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Is this going to affect the price of beer?

Cheers is a sitcom that ran from 1982-1993. A mainstay character was lovable lug Norm Peterson. Norm loved beer, to say the least. In one episode, multiple upsetting events occurred. Each one had the bar patrons in an uproar. Norm would listen to the outrage a few moments and then cut it off, asking:

“Wait just a minute… is this going to affect the price of beer?”

When the bar owner said no, Norm responded “Then what do we care?” Perfect answer from the guy that knew to focus on what was really important!

You have to maintain laser focus if you want to achieve ambitious goals. The national champs I coached won every tournament they played. Even when playing against older girls, shorthanded, on little rest, in poorly lit gyms — nothing distracted them. Remarkable, as a single slip up in tournament play can kill your chances.

Unfortunately, many people / companies often get sidetracked in pursuit of their goals. There are two common ways to get distracted by the inconsequential:

  1. Obsessing about past history that you can’t change. Practically every season a girl would get called for a foul, then come to the bench saying “coach, I didn’t do it.” My response was always the same: “Yes, you did. Know how I know?” They always answered correctly: “because the referee said so”. And that was that; we moved on, and I never had to have that conversation with the same girl twice. I’ve seen athletes (and co-workers, and friends, and…) get so worked up about past events it affects their performance going forward. Learn from it, let it go and move on.
  1. Letting overreaction turn minor issues into major ones. People often overreact to issues that really don’t make any difference in the grand scheme of things- it wastes a lot of time. A university where I taught almost changed their entire curriculum based on an offhand comment by one student. It was an extreme overreaction; they incorrectly assumed that since one person thought so then everyone must feel the same way. Happens all the time.

Norm had it right. Many companies would be better off asking their version of “is this going to affect the price of beer?” It’s a great litmus test of whether the issue at hand really should be considered high priority, and keeps you focused on the things that really matter.

On a personal level, I often see people get upset over “huge” problems. A useful question for that situation: “Is this something that’s going to affect your life a year from now?” If not, then might as well go ahead and start getting over it now. It’s a much healthier way to go through life and ensure your time and attention is spent on more important issues.

Ralph Smith

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