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.
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!
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.
- The movie “A River Runs Through It” was filmed in the area.
- 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!!!
- 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.