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Coping with Problems

Attitudes and Actions

Deirdre Knowles, M.A.

Two things strongly influence how we are able to cope with problems - attitude, how we think about the problem, and action, what we ourselves do. Here are some helpful attitudes and actions.


How we think affects how we act. If we think we can succeed, we work hard to do so; if we think we cannot, we don't bother putting any effort into it. Why do people buy lottery tickets? Because they think they can win!

Problems are opportunities to learn and grow. As you solve one problem, you learn lessons to apply to the next. Each problem is an opportunity to become more skilled, stronger, wiser.

Problems are inevitable. "...Happily ever after," in the sense of no more problems, only happens in fairy tales. There will always be another problem to solve.

You can't change others, you can only change yourself. Concentrate on what YOU can do, instead of what you want others to do; your chances of success are much greater.


In deciding what to do, it can be helpful to have someone to talk things over with who is not directly involved with the problem. A friend can provide a different perspective. When things seem overwhelming, a skilled counselor can provide a safe place to discuss even the most troubling issues.

Ask yourself what you need. In general, people's needs are fewer than their wants, and easier to fill. For example, people need relationships and connection with others, a sense of self-worth and self respect, some enjoyment of life, and a measure of security. We may want those things to take a particular form, such as a particular relationship, or a certain level of economic security.

What are your feelings about the situation? All feelings are okay, it is only behavior, what we do about our feelings, that may be a problem. (My right to swing my arms stops at your nose.) Pay attention to your intuition, your gut response.

Brainstorm ideas for action. Try to think of as many different options as you can, whether a tiny step or a large leap. Be creative, even silly, in your ideas; you can always discard them later.

Discern. What action seems right for you? What will help you get your needs met, and keep your self-respect?

Consequences. What's the worst that can happen if you do it? How likely is this to happen? Can you live with the consequences? Is it worth the risk? Is it worth the risk not to do it?

Choose. Even if you choose to do nothing, or to continue on your present course, realize that is a choice.

1997, Deirdre Knowles, M.A.