Five Ways to Problem Solve for Academic Success

She is a winner! Excited young female with laptop isolated on yellow background

We all have problems.  There exist both logical and irrational ways to solve them.  There exist emotional or loving ways to solve them, too.  Perhaps the best way to solve problems is with a model.  Models are tried and true and lead to a higher probability of success.

Let’s use the problem-solving models from Life Hacks to illustrate how we can become better academics.  These models begin each numbered section below, modified to include my own biases toward positivity and love.

Model #1: Focus on the solution, not the problem.  (But focus on the solution that brings us to a loving state.)

I read we should look at problems with the end solution in mind and work backwards through steps.

For instance, if we want to be relaxed and achieve great grades during an exam (which is the end solution), we should never cram, but rather work long and steady hours each day (which is the step to achieve the end solution).  We could also gently laugh off moments of stress prior to the test (which is another step to achieve the end solution).

In general, we could develop a life philosophy of not blaming others, of forgiving others easily, and of seeing the best in everyone and every situation (which are some steps to achieve an end solution).  That way, come exam time, we are not stricken with the fear of failure, but roll with the possibilities for success (the end result).

Model #2: Adopt five why’s (using “I” statements).

This strategy can be a great reflection tool.  For instance, “Why did I not get an A on the exam?  Because I was stressed.” “Why was I stressed?  I drank a cup of coffee before the exam and my hands were shaking so hard, I could barely hold my pencil.” “Why did I drink coffee before the exam?  Because I stayed up all night cramming.” “Why did I stay up all night cramming?  Because I was too busy with my career to focus on studies.” “Why was I too busy with my career?  Because I haven’t resolved to request reduced overtime hours so I can properly attend to my schoolwork.”

Despite this model’s effectiveness for reflection, the five why’s method can be tricky and lead to nowhere.  I think it should be endless why’s (and not just five why’s) until we come up with possible solutions for as many of the why’s as we can find.  For instance, the solutions for each of the above why’s could be as follows: don’t drink coffee before an exam; don’t cram; make more time for studies (and/or become more efficient with the time available).

The five why’s, while they often don’t conclude with a zinger solution, do expose many of the problems we are facing, enabling us to resolve each of them.

Model #3: Simplify things.

Simplification can mean breaking down tasks in chunks and tackling one chunk at a time.  Simplification can mean setting a time allotment to achieve a task.  It never fails to amaze me when I set a deadline for a task, such as spending an hour to write a section of article, when two minutes before the deadline, the section is complete.  Better still, set challenging deadlines and watch a time-consuming project get done in half the time without losing, but with gaining, quality.

But simplification can also mean creating systems.  For instance, you could start a paper the day it gets assigned, break it down into research, writing, and editing phases, and allot a 3:2:1 time ratio for each task before the final exam.  In other words, spend three weeks researching and outlining, two weeks writing, and one week editing for a six-week submission deadline.  Systems become automatic and bolster efficiency, especially when continually refined.

Model #4: List out multiple solutions.

Multiple solutions for academic anxiety exist and I’d recommend tapping into as many as possible until the right “blend” is found.

For instance, I’ve cut out all caffeine and what a difference it makes for anxiety and restful sleeping.  I also began journaling my work tasks, and I’d highly recommend everyone journal their academic progress.  Journaling can help combat anxiety, especially when journaling with a positive bias.  I also do a lot of positive self talk and laughter therapy so that any negative than happens to me doesn’t stick.  And a strictly healthy diet helps, too.

Model #5: Look for the opposite solution (preferably a love-filled one).

Instead of worry and stress, seek happiness.  In another article I wrote that happiness is a choice; happiness is not conditional on outer circumstances.  And happiness can make the grind of academics a fulfilling endeavor.

Find joy in learning.  Make learning fun.  Say often, “I love to learn,” even when we don’t feel the love.  The reality is we can feel intense love for anyone or anything in any instant.  Nothing holds us back from feeling love, even when it’s not returned and even when we feel bad.  So, find the love in studies, no matter the outcome.  Even if we’ve failed our last exam, we benefit from making academic success a game we love to win.

Model #6: Use “What If” language (that sees the best outcomes).

Academic settings are ideal for “What If” language.  “What if a pass my test?” “What if I get an A?” “What if I score better on my next exam?”

But shoot high.  “What if I get a degree?” “What if I win an academic medal?” “What if I earn a graduate degree?” “What if I take home a big scholarly award?” “What if I turn my performance into straight A’s no matter what I perceive my competence to be today?”

(An NHL hockey star once told me to always frame things in the positive.  And he served as his NHL team’s captain, rightfully so.)

Problem solving helps us to grow into better academics and more fulfilled people.  So problem solve every chance.  Problem solving fires up the brain and gears us for enhanced academic success.

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