Life is full of all kinds of problems and predicaments that require us to make decisions, from choosing whether or not to pay extra for avocado to deciding to make a mid-life career change and everything in between. We will always encounter problems, both big and small. Some of these problems can be solved instantaneously with only a few seconds of deliberation. Other problems are much more daunting and may leave us feeling stuck, anxious, and helpless. These kinds of problems require more effort and attention than a simple decision about avocados. When equipped with a concrete plan for solving problems, we can face the many dilemmas life throws at us with confidence and peace.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

The first step in problem solving is to identify the actual problem. Naming the issue may be as simple as it seems, or it may be more complicated. Problems can be complex and have many layers. What looks like a decision about whether or not to end a relationship may actually turn out to be a problem with assertiveness or courage. What may appear to be a simple decision about extra avocado may be a problem about guilt or finances. You may find as you work through this process that deeper problems underlie the identified issue on the surface. Whatever the issue seems to be, begin with identifying one single part of the problem and go from there.

Be specific in naming the problem. There is power in speaking about what is truly bothering us. Naming aloud the problem we are facing can be freeing in itself.

Step 2: Define Your Values

The next step in problem solving is to recognize our values. When making important decisions, it is crucial to know what we stand for and what is most important to us. These values become the measuring stick to which we hold up our decisions. If we stand for nothing, our decisions don’t matter—we could make any choice and not have any remorse because we have little investment in the outcome. Our values help us determine what is a good decision and what might be a bad one.

Define what is important to you about the issue and in the broader scope of life. If you’re still contemplating that extra avocado purchase, consider what you value more: saving money and sticking to a budget or enjoying the simplicities of everyday life? A broader value might be the ability to commit or being healthy in general. A more complex issue might have you considering values of providing for your family, having a job you enjoy, standing up for life, or following God’s call. Considering your personalvalues can also help you to distinguish between the values you have for yourself and the values of others that may be influencing you, whether this is intentional or not. Determine what your top values are and how they compare to other values you hold.

Write out what is important to you for different areas of your life such as family, friends, work, health, finances, and spirituality. Think about how your life aligns to those values now and how the current problem you are facing fits into these values.

Step 3: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

The next step in problem solving is brainstorming a solution. This may sound like a 5thgrade English class assignment, but much can be gained from this simple exercise.  In this step, write down the solutions that may already be obvious to you, but also seek to identify other possible alternatives that may not be so obvious, even if they seem silly or not quite plausible. If your options are already clear, write out a pros and cons list for each possible solution. Be intentional with this exercise and give yourself at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to brainstorm. Invite the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to new pathways you haven’t yet seen.

Depending on what the problem is, brainstorming can become an emotional process. Confronting decisions we’ve been running from is a difficult task. During this time, it may be helpful to involve someone knowledgeable and objective to help you with the decision-making process, to help you process any difficult emotions you are experiencing, and to help you understand how those emotions can distract you or even lead you to the best solution. When making life-changing decisions, be sure to seek input from others. The scriptures exhort us, “Seek counsel from every wise person, and do not think lightly of any useful advice. At all times bless the Lord, your God, and ask him that all your paths may be straight and all your endeavors and plans may prosper. For no other nation possesses good counsel, but it is the Lord who gives all good things” (Tobit 4:18-19).

Step 4: Choose a Solution

Once you have considered all of your options for the problem at hand, the final step is to choose your solution and stick to it. This may potentially be the hardest part of the problem-solving process, especially if there are a lot of good options or if you don’t like any of the options. Though it may be difficult, don’t forget that God is by your side the whole time. Prayerfully consider your options and ask God to guide you to the best solution. Consider which of the options brings you the most peace and which one might bring on more turmoil. Also consider which option will bring God the most glory. Reaching out to others for support and wisdom during this time can bring comfort and clarity, but also remember that in the end the final decision is yours to make, and you are the one who must live with the outcome.

Choose the solution, carry it out, and live in peace knowing you took the time to fully contemplate and pray through this decision.

Let’s be honest: there’s nothing groundbreaking or unique about this problem-solving process. This process has been in existence since Adam had to decide what name to give Eve. What matters about this process is that we put it into practice when facing life’s problems and that we don’t make decisions based solely off of feelings or other arbitrary measures. Think how different things would have been if Eve would have stopped to contemplate her decision based on these principles when faced with the choice to disobey God. What matters more than just the information presented here is actually taking the time to intentionally discern the decisions we make every day. Our lives are built by our decisions. What kind of life are your decisions building for you?