There are Only Four Ways to Handle a Problem

by | Jun 12, 2018


When confronted with a problem there are only four possible options we have with respect to our response to it. I have found thinking about these four options helpful in reducing stress when encountering a problem. A key in confronting a problem is deciding which of the four approaches you will use to dealing with the problem. We all have choices. Here they are:

Option One: Solve the Problem

This is a great solution. A key issue, however, is whether your problem is actual solvable.  Unfortunately, many problems cannot be solved or are not within our control. Sometimes, we aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to solve the problem. Thus, the option of solving a problem is not always available to us.

For example, suppose you hate your job: your boss is a tyrant, you don’t like your co-workers, your work isn’t very interesting and the pay and benefits are not great. What to do? Can this problem be solved? Maybe. You can look for a new job or career. However, if the job market is tight and you can’t find a new job, there may not be a good way to solve the problem. At least not right away. Or, maybe a new, better job would require a move to another city and you aren’t willing to move away from friends and family. Maybe you are a lawyer and you realize that you hate practicing law but this is what you are trained to do and you make a decent living and are supporting a family and feel like you can’t change careers because you aren’t really trained to do anything else. There might not be a solution to the problem you are willing to undertake.

Option Two: Change Your Attitude or Perception

If you cannot solve the problem, it may be possible to change your perception of the problem so that you feel better about it. Our thoughts shape our realities. Sometimes this is the easiest solution, sometimes it is the hardest.

In the job example above, maybe it is possible to change your attitude about your boss, co-workers and type of work. Approach the situation with humor (view life as a game) and positivity. Work through the day with a smile and focus with gratitude on the little things that are good about your job or career.

Option Three: Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance means going all in and recognizing that things are just the way they are, the problem will persist and totally accepting this fact. With radical acceptance we are just going to let things be as they are.This is really a subset of option two above, changing your attitude, but is a very important solution and thus has it’s own category. This is often very hard to accomplish but can be incredibly freeing.

Here’s an example:  I have a friend who broke his leg skiing. When the ski patrol was assisting him they commented on his good attitude and he replied with something to the effect of “being upset about it isn’t going to un-break my leg.” Amazing radical acceptance by my friend. This story of his actually inspired me to have a much better attitude during my own ski injury a few years later and helped me radically accept my situation.

A bit more on radical acceptance from Psychology Today: “Radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.” Article on Radical Acceptance

Option Four: Stay Miserable

This doesn’t sound like a very good option for dealing with a problem, yet it’s one we all tend to use from time-to-time. Sometimes this is an absolutely legitimate reaction to a problem. If your dog dies a perfectly appropriate reaction is to be miserable – at least for awhile.  Often, however, it makes sense to focus on one of the other three ways of dealing with a problem and avoiding the option of being miserable. A key is realizing that staying miserable is a choice.


These four solutions are from Dialectical Behavior Therapy which is a type of therapy that focuses on how we respond to situations. Its core premises include finding the “middle path,” acceptance and mindfulness.


  1. I’m glad you put the option in quotes, truth is, as you know, it’s not an option. You’re aware of Hobson’s choice? Believe or suffer eternal damnation. That’s not a choice and certainly not a free choice. Just as God doesn’t on purposely give babies cancer therefore doesn’t give athlete’s “God-given talent”. Unless we want a god that takes all the credit for success and none of the responsibility for failure?
    This would mean, when ‘asking for strength and guidance’ one is really asking oneself. As in your strategy of a contented life and avoidance of being miserable. One has to with the lack of Love and Support in the old Testament, above and below.
    Unfortunately, although seems simple enough when reading, handing responsibility over to someone or something else, as proved by Stockdale, is not the most important option.

  2. Good article! I agree with those, but I feel that the most important “option” is to ask God for strength and guidance. God didn’t put us on this earth to try to figure everything out on our own. We were put here to love and support one another. Seems simple enough when reading it, huh? We often miss the mark by a mile, though!
    As I age, and the aches and pains increase, my first thought, too often, is, “I hurt all over!” but, if I stop and think about it, I realize that I have many spots that don’t hurt and I focus on those instead. That helps a lot. Also, being thankful for what we have, rather than making ourselves unhappy thinking about what we don’t have, goes a long way in living a contented life. That’s not to say that striving to do better is wrong. That’s only true if we make ourselves and our family miserable in the process.

    • Loved your answer.


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