problem solving skills

Problem Solving Skills: Can an EF Coach Help You Develop Them?

Problem Solving Skills: Can an EF Coach Help You Develop Them?

One of the most common requests I get from parents is “Can you please teach my child some problem solving skills?” It must be bizarre. Asking an executive functions coach that focuses on structure to teach such an abstract concept. However, exploring problem solving methods that will work for us is one of the core benefits of having an executive functions coach. Our executive functions enable us to create and execute plans in all types of situations. When we fine tune our executive functions, we are able to adapt, critically think, and solve problems. One of my favorite problem solving strategies is to focus on the metacognitive process. I believe that problem solving skills are all about understanding a process, our approach to it, and what adjustments we need to make.

How to Improve Problem Solving Skills through Metacognition

Let’s illustrate how metacognition can increase our problem solving skills with a story about one of my students: Liv. I first met Liv when she was a Sophomore in high school. Previously, she had worked with many EF coaches and Ed therapists that have promised they would be able to help her with all of her challenges. Let’s just say she was pretty fed up with all of the problem solving strategies being shoved down her throat. She was pretty resistant to trying another coach, and to be honest, I didn’t blame her. Liv has struggled with executive functioning for most of her life and nothing she has tried has worked. It is hard to believe that any of my problem solving methods will help with her executive functioning. However, with some Starbucks, I was able to bribe her to at least learn about my metacognitive approach.

After talking a little bit about the Bachelor, we dived into her frustrations about trying new problem solving strategies. When it comes down to it, Liv just doesn’t believe it will work for her. She doesn’t know why things are so hard and feels like she is a lost cause. Whenever she is given ways on how to improve problem solving skills, she gives them an earnest effort. However, after a few weeks, she is back to the same old habits and has no motivation to keep up with the tools she was taught. I apologized to Liv and said “This all must suck, but I feel like I have heard this before. Mind if we talk a bit more about it?”

After some convincing and a cake pop, Liv agreed. I wanted to walk through some of the problem solving methods with her and understand her thought process. She talked to me about alarms, calendars, imposing negative and positive consequences, and breaking down assignments. Some of these problem solving strategies worked really well in the beginning, but after a while she didn’t really see the point and was confused on which one was actually helping her. Then as she stopped doing some, she began to stop doing all of them and fell back to the same place she was in before. At the end of the conversation, Liv and I agreed that the problem was that none of the problem solving skills tangibly made sense to her.

This initial conversation over coffee and cake pops is the perfect example of metacognition. Oftentimes, we focus so much on particular problem solving strategies that we neglect to really think about why it might be helpful. Once the high of learning something that seems helpful is over, we don’t have enough motivation to keep it up. Why? This is because we never truly understood and talked through the application of said problem solving method. However, this is why metacognition is one of the most important executive functions to incorporate into any conversation about problem solving skills. When we truly understand why something is helpful, specifically how it will help us, and how to tangibly measure the effectiveness of it, only then do we fully commit.

Metacognition is the Most Valuable Problem Solving Tool

During the first few months of our work together, Liv and I revisited some of the old problem solving methods she was taught. We really worked through the pros, cons, and applications of each of them. We decided together which ones were integral to her answering the question of how to improve problem solving skills. As we narrowed down the focus and she found more tangible success, her commitment to following through strengthened. She was able to create a to-do list, ask herself what she had to prioritize, reach out for extension/help, and execute on her plan. Then one day, Liv began to ask herself questions and answer them herself. She experienced the ultimate problem solving skill: independent metacognition.

I would be lying if I said Liv completely overcame her executive functions and mounting anxiety. However, I can say that she began to see the value in coaching and her commitment to our work together increased. She was finally able to see and feel tangible benefits to the problem solving strategies I was talking about.

Master Metacognition for Dynamic Problem Solving Skills

By embracing metacognition, individuals like Liv can revolutionize their problem solving strategies, gaining autonomy and confidence. If you’re wrestling with problem-solving or drowning in strategy overload, consider tapping into EF coaching. With tailored guidance and a focus on honing metacognitive prowess, you can unleash your potential to conquer obstacles and seize success. Take that leap toward a more empowered problem-solving mindset. Reach out for support and embark on your journey toward greater effectiveness and triumph.

Problem-solving methods feeling ineffective? Metacognitive coaching can help you dissect the ‘why’ behind strategies, leading to lasting solutions and transformative problem-solving skills. Contact Executive Functions Coach for help.

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