Problem vs. Stuff

What is the difference between a problem and stuff?

Do you remember when the bumper sticker “Shit Happens” was popular? Do you remember how you reacted to that statement? Or how do you suppose you might have reacted to that statement?

Would you be part of the majority who would say “OH NO! Now what do I do?” Would you immediately think you have a problem? Would you instantly get ready for trouble?

Are you someone who allows a problem to ruin your day? Do you give all of your power away to a problem by getting all upset and stressed out?

If so, then I think it is important to identify what which makes a problem a problem. But first let’s take a look at the definition of a problem as defined in the dictionary. A big reason for defining what makes a problem a problem is because almost everything has become a problem for most people these days.

So what is a problem? The offers this as a definition.
1A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome:
they have financial problems
the problem of ageism in Hollywood offers the following definition for problem.


1.A question to be considered, solved, or answered.
2.A situation, matter, or person that is hard to deal with or understand.
3.A personal matter that causes one difficulty or needs to be dealt with:

adj. adjective

1.Difficult to deal with or control.
2.Dealing with a moral or social problem.

So if the above defines that which constitutes a problem, then what is the problem?

The problem is that the minute we label anything as a problem, regardless of the definition of a problem, we think differently about whatever is happening.

Whenever we decide that so and so, whatever it happens to be, is a problem, we’re telling ourselves to get ready for something to go wrong and get ready for trouble. The brain will then take our instruction and get ready to fight it or run away from it.

In this context, problems are completely unworkable situations which lead to making us nervous, anxious, worried, and stressed.

Now pay attention to what is different when we change the label from problem to STUFF. What happens to the way we think about the problem when we label it STUFF?

Stuff is something quite different. Do you remember the book titled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson?

Well, what is stuff and what if it is all small? offers the following:

[mass noun]
Matter, material, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind that are being referred to, indicated, or implied:
- I prefer to buy stuff in sales
- we all offer to do stuff for each other
- green stuff in stagnant water
- the mud was horrible stuff
- a girl who’s good at the technical stuff
- all that running and swimming and stuff

Nothing to worry about here, is there? What if everything you think is a problem is only stuff as defined above? What if everything you think is a problem is just matter, material, articles, or activities? In that case, you could probably handle stuff, don’t you think? I mean, who couldn’t handle stuff, right? Stuff is just stuff. No big deal.

When we change the label from problem to stuff, the way we think about it changes.

We have different thoughts about problems than we have about STUFF.

When we change the way we think about it, we feel differently about it, and then react differently to it. That’s the way it works. Thinking creates feeling and feeling creates doing. Even though it’s a pretty simple concept, it may take some practice to change your habitual labeling of everything that doesn’t go your way or the way you want it to go from a problem to STUFF.

Once again stuff is just stuff. Stuff is nothing to handle. Stuff can even be fun to handle. It’s all in the way you think about it.

One word of caution though. Some of you will have to check in with yourself and make sure you aren’t someone who has to have problems to solve because that’s what you’re used to. Plus it makes you look good to others when you’re a good problem solver. And some of you will even have to have bigger problems than everyone else to handle so that you get to look really good to others. Being a good problem solver is a great way to get approval from others. After all aren’t troubleshooters held in high regard and well compensated for their skills?

If this describes you, now is the time to let go of your need for approval from others by learning how to be a Good With Me person who no longer needs to label everything as a problem.

Shift the label from problem to stuff and check out the difference in the way you think about the stuff that you have to handle. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what happens next. Stuff doesn’t ruin your day. Stuff doesn’t make you all upset and stressed out. Stuff is just stuff.

Author's Bio: 

Patricia Noll is the Founder and Executive Director of Focus One, Inc., an Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Program, which has been licensed by the State of Florida since September, 1989. For over 25 years as a lecturer and group facilitator, Patricia has conducted over 5000 group lectures on how to feel good and overcome addictive behaviors.

She has a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling and a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Along with the Good With Me Book and related community, she is the author of the Focus One Treatment Manual and Workbook which has been endorsed by internationally renowned authors and lecturers Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, Jack Kornfield, and Jacquelyn Small among others.