Solving problems by facing the facts

Jan. 1, 2010
I want to share a tactic that anyone can use anytime.

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: solving problems, Dr. Michael Schuster, the Schuster Center.

I want to share a tactic that anyone can use anytime. For years when I get on a plane to go somewhere to lecture or take a CE course, I take my yellow pad and divide it into four equal sections.

I write down whatever problem I have at the top of the paper, and then outline by asking four questions that put the problem in perspective:

  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I right now?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • How am I going to get there?

1) Where have I been?

This question helps me think how long I've had the problem. How does the problem affect me? What behaviors have been going on that have caused the problem? I find that most problems I face involve several key areas:

  • Money
  • Time
  • People/relationships

When I think of my practice, I add:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Organization

2) Where am I right now?

This question puts me right in the now. It forces me to be honest with myself. I've always believed there is little or no progress without the truth. I have to be dead honest with myself regarding this current problem. What will happen if the problem continues without resolution? How will solving the problem change my life or practice? How serious is this problem? Is it a “keep me awake” problem that I'd rate a 10, or a small nuisance problem that I'd rate a 3?

Once I answer that, I move to the next question.

3) Where do I want to go? What do I want?

This question puts me in the future. Since I realize that all progress depends on creating a “future picture” of what I want, I write out why it is important to solve the problem. Is it a problem I can solve with a simple action such as saying no? What will I have when I solve the problem? What are the benefits or payoffs when I get what I want? I write everything I'll have as a result of solving the problem or getting what I want in this section of the box. Next to each benefit or payoff I write a number.

This is important. If this is something that I really, really want, I put a 10 by the benefit. If it's just a nuisance or I'm not serious about getting it, then I rank it a 5 or lower. I look at each payoff. If I have three payoffs that are 10 or more, I know this is something serious to me and I'm ready for the next question.

4) How am I going to get there?

There's an old adage in sales: Never give someone a solution until they have accepted the problem and want to do something about it. The same holds true for you and me. We have to identify the problem. We have to be aware of how the problem is impacting our practice and life. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to identify just how the problem impacts us. We have to really, really want to eliminate the problem and get what we want, and we must figure out what we need to solve the problem. A wise man said to me, “If you have a problem and the problem can be solved by money, and you have money or access to it, you have no problem.”

The how is the knowledge, actions, strategies, tools, and methods I must take to solve the problem and get what I want. The how is actually more important than the problem.

The question isn't whether we have problems, needs, and wants. We have problems as long as we are alive and running a practice. But are we willing to look at our problems and solve them, or are we stuck with our problems and fine with staying stuck? For me, solving problems and creating what I want next leads to progress, fulfillment, and growth. Don't focus on your problems — look for ways to solve them.

To obtain a ready–made worksheet to print out and use, go to

Dr. Michael Schuster founded the Schuster Center in 1978. Reach him at or [email protected].

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