Learning Flexibility

Learn­ing flex­i­bil­i­ty — stop mak­ing excus­es for con­tin­u­ing to do what does­n’t work — is an impor­tant part of liv­ing the wise life


It’s sad that most peo­ple rigid­ly behave in ways that get them what they don’t want, and then blame oth­ers or the sit­u­a­tion, rather than their behav­iour, for the problem.

My first book was Sto­ries From the Sea of Life. It came out back in 1994, and went out of print at the turn of the cen­tu­ry. I still think the sto­ries in it are good — I’ve turned it into a PDF and am giv­ing it away as a bonus for sub­scribers to my Phoenix Cen­tre Press web­site. (Link’s in the sidebar!)

I just re-read the old sto­ries, which got me to think­ing. One of the key prin­ci­ples for a rich and mean­ing­ful life is notic­ing the results of what you are doing.

Please! Notice the word notice!

Because if you are just doing… doing because “That’s how I always do it!” … doing because you think doing it anoth­er way is hard… doing because your mom­my told you to… doing because you’re proud, and nev­er ask for advice about doing anoth­er way… you’re like­ly stuck.

Noticing the results of what you are doing is key.

I have a young friend who says she wants a par­tic­u­lar kind of guy. She’s even done part of a List of 50, so she kind of knows what she’s look­ing for.

She swears she will wait until “that guy” shows up. Then “the next guy in line” shows up, and she starts dat­ing him… and bonk­ing him. And then, he turns out to be a jerk.

I won­der aloud about this repeat­ing pat­tern. She sighs, “You don’t get it. He asked me out! What’s wrong with men, any­way?”

I won­der what’s wrong with what she’s doing, and how she man­ages, repeat­ed­ly, to avoid tak­ing any respon­si­bil­i­ty for her poor choices.

And from there, I thought about “Pete” from Iowa, and trout fishing in Montana.

No, real­ly.

Here’s a sto­ry from Sto­ries From the Sea of Life:

Just to repeat: Back in 1994, My first book, Sto­ries From the Sea of Life was pub­lished. It’s now out of print, BUT is avail­able as a pdf file. If you’d like to read more of the sto­ries con­tained there­in, amble over to my book site, The Phoenix Cen­tre Press. Once there, sub­scribe to the site’s mail­ing list, and you’ll get the pdf for FREE!

It’s Refreshing

Pete from Iowa was one of my Fresh­man room mates, in 1968, at good old Elmhurst Col­lege. He intro­duced me to the idea of mean­ing­less and super­fi­cial refreshment.

The town Pete came from was so small that the chief enter­tain­ment for teens was to jump into their pick­ups and cruise around the block, which just about cir­cled the town. Then they’d go over to the A & W, have a root beer and check out the girls. They wore an “out­fit” — crew cut, black jeans, white or coloured tee-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve… and cow­boy boots.

Pete liked to feel refreshed. All the time. He told me that. Repeat­ed­ly. I thought that meant he show­ered a lot. Wrong.

I noticed that he had brought along to Col­lege what for me would have been a life­time sup­ply of the indus­tri­al size cans of Right Guard Aerosol Deodor­ant. Ini­tial­ly, I was glad that he was so con­sci­en­tious, as it was a small room with no air con­di­tion­ing, and I there­fore con­sid­ered deodor­ant to be a direct gift from God.

About a week into the Semes­ter, I was lying abed study­ing, when in rushed Pete. “Boy oh boy, guy,” said Pete. “Shore is a hot ‘un out chere.” And he grabs a can of Right Guard, lifts his arm heav­en­ward and sprays a good­ly dose of the prod­uct on the appro­pri­ate area. One small prob­lem, though. I noticed that he had neglect­ed to remove his white tee-shirt.

Ever the kind soul, ever will­ing to illu­mi­nate this back­wards kid from Iowa, I point­ed out the error of his ways. To which he replied, “We always do it that way back home. Cools ya right off.” I think it was then and there that I began to hate the expres­sion, “We always did it that way.”

This lit­tle trip to the aerosol can took place not once a day, but every time Pete left the room. I began to won­der how he was able to raise the arm of his shirt, so heav­i­ly laden was it with Right Guard. Right Guard ceased to be my prod­uct of choice, from that day on.

Refresh­ment (becom­ing fresh and alive again) has more to do with a state of mind than it does with tak­ing a day off. It is an atti­tude, not a tech­nique. It can’t be bought and applied. It must be lived. It is an inter­nal choice, and thus is not about vaca­tions, relax­ation, exer­cise or eat­ing right. It is about a change of heart and a change of mind.

End of the first story.

One lesson I learned was to slow down on offering unsolicited advice. 

But I also real­ize, now, that Pete’s, “We always do it that way back home. Cools ya right off” thing is no dif­fer­ent from my young friend get­ting lousy dat­ing results, and yet end­less­ly repeat­ing her pat­tern.

The defense, “That’s how WE do it” is a way of deflect­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for results. It’s focus is on “them” or “the past.” It’s a belief that self-respon­si­bilty only applies to things that go well. Every­thing else is cause by oth­ers. And poor, poor me.

I believe that the only place your attention ought to be is on you and your behaviour.

Exam­ple: if your kids act up, your job is to pro­vide clar­i­ty, or pun­ish­ment, or what­ev­er. First, mon­i­tor HOW you react. Do you yell? Say inap­pro­pri­ate things? Roll over and give in?

Then, monitor your results.

The thing you can always do some­thing about is what you do. You pay atten­tion both to the results of your behav­iour, and the behav­iour itself. Rather than say, “That’s what I always do,” you make anoth­er choice.

Here’s another story, about changing what you are doing to get better results.

Back in the late 70s, my par­ents retired to Three Forks, Mon­tana. Dad had fam­i­ly there. I briefly thought about mov­ing there too, but didn’t.

Three Forks, as every­one knows (he says with a grin), is “The head­wa­ters of the Mis­souri,” where the “Gal­latin, Jef­fer­son, and Madi­son Rivers con­verge to form the mighty Mis­souri.” Thus, three forks. Get it? 

It has nothing at all to do with eating. 😉

I make jokes about Three Forks, (more bars than banks…) but let me tell you, those rivers con­tain a pile of trout. And my uncle Bar­ney was one hell of a trout fish­er… person.

Historical notes:

  1. The movie “A Riv­er Runs Through It” was filmed in the area.
  2. In the 70s, when they moved the Fly Fish­er-per­sons Hall of Fame (or what­ev­er it’s called) to the region, Pres­i­dent Jim­my Carter (a prodi­gious fly-fish­er) came in to ded­i­cate it. My Uncle Bar­ney was one of his guides for a fish­ing trip!!!
  3. No rab­bits attacked Pres­i­dent Carter dur­ing this trip. (Get it???)

Any­way, in the late 70s I head­ed to Three Forks for a vaca­tion. Uncle Bar­ney said he didn’t have enough time to teach me to use a fly rod, so he and my cousin Mike taught me to fish using a spin cast­ing rod… with a fly attached. I got OK at it.

One day, dad and I head­ed out at 6 pm to catch some fish. (I think we were on the Gal­latin, but maybe not, as there are three oth­er choic­es.) We stood on the banks, picked out a fly or two, thread­ed ’em on, and pro­ceed­ed to catch water for an hour.

Nary a bite,” as they would say in Three Forks, and elsewhere.

Next day, I was deject­ed­ly wan­der­ing the street of Three Forks (I jest. Three Forks has more than one street.) I found a fly-tying shop. I decid­ed to head in and look around.

The nice (and by nice, I mean real­ly cute) lady behind the counter asked if she could help me. Being sharp as a pen­cil, I assumed she meant help me with things relat­ed to fishin’, so we began a dialogue.

I told her where dad and I had been the evening before. I griped that I’d used my favourite fly, and then my sec­ond most favourite fly, and that “I’d been skunked.” (I pick up local dialects well…)

She shook her head, and sighed, then asked me “Whatcha’ usin’?”

Side­bar: Peo­ple dress like cow-per­sons in Mon­tana, and I was doing my best to look the part. I was dressed in (hik­ing) boots, jeans, a cow­boy shirt, neck scarf, and a wide brimmed cow­boy hat, which I had bought on my first trip to Mon­tana. See photo.

I took off my hat and extract­ed the flies I’d used the night before from where I’d embed­ded them in the hat­band. She laughed. (Not because I had ’em in my hat­band. That’s, after all, where you “chuck ’em.” And THAT also has noth­ing to do with my dad, who was also Chuck…)

No won­der you didn’t catch any­thing,” quoth she.

Huh?” I replied. “They always worked before.” (This is a vari­a­tion of, “We Always Do It That Way.”)

She reached into her dis­play case, yanked out a big plas­tic box, grabbed a tray from the box, opened a stor­age con­tain­er and tossed 4 flies on the counter.

Use these. You got­ta match the hatch.”

Huh?” I replied. Me. Always articulate.

There’s Mayflies (or some­thing) hatch­ing right now. The trout ain’t gonna bite on noth­in’ else.”

I fig­ured she was spin­nin’ a tale… tryin’ to rip off the bozo from back East… but I real­ly want­ed to catch me some fish. Besides, have I men­tioned that she was both cute and wear­ing real­ly short shorts?

I risked, “So, how much for the flies?”

Two bucks, for the four.”

Sheep­ish­ly, I plunked down a “fiv­er,” and got my change. I didn’t need a bag—My hat­band had plen­ty of room.

That evening dad and I went back (Fish sto­ry alert! Fish sto­ry alert!) to the exact same spot! We tied on the new flies! One hour lat­er(!) we’d caught and released 20 or so large trout! We also kept 6 for break­fast! The only rea­son we quit was that our arms were tired from reel­in’ ’em in!!!

You gotta match the hatch, ’cause the trout ain’t gonna bite on nothin’ else.”

Now, admit­ted­ly, if I’d have wait­ed a month or two, maybe the flies I’d start­ed out with might have caught me some fish. But that’s dumb. Chang­ing flies at the time of the failure—and chang­ing them again and again as nec­es­sary, is the secret to con­sis­tent­ly catch­ing fish in the right here, right now.

It doesn’t matter what used to work, or what might work, some day, if the creek don’t rise. All that matters, to repeat, is what works right now.

  • If it ain’t work­ing, doing more of it ain’t gonna work either.
  • If you’re yam­merin’ on about some­thin’, and no one includ­ing the fish are bit­ing, maybe you need to let the thing go.
  • If you’re ignor­ing some­thing and hop­ing it will go away, and it isn’t, maybe you ough­ta deal with it.
  • If you find your­self say­ing, “It always turns out like that,” maybe you need to try anoth­er fly.
About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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