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Tackling Problems: sub-module 2 of 3 of resilience

Tackling a problem productively can be difficult, but it gets results! This module will help you figure out how to best approach challenging situations.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” -- Jimmy Dean


  • Ask yourself if this is your problem.Some problems just don’t belong to you! Recognize that you do not need to tackle everyone else’s challenges for them.
  • Avoid avoidance.Running away or hiding from a problem is often a tempting response, but it rarely solves anything, and can sometimes even make things worse.
  • Recognize your excuses.If you identify the excuses you use to avoid a problem, you can catch yourself when these thoughts appear.
  • Control your actions.While you can't always control your problems, you can control how you react to them.
  • Find a new route.Some obstacles are immovable...but if you can’t go through, go around.
  • Keep your eye on the prize.Remind yourself why you want to accomplish your goals or overcome your problems.
  • Spread the word. Telling a mentor or a friend about what you hope to achieve may make you feel accountable, and make you more likely to achieve it.


Fillable PDFs

text versions of activities

Strategies for Coping with Problems

Introduction to tackling problems

Things you can’t control:

  • Mean people
  • The bus arriving too early
  • Computer crashes
  • Illness

Things you can control:

  • Your response to all of the above.

    While it’s perfectly normal to experience frustration, anger, and sadness, part of resilience is the ability to deal with problems productively.


You’re on a road trip with your best friend when you hit an unexpected roadblock. Do you…

  1. Turn back home?
  2. Blame your co-passenger?
  3. Yell at the roadblock until you’re so tired you need to take a nap in your car?
  4. Take charge and find a new route?

Chances are, you picked option 4; it’s the only useful solution. But not every situation in life is this obvious, so this module will help you with tackling problems directly.

Passive and active coping

There are two main ways of dealing with a problem:

  • Passive coping: when you either ignore a situation or act in ways unlikely to help.
  • Active coping: when you take steps towards solving a problem or improving a situation.
Active coping is generally a much more successful strategy for tackling problems.

For example:

At the end of class, Maria is handed back her midterm exam and sees a big, red 47% at the top of the page. She studied hard, so she’s surprised and disappointed she did so poorly.

Two different ways Maria can approach the situation:

  • Passive Coping:

    Blinking back tears, Maria walks straight out of the classroom. She spends the entire evening calling her professor names, eating cookie dough and watching Netflix.

    In the above scenario, Maria uses passive coping strategies, reacting to her disappointment by taking actions unlikely to result in any positive change.

  • Active Coping:

    Blinking back tears, Maria takes a few deep breaths. After class, she’s still feeling pretty upset, so she goes for a run -- she knows that always makes her feel better. When Maria gets home, she emails her professor, asking him for a meeting to get more feedback on her midterm. This way, she can figure out what specific content she is misunderstanding, and how she can improve.

    Here, Maria uses active coping strategies, taking actions to improve her situation.

One important note: not all problems are fixable -- for example, grieving the death of a family member. However, such problems can be managed so that their effects are less devastating. In these cases, part of active coping may involve seeing a counsellor to talk about the situation.

The ADAPT Model of active coping

Watch this video to learn about how to deal with a problem using the ADAPT Model of Active Coping.

If you don’t know how to deal with a problem, try the ADAPT Model of Active Coping. This model provides a helpful guide to think about how to best deal with a situation.

  • Attitude:It might be difficult, but try to develop a capable and optimistic mindset. If this means you need to work through a few emotions, or step away from the problem for a small period of time, that’s okay! Just set a time that you will come back to your problem -- and stick to it.
  • Define:Put your problem into words. Then, figure out a realistic goal to improve the situation. It might not be possible to completely undo or solve the problem, but you can usually minimize its bad effects. Your aim may not be to drive through the roadblock, but rather, find a new route.
  • Alternatives:Brainstorm concrete actions that you can take to achieve your goal. Remember, these don’t need to be solutions; they might just be improvements.
  • Prediction:Imagine the possible outcomes -- both good and bad -- of different actions. Certain actions may have both benefits and drawbacks, so weigh these outcomes and pick the action you think is most likely to achieve your goal.
  • Try It Out:Take action and see what happens. If it wasn’t successful, at least you’ve found a strategy that doesn’t work! You may need to try again, but take comfort that you are one step closer to a solution.

For help using the ADAPT Model to cope with a stressful situation, check out the activity below or complete the My Action Plan Fillable PDF - opens in a new window.