Coping With Stress: What’s The Problem? (Part 1)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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Coping with stress adviceIn previous posts, I established the principle that stress is just a word which stands for many different problems in our lives.  Thus, coping with stress successfully means both identifying and dealing with specific problems in your life effectively.

The first step in dealing with any problem effectively is to define the problem accurately and truthfully.  This is not always easy to do.  Hence, the title of this week’s series of three blog posts:  What’s The Problem? (Parts 1-3)

Money Ball

If you make a mistake at this very first step in your problem-solving process, your chances of successfully resolving your problems are pretty slim.  There are several possible ways you can go wrong here, but today I want to focus on just one of them: not thinking deeply enough about the essence of your problem.

Some problems in life are straightforward and don’t require much depth of thought.  Locking your keys in your car is an example.  The problem is pretty simple to figure out—“my car is locked and the keys are inside.”  You don’t have to be an Einstein here.  And while there may be several different ways to resolve this problem (break a window, jimmy a door lock, go home and get a spare key, etc.) , it doesn’t take much brain power, or creative thinking, to define your problem appropriately.

Other problems in life are not so easy to define, or to cure.  And sometimes, you can be off trying to solve one type of problem, when the real problem you are facing has totally escaped your attention.  The movie Money Ball demonstrates an excellent example of this type of problem-recognition mistake.

Dare To Think Differently

In the movie Money Ball, actor Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team.  The team has just completed its 2001season, getting to the playoffs, but losing in the first round.  The Athletics were (and still are) a small budget team that was already at a severe competitive disadvantage against richer teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox. To make matters even worse, the owner and management know that three of their top-performing free-agent players will be leaving, before the start of the next season, to join other teams who can afford to pay them more.

Pitts’ character (Beane) is now faced with the monumental task of providing vision and leadership for the organization to remain competitive for the next year, with limited financial resources and three huge holes in the team’s lineup to fill.  The prospects for replacing the talent and production being lost are grim.  And in one of the key early scenes in the movie, Beane is presiding over a meeting where six of his top coaches and scouts are discussing the available pool of high-performing players/prospects that the team might want to pursue.

“No Chance Of Succeeding”

While everyone else in the meeting is working very hard to resolve this huge problem at hand, Beane realizes the futility of a “business as usual” crisis resolution approach.  He interrupts the discussion and challenges each man at the table to state what problem they think they are trying to solve.  The group is taken aback by this, because to a man, they each believe the problem is obvious. But as each man reluctantly answers the question put to them, Pitt’s character says “no, that’s not our problem”—implying that it’s actually something else.  Once every opinion was openly stated and rejected, Beane then shares his conception of what the group’s true problem really is.

He sees the problem differently than all the other men in the room that day.  He sees the problem as a fundamentally unfair system, where if small market teams like Oakland continue to think, strategize, and plan in the same traditional ways, the large market teams will almost always win, and the small market teams stand no chance at all.

Essentially, what Beane sees is that the heart of the problem is this: management is trying to solve the competitive disadvantage problem with conventional baseball thinking that doesn’t work anymore in the new economic environment.  In order to overcome the competition and money gaps, small market teams like the Oakland Athletics would have to find ways to creatively approach the problem with a different type of thinking than anyone has used in the past.

A New Solution Miraculously Appeared

By thinking more deeply about the problem at hand, and by changing its definition to one that is more accurate and reality-based, Pitt’s character had positioned himself to explore new types of solutions.  While a good solution did not appear instantly, and while the rest of the organization disagreed with his problem redefinition approach, Pitt kept an open mind, and good fortune eventually found him. 

A chance meeting with a young, geeky statistician, on a failed recruiting trip to Cleveland one day, provided the spark that ultimately led to a winning game plan.  With the help of this forward-thinking young man, whom Beane hired away from Cleveland, he came up with an entirely new strategy for targeting players who could help his team win.

His new model didn’t work well at first, but by the end of the 2002 season, the Athletics had set a new American League baseball record for consecutive wins (20) and had miraculously made the playoffs once again, when no one had given them a chance.

This is just one example of how not thinking deeply enough about certain problems in life, and not defining each problem in the most accurate and reality-based way, can lead to failure and continued stress that possibly could have been avoided.

In my next two posts this week, I’ll continue to explore this topic of how defining your problems correctly is an extremely important skill for developing true stress mastery.

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