How to Solve Life’s Problems…Well At Least Some of Them

By Austin Zielsdorf

Congratulations you have past high school and you are ready to face the world. More importantly, you are ready to face college. However, if you are like me, you will experience the “uh-oh” moment. This is the moment where you realize that you have no clue what you are doing and you do not know how to solve the problems college is throwing at you. Do not worry! I’ll show you some methods of solving those tough problems. Yes there are more than one, and yes you can do it. The methods include the Gestalt Approach, the Information Processing Theory, Analogical problem solving, and the Thinking Out Loud Protocol. So Sit back and put those learning caps on.

Gestalt Approach

Being stuck on a problem can be very frustrating. Sometimes it helps to look at things in a different way. Gestalt psychologist suggest that one should use restructuring when trying to solve problems. This involves rethinking the problem and looking at different aspects of that problem. Focus on the most important details and ignore the minor details that do not aid in solving the problem. Once you rethink the problem you will find new routes to the answer that you had not thought of before (1). So what the Gestalt Approach wants you to do is simple look at the problem from different angles and find new routes to the answer. To really think outside the box!

The Information Processing Theory

Have you ever had an insurmountable problem and do not know how or what steps to take in order to complete the goal you have? Look at the Information Processing Theory. What Information Processing Theory suggest how to solve a problem is to first put a problem into its own problem space. This is done by making an initial state and a goal state. The initial state is the beginning of a problem and the goal state is the end of problem. In order to bring the two closer together one must use Means-Ends Analysis. This reduces the distance by creating subgoals. This helps the operator, the one who is trying to solve a problem, solve the problem more quickly. The entire goal you should have is to look at a problem and the biggest differences between where you are and your goal and reduce it (2). Whenever you come across a problem in college try to remember this theory. Try to take a step away from the problem that you have and look at the biggest distance you have from you and your goal. Then create subgoals! If you have a mountain of homework that needs to be done set yourself up with a list, or your subgoals, and start following these steps until you can finally get to your goal of completing all your work. Trust me it will defiantly be worth it.

Thinking Out Loud

Ever caught yourself talking to yourself when doing a problem? Especially if that problem was a math problem. I know I have, on multiple occasions. You may wonder if it actually works and helps you complete your task or if you are just slowly losing your mind. Well you are not losing your mind…well not fully. This does actually work. How does it work you might ask? It has been shown that when a person is working through a problem while thinking out loud they talk themselves through the problem. They evaluate their past thoughts and build upon them in order to complete the problem. However, one must stay focused on their task and the thoughts they are now saying out loud will then stop helping and lead them astray (3) . So if you need to solve a problem and you are stuck start talking to yourself. Who cares if people hear you and think you are crazy, you will be able to solve your problem!

Analogical problem solving

I like to think of this as déjà vu. What does that mean is thinking you have seen something before and not really been able to figure out why. Analogical problem solving uses transfer from knowledge or solutions you already have to complete a problem (4). This is shown through using analogies to figure out problems. Analogical problem solving is best represented the radiation problem. The problem is that a doctor must figure out how to radiate a tumor without causing damage to surrounding tissue. Researchers asked how this could be done. Most people could not figure it out until they were given a second story, where in order to attack a fortress in the middle of the country a general had to split up his forces in order to avoid setting of mines that would destroy his force if he grouped his army together on one road (5). What does this mean? That if you radiate from different angles then you would destroy the tumor without damaging healthy tissue. Participants were able to solve the problem after hearing this story. This shows how thinking of a problem that has the same structure can lead to the correct answer even if all the details are not the same.

Next time you are trying to solve problems just remember to think of problems in different ways and they could lead you into the direction of the right answer.


(1) Zelazo, P. D., Carter, A., Reznick, J. S., & Frye, D. (1997). Early development of executive function: A problem-solving framework. Review of General Psychology, 1(2), 198-226. doi:10.1037//1089-2680.1.2.198

(2) Anderson, J. R. (1993). Problem solving and learning. American Psychologist, 48(1), 35th ser., 1-10.

(3) Klinger, E. (1974). Utterances to evaluate steps and control attention distinguish operant from respondent thought while thinking out loud. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society,4(1), 44-46. doi:10.3758/bf03334190 

(4) Chen, Z. (1995). Analogical transfer: From schematic pictures to problem solving. Memory & Cognition, 23(2), 255-269. doi:10.3758/bf03197226

(5) Gick, M. L., & Holyoak, K. J. (1980). Analogical problem solving. Cognitive Psychology,12, 306-355.

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