How To Effectively Solve Personal Problems

Posted on June 10th, 2013

When it comes to problem solving, solving a problem is easier when it belongs to someone else but it is not as easy when you have a problem. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that you are more likely to solve a problem if you reframe the problem as if it belongs to someone else.1

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?

Students were asked to think of either themselves or a stranger stuck in the tower. 66% of the students who imagined a stranger in the tower, found the solution compared with 48% of those who envisaged themselves in the tower.

If you imagine that your problems belongs to someone else, you might find better solutions, but why? How well you solve problems can greatly depend on how you look at them. In most cases, people look try to solve their own problems while being associated with the problem.

Associated means being in an experience or memory as fully and completely as possible (with all the senses); looking out from your own eyes, hearing from your own ears, and feeling your own feelings. In other words, you are looking at the problem form a first person perspective and your view may be limited.

When you dissociate from the problem and you are able to look at that problem from a perspective other than seeing out of your own eyes. From an observer position, you are able to get a different view on the problem and discover details or solutions that you may not have been able to see before. Thus, when you have a hard time solving your own problem, try disassociating from the problem and see someone else in the picture or a movie.

To make this process even better, think of a resourceful person (a hero) that you think would have been able to solve this problem effectively. Watch a movie about how this resourceful person is solving your problem and see if you can come up with a better or a new solution.


In some situations you will also be able to reframe you problem. Reframing means that you are able to alter your perception of a specific event or behavior resulting in a different response. Common examples of reframing include context reframing and meaning reframing.

Context reframing means placing a “problem” response or behavior in a different context that gives it a new, different, and usually more positive meaning.

Meaning reframing is giving new meaning to a behavior/response with-out changing the context, usually by directing attention to a specific part of the problem that you didn’t think was useful before. For example:

  • You thought he was just slow; you didn’t notice how thorough and reliable he is.
  • The weather is bad today and this is good because our garden will finally grow.
  • My wife is a tyrant and this is good because she keeps me focused.

Next time you have a hard time solving your own problem, imagine that someone else (more resourceful) has this problem and see if you can solve it this way.

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