How do you solve problems? Do you approach them with a positive problem orientation, or a negative one? The distinction is important, because one mindset can reduce anxiety and help you move forward in life, and the other can make you worry more and hold you back.
First, let’s define problem orientation:
Problem orientation is the schema (cognitive framework or concept that helps one organize and interpret information) a person holds about problems in everyday life and their assessment of their ability to solve those problems.
Your problem orientation may be positive and constructive to the problem-solving process, or negative and dysfunctional, keeping you stuck in a cycle of worry and inaction.
Positive problem orientation leads to the use of rational problem-solving approaches. This means you follow a sensible, thoughtful, and methodical process when addressing challenges. When using this approach, even if you experience a negative outcome, you are likely to continue using a positive, rational method when future issues arise.
A person with a negative problem orientation has a tendency to view problems as threatening, to lack confidence in problem-solving abilities, to have a low frustration tolerance, and to be pessimistic about the outcome of problem-solving.
A negative problem orientation is likely to lead you towards impulsive, careless, or avoidant problem-solving approaches. An impulsive-careless style is defined as a narrow, rash, thoughtless, speedy, and incomplete attempt at resolving a problem. An avoidance style to problem-solving is characterized by inaction, procrastination, and attempts to shift responsibility to others.
When negative outcomes occur, a person with an impulsive-careless or avoidant orientation is more likely to give up.
People with a negative problem orientation have a tendency to use unhelpful strategies to try to solve problems.
Those strategies include the following, according to Integrative CBT:
• Seeking reassurance for decisions (which keeps worry going, as the worrier never learns to trust their own judgement)
• Seeking out excessive information before making a decision
• Making lists as a substitute for actions
• Being overly busy, throwing oneself into activity rather than solving problems (e.g. cleaning)
• Post-mortem worry: “What if I have made the wrong decision?”
Problem orientation is specifically related to levels of psychological stress and adjustment, according to research.
Studies have shown that a lack of social problem-solving skills and a negative problem orientation can lead to depression and suicidality in children and adults and increased anxiety and worrying. Negative problem orientation and impulsive-careless problem solving styles have also been associated with personality disorders.
The Negative Problem Orientation Questionnaire (NPOQ) can help you identify the way you react or think when confronted with problems. If you respond “3” or higher on any question, you may want to work on whatever issue that item represents.