Posted on by Erin | Earnest Home

problem solving

Ah, problems… they occur all of the time, to all of us, and on so many different scales.  During our trip to Europe a couple of months ago, we had a big problem in Switzerland that threatened to derail our whole trip.  In the midst of life’s biggest problems, I tend to find myself oddly at ease. Just a few weeks ago my sister-in-law commented that I never seem flustered in the midst of big issues (which, although I think she just doesn’t see my flustered moments, I still took as a huge compliment), and I got to thinking about why that is.  I do get frustrated and overwhelmed sometimes, we all do, but I have two big mentality shifts that help immensely whether problems are small like our mystery dead-thing or big like our current double-house-payment situation.

1. Think of at LEAST 10 solutions, no less. These solutions can be logical, simple, extreme, ridiculous, anything. This is a brainstorming exercise and you don’t have to act on any one of these solutions at this point, you just have to think of them.  This will eliminate your thoughts leaping immediately to the worse possible scenario and leading you down a rabbit hole of despair. Here is an example… when we were stuck in Switzerland after our car was towed, we made our way to a youth hostel which had phones/wi-fi and I compiled a list, it went something like this:

Problem:  Car towed, no replacement car given, need to get to Italy tonight

Solutions:

1. Call every Avis office in a 100 mile radius to see if a) they’re open on Sunday and b) they can offer a replacement car

2. Call American Express Travel concierge to see what they can do from the states to secure replacement car

3. Check train schedules to see if ditching whole car idea and taking a train to Cinque Terre is feasible.  

4. Straight up rent an entire new car under entire new reservation, essentially end up paying for a car twice.

5. Transit via plane directly from Zurich to Rome and skip over Cinque Terre.

6. Charter helicopter to take us to Cinque Terre.

7. Stay in Switzerland another night (until car rental places open on Monday) and forfeit night in Cinque Terre.

8. Change flight to depart out of Zurich and go home now. 

9. Wait 2-3 days for rental car to be fixed, then drive directly to Rome, skipping Cinque Terre and Positano. 

10. Find random person with car and pay them $500 to drive us the 6 hours to Cinque Terre.

So, you can see that some of these options are straight up ridiculous… BUT they’re options.  Knowing that you have at least 10 options at your disposal is comforting and gives you a place to start.  I started with #1, meanwhile also working on #3.  Matt started with #2, and looked into prices for #4 and #5.  So we immediately made headway on five options.  AND some of the options that seemed downright crazy (we’re looking at you, #6) actually turned out to be super helpful.  Why?

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Because when I googled “helicopter from zurich to cinque terre” a very helpful site popped up, which gave me ALL of my transit options… I learned that although it would take 6 hours by car, it would also take 6 hours (and only a few hundred bucks) to take a flight… 8 hours by train and 9 hour by bus, and all much cheaper than the $4000 quoted to us by American Express Travel for a new rental car reservation. So, just exploring a ridiculous idea prompted a few good leads.

So, all of this to say, you need options, and you need them now.  Make a list, go down your list and research each solution.  Again, you do not have to act on each solution, you just have to explore it.  Then, once the best option has surfaced, take it.  For us, it ended well when option #1 panned out.  You can read how that all went down here.

2. The second part of keeping your cool in the midst of solving a problem is the small, but effective mentality of, “What else is there to do about this other than push through?” Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the injustice of the issue that we forget that the only way to get rid of it, is to get THROUGH it.  And sometimes going through it isn’t fun, but what other option is there? Are you just going to lay on the floor and close your eyes and hope it goes away?  It won’t, I’ve tried that.

In the swiss-mis-adventure example, going through each one of the options and working through the solutions wasn’t super enjoyable.  It wasn’t exactly what we wanted to be doing, but, there would be no solution if we didn’t actively work on one.  It’s the smallest mentality shift of knowing something is hard and knowing that you’re going to have to do it anyway, and being at peace with that.

You may be thinking that not every problem warrants a ten step solution, but you’d be surprised how much this helps.  Even if you end up going with your hunch after making a list, you’ll find comfort in knowing that you’re not painted into a corner, and there is always a way (or 10 ways!) out of a bad situation.

Now it’s your turn!  Do you have any problem solving tactics that you employ?  Maybe something for the office?  Or at home? I’d love to hear!

 

p.s.  Want to know how to make houseguests most comfortable this summer?  Hop over to the Bali blog to read my post!