Strategies for Staying Sane: Problem Solving

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Eric tended to wallow in self-pity. “I have so many problems that I don’t know what to do or where to start.” Actually, Eric’s list of problems was no greater than most people’s – it was just that he had not tried to tackle any of them so they felt overwhelming. Eric was taught a five-step problem-solving sequence, learned how to be solution oriented, and matters started to change for the better.


Problems are inevitable. Some are simple or straight-forward, easily solved without much thought or planning. Other problems are complex or multifaceted and do not lend themselves to immediate or easy solutions.

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Amazingly, despite all the schooling and education most of us go through, few people learn really effective strategies for problem solving, especially when it comes to common, everyday social or relationship issues.

Regardless of the nature or complexity of a problem, the following five-step method of rational problem solving almost always leads to workable solutions. |

The first step in effective problem solving is to

  • define the problem as specifically and concretely as possible.

“What exactly is bothering me?”

The second step is to

  • generate as many potential solutions as reasonably possible.

Very importantly, this step simply involves generating a wide variety and quantity of possible solutions without evaluating them for merit or utility. The idea is that through quantity, a certain amount of quality will be produced. So, anything goes during this step – even what might appear to be ridiculous solutions.

The third step is to

  • evaluate the various solutions for merit and utility.

This is done by conducting a straightforward pros and cons analysis of each possible solution. What are the respective advantages and disadvantages of each solution? Chances are that when this step is completed, one particular solution will be deemed the best among the group.

The fourth step is to

  • select the best solution and try it out.

The fifth step is to

  • decide on the effectiveness of the implemented solution.

If it worked, no more problem! If it failed to bring about an acceptable outcome, go back to step three and implement the second-best solution among those remaining.  If that doesn’t do the trick, it might be a good idea to redo step two and generate additional potential solutions. If necessary, start the process over again by redefining the original problem.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus & Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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