaction times, more accuracy, and increased attention.
7. Eat Some Cheerios (And Then Think About It)
The Cheerios Effect is the name physicists have given to the event that happens when the last few cheerios in a bowl always cling to each other. The cause of this occurrence is surface tension.
The takeaway is that when it comes to experiencing tension while trying to solve a problem, cling to those around you. Rely on others’ experiences and ideas, even those from different career fields. Draw connections. Brainstorm. Work together to get the job done.
8. Use Mind Maps to Help Visualize the Problem
Mind Maps, a visual snapshot of a problem and its possible solutions, can help focus the mind, stimulate the brain, increase the capacity for creative thinking, and generate more ideas for solutions.
Make a Mind Map by drawing your problem as the central idea. Add “main branches” consisting of all the reasons for the problem. Use “sub-branches” to explore further details.
Next, make a separate Mind Map of all possible solutions to the central problem. Add “main branches” showing all the ways that your problem can be solved, such as colleagues that can help, techniques you can apply, and other resources you can use. Add “sub-branches” to further explore the details. Make a final branch with the most suitable solution for the main problem. Use “sub-branches” for details.
Through this exercise, you should be able to see which “branch” or option is the most practical, time-saving, and cost-effective problem solving method.
9. Create “Psychological Distance”
What is psychological distance? According to the construal level theory (CLT), it’s “anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves.” Some examples include taking another person’s perspective or thinking of the problem as unlikely.
Scientists have shown that by increasing the mental distance between us and our problem, we’ll have an increase in creative solutions. This happens because thinking more abstractly helps us form unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, thus allowing our minds to increase its problem-solving capacity.
10. Play Some Soccer
A link has been found between our brain’s “executive functions” and sports success. When in action, our brains are quickly multitasking between moving, anticipating, strategizing, reacting, and performing. Doing all these things at once requires an enormous amount of brain activity.
This can be related to our working world when we plan, reason, monitor our actions and problem-solve all at once. Therefore, it may be concluded that when you play soccer or any other fast-moving sport, you’re rewiring your brain to be quicker at thinking, processing, and reacting to problems.