No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do

By Karen Hall,PhD

When faced with a difficult problem, you might find yourself paralyzed over deciding what to do. Emotionally sensitive people often have difficulty making decisions, tend to ruminate about issues and can become increasing upset as a result of thinking about the issue over and over.

Searching and searching for the right solution, perhaps one that won’t upset others or cause pain or loss, adds to anxiety and upset. How can someone find just the right solution and know what the right solution is?

Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, outlined strategies for any problem that you face.  Remembering these options can help decrease the struggle of not knowing what to do.  The four options are Solve the Problem, Change Your Perception of the Problem, Radically Accept the Situation, or Stay Miserable.

Choice 1:  Solve the Problem. 

There are many problem solving strategies but most use the same steps. First, define the problem. Be as specific as possible. Use numbers whenever possible. For example “I’ve been overspending my budget every other month by $315.”

Next, analyze the problem. What are you spending the extra money on?  Is it always in the same place? Is it at the same time of day or the same part of the month? Are you aware of the overspending at the time you do it or not?  Do you overspend when you are in a certain mood or when you are in the company of certain people? Consider who, what, when and where of the behavior you want to change.

The third step is to consider possible solutions. Consider the solutions carefully to determine which might work best for you. In this step you want to trouble-shoot the solution. What are the pros and cons of different solutions? What could go wrong?  What can you do to make the solution more likely to work?  For example, if you decide to give yourself a weekly budget and to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice, what would you do in case of an emergency?  Would giving yourself a certain amount of spending money for the day work better than an amount for the week?

Implement the Solution:  Take action. Trouble-shoot as you go along, tweaking it so any issues you didn’t anticipate are dealt with.

Choice 2:  Change Your Perception

Changing your perception of the problem is difficult for many people.  An example of changing your perception of the problem might be to see a difficult boss as an opportunity to work on your skills in coping with someone who is disorganized  instead of an impossible person you cannot stand. If you feel irritated because your house is cluttered with toys, change your perception to one  that the toys are a signal to be grateful for young children in the home.

Changing your perception could also mean changing your view of an emotion. Instead of trying to never feel anger, you could see your anger as a signal that you need to speak up for yourself and look at it as a source of information.

Choice 3:  Radically Accept the Situation

Radical Acceptance means you wholeheartedly accept what is real. Radical Acceptance is saying “It is what it is,” and means giving up your resistance to the situation. Radical Acceptance could be about issues we can’t control or concerns that we decide to not try to change, at least for the time being. Radical Acceptance doesn’t mean you agree with what has happened or that you think it is reasonable.

Radical Acceptance often must be repeated until the acceptance is complete.

Choice 4:  Stay Miserable

Of course staying miserable is not a choice anyone wants to make and no one would want to consider it as an option. But if you can’t solve the problem, can’t change your perception, and you aren’t ready to radically accept the situation, then staying miserable is the only option left. Staying miserable may be all someone can do in certain situations. Sometimes staying miserable is a choice to make until you are ready to do something else.

There are many factors involved in these options. In future posts we’ll look at some of the specific skills that go into these choices and consider ways people who are emotionally sensitive can enhance their ability to manage their emotions.

photo credit: Tomasz Stasiuk

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston and, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant with Treatment Implementation Collaborative (

APA Reference 
Hall, K. (2012). No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 19, 2016, from

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Site last updated: 19 Aug 2016

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