How to Get Your Life Together – 2- Learning flexibility – stop making excuses for continuing to do what doesn’t work – is an important part of living the wise life
Number 2 The Need for Flexibility
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.
I spent several hours last week doing a light re-edit of my first book, 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 — so I turned it into a pdf and am giving it away as a bonus for subscribers to my Phoenix Centre Press website.
I’m always thinking about the next article for this blog, and reading the old stores 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 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:
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.
The lesson I learned was to slow down on offering unsolicited advice. I mostly wait for people to sign on as clients or sign up for the blog. But the "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 endlessly repeating the 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." I truly 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. However, you really, really need to monitor HOW you react. Do you yell? Say inappropriate things? Roll over and give in?
Then, monitor your results.
The thing you can do something about is what you do. In other words, 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, 😉 is "The headwaters of the Missouri," — where the "Gallatin, Jefferson, and Madison Rivers converge to form the mighty Missouri." Thus, three forks. Get it? Nothing at all to do with eating. (Parenthetically, Darbella and I may just be there this summer, as a part of a road trip. Photos to follow.)
Now, I continue to 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.
(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 something) 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. The first person to notice and explain this last reference by making a comment on the blog wins an autographed copy of my newest book, The. Best. Relationship. Ever., including free shipping anywhere!)
Uncle Barney decided it would take too much work to turn me into a fly fisher. So, he and my cousin Mike taught me to fly fish using a spin casting rod. I got pretty OK at it. Dad learned to fly cast, as he was retired and had the requisite time on his hands.
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 at least 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 wander in and look around.
The nice (and by nice I mean cute) lady behind the counter asked if she could help me. I assumed she meant as 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."
She asked me what I’d been usin’.
Now, you need to know that I’m not shy about blending in. 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, and a wide brimmed cowboy hat, which I had bought on my first trip to Montana.
(I dug up this photo of the outfit, sans fishin’ rod, but adding a horse. Yup. That’s me. Noticeably younger — I’m told I have a good seat! I was disappointed to later learn that this means I ride horses well.)
I took off my hat, and extracted the flies I’d used the night before from the hatband.
She laughed. (Not because I had ’em in my hatband. That’s where you chuck ’em.) "No wonder you didn’t catch anything!"
"Huh?" I replied. "They always worked before." (Variation on, "We Always Did It That Way." See above story.)
She reached into her display case, yanked out a 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.
"There’s Mayflies (or something) hatching right now. The trout ain’t gonna bite on nothin’ else."
I figured she was trying to rip off the bozo from back East, but I really wanted to catch some fish. 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 hat band had plenty of room.
That night, 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 reeling them in.
"You gotta match the hatch, ’cause the trout ain’t gonna bite on nothin’ else."
Spraying deodorant on one’s shirt covers up a deeper problem. All that happens is that the deeper problem goes background for a moment or two, and then rears up again. Plus, you end up with a really disgusting shirt.
Now, stripping away the shirt and getting down to skin, to soap, and to washing takes a bit more time, but the results are much better.
Now, admittedly, if I’d have waited a month or two, maybe the flies I started out with might have just caught 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 here and now. It doesn’t matter what used to work. All that matters,, to repeat, is right now.
If it ain’t working, doing more of it ain’t gonna work either.
- If you’re yammering on about something, and no one else is 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 have to deal with it.
- If you find yourself saying, "It always turns out like that," maybe you need to try another fly. (Jeez, considering my young friend, that could be taken a couple of ways”¦)
This week, match the hatch. You might gain a fish success story of your own.
As a thank-you, we'll send you a link to our pdf booklet, Exercises in Consciousness.
What could be better than that??