Salmon are known, in part, for the arduous trek that they make upstream to spawn. Shortly after their journey is complete, they die.
Sea turtles can live extraordinarily long lives and, from my brief observations, seem to spend most of it frolicking in beautiful water and gliding with the current.
I would never trivialize any living being by summing up their entire existence in a one sentence description, but for the purposes of this article I am focusing on these individual and highly contrasting traits.
In a moment of reflection (actually several of them), I started thinking about how often I swim upstream. For some reason, I am inclined to do so frequently, especially the older I get. By swimming upstream, I am referring to the number of times I find myself going in one direction, when the natural flow of events or the course of a situation is going in the opposite direction.
There are no doubt causes worth fighting for and you could make the argument that none are more noble than the salmon’s journey to procreate and ensure the survival of the species. Sometimes, the cause or the situation is worth whatever effort you need to put forth, no matter the cost, but how often are you really faced with those types of choices?
What about all the times that you expend energy, or brain power, or time unnecessarily? What about the things that you worry about that you cannot control? Or, how about the number of times you have followed the same difficult path toward the same unsatisfactory outcome full well knowing nothing was going to change?
If these questions are leading to your own realization that you, too, may be spending too much time swimming upstream, perhaps it would be helpful to consider taking at least some of that time and imitating a sea turtle instead.
There must be a correlation between the life span of a sea turtle and how they spend that time right? Doesn’t it make sense that there is a similar correlation for us humans as well? I don’t know any massively stressed out ninety year old’s. Do you?
As I have noted many times, one of the great freedoms to be enjoyed while you are on this earth, is the freedom to choose. Your choices are virtually limitless and the impact of the decisions you make relative to those choices can go a long way toward the quality of life you enjoy. You are not confined to the life of a salmon or a sea turtle. You have the power to choose how you will spend your time and what you will allow to occupy your thoughts. The key is to find the balance that works for you.
As always, it is up to you to determine just where that balance lies for you, but I will share a few suggestions that may help you in this process.
Start by making a list of the things that cause you stress on a regular basis. You will most likely find the source of the majority, if not all, of your swims upstream. Once your list is complete, you will be in position to look at each item in a more detailed way and begin to come up with a plan that will surely alleviate some of the stress you are experiencing.
If your commute is a source of stress, perhaps a new route to work is in order. Maybe a slight adjustment to your departure time going to or coming from work will make a difference. The objective here is to identify the source and then to make sure that you are not simply experiencing stress for no reason other than you have followed the same routine and haven’t taken the time to re-evaluate the situation.
You may determine that you are putting forth too much effort in your job for the reward you are receiving. Perhaps a change in your approach is warranted. Maybe a person who you respect will be willing to talk about your situation and offer helpful advice. Is a career change a viable option?
Is your family life in order? Are you able to have fun with and derive strength from your family or do you feel that you are bogged down in the demands of everyday life and unable to find the moments of relaxation and joy that you need?
Once you have completed the negative, stress inducing list, turn your efforts to the positive side of things and make a list of the times and situations during which you feel fulfilled and happy and repeat the same exercise. Once the list is complete, look at each item and try to clearly and precisely identify what it is about each circumstance that creates these positives. When you have identified those things, you can set about to increase the number of times you experience them in your routine.
Perhaps you will find that the best part of your work day involves working with and training others, which will help you to more frequently identify additional opportunities to do more of that.
Maybe you will find that if you set aside one night a week as a game night with your family, you will ensure that more of your time is spent in a leisurely, happy fashion.
It might even be as simple as spending more time thinking about things that make you feel good, which will leave less time for your mind to wander toward the topics that don’t.
Engaging in this process should help you to find your own life’s balance so that you can zero in on the moments that you deliberately want to swim upstream and maximize the time that you spend cruising with the current.
In doing so, you will likely find that when you do have to count on your inner salmon, you will be even more determined and effective because you will have more energy and will than you would have when you were wasting those precious reserves on causes and events that weren’t worth it.
The opposite is also true. More deliberate and purposeful salmon time means that the sea turtle in you will have more time to spend frolicking in your happy place and your time spent there will be even more gratifying and rewarding.
Well, I’ve got to go. For some reason, I suddenly feel like swimming. I think a relaxing snorkel is in order!
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.