Every day, we’re faced with a variety of problems that demand solutions. Some of these problems are small and simple, while others are large, complex, and confusing. We face problems at home and at work. Being able to solve these problems is essential to our personal and professional well-being.

Our level of happiness corresponds to our ability to solve problems. Research indicates that people with good problem-solving skills tend to feel more confident and capable. They have a greater sense of control over their environment. They feel more positive, more satisfied with their job, and more satisfied with life in general.

So how can you become a more skillful problem solver? Well, researchers have found that certain strategies can help people to solve problems more easily. These strategies are known as “heuristics.” Heuristics don’t guarantee success – they just provide problem solvers with some assistance and direction.

A few commonly used heuristics include the following:

  • Trial and error – Make an educated guess, see what happens, adjust your approach, and try again.
  • Draw a picture – If a problem seems difficult or confusing, it can helpful to try and draw it. Create a graph, diagram, or chart.
  • Simplify – Difficult problems are often very complex. Try to ignore the distracting details, and view the problem in its simplest form.
  • Work backwards – Think about your ultimate goal. Starting from there, how can you get back to your present state? Working backwards can sometimes help you to see what needs to be done in order to solve the problem.
  • Use an analogy – Sometimes you can find a solution to a difficult problem by comparing it to a similar problem that you solved in the past.
  • Break it down – When a problem seems unsolvable, it can sometimes help to break it down into small sub-problems. Every sub-problem that you solve will bring you closer to your ultimate goal.
  • Focus on the outcome – Sometimes people become distracted by issues that are really not very important. Focusing on the desired goal can help people to sort out what is important and what isn’t.

Heuristics can be used in any type of problem situation. So the next time you’re faced with a difficult problem, try using one of these techniques! It might help you to reach a more accurate and effective solution.


Ayres, J., & Malouff, J. M. (2007). Problem-solving training to help workers increase positive affect, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 16(3), 279-294.

Halpern, D. F. (2003). Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (4th ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.