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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime—Lao Tzu

Teaching someone to fish is actually pretty complicated.  Sure, you can tie a string to a stick and attach a hook, maybe with a worm, and throw it in.  Depending upon where you are fishing, how deep the hook goes, and what kinds of fish are there (if any!), the person may or may not eat dinner. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem to say that a person is hungry, has no money and needs to catch a fish to meet their calorie requirements.  Just giving a man a fish, over and over again, may enable him to eat—as long as you are around to provide the fish and willing to do so, but no longer.  Teaching him to fish doubles the chance of catching at least one fish that could be split, so that while neither would be stuffed full, neither would go hungry.

For a professional fisherman, someone like a charter guide or someone who fishes tournaments with prize money, there is a lot more to fishing than a worm on a hook.  The skilled person has several rods with different weight lines on them.  They take a tackle box (or two).  They know where and when to fish to catch a particular fish, and also know an assortment of lures and bait which that particular species is likely to be attracted to.  If one thing isn’t working, they change the tackle every 15-20 minutes and/or move the boat.  The novice didn’t even bring the tackle box, and definitely does not have the skills and experience to understand what is in it.

To become skilled at healing and personal growth and development also requires skill development. It requires having the right tools and knowing when and how to use them. An example of a tool is reflective thinking.  In a particular situation, you engage in some behavior, take a step back, do some reflective thinking about how that worked out, and then make some adjustments, if necessary. If you had only practiced a behavior that has errors in it over and over and over again without making changes, you would have just made a habit out of the errors. This is what most of us do.  However, making the effort to build skills to do reflective thinking more effectively helps you to sort out where the errors are, so that you can make modifications and do it better the next time.  Maybe even catch a fish and get your need for nourishment addressed!  

It’s never the event that defines my reactions, it is my perception of the event that determines my judgement about the event. By reflective thinking and cognitive reframing, it is possible to look at the event a different way, so that a better result can occur in the future.   With the 2-5% of our brain that is the thinking brain, we can learn to evaluate and modify behaviors and continue to improve every day, and thus become a better fisherman.

As you learn more about what to put in your tackle box of life skills, and as you make the time and effort to master the skills, you improve your chance of success in life. You’re better to have five skills that you can really use well than a hundred that you don’t know how to apply in a specific situation. It’s the same thing with your relationships: there are different aspects and different tools needed for communication depending upon the human relationship dynamics, status concerns, and power and control issues, just to name a few considerations. There’s a whole tacklebox of life skills that can be stored in different compartments, and then there are innumerable ways within each category to use those skills. 

It’s kind of like fishing: different kinds of fish strike different kinds of lures and bait.

Think of an example of when you planned to handle a situation one way, but when you were actually in the situation, you discovered that what you planned did not work out as you had hoped.  Did you have the skills to course-correct successfully?  If not, what skills will you use the next time you are in a similar situation?

2 Responses

  1. Fiona Proctor

    I love the fishing analogy, Stan! This adage has been one I frequently return to. My partner usually has multiple tackle boxes, many rods, different weight lines, and the patience to change every 15-20 minutes of not catching a fish. He is also the one who leans in when I want to lean out. I am deeply grateful to this fellow human for teaching me what you have clearly demonstrated here. Having the patience to try different tactics has resulted in a long marriage based on learning new communication techniques that grow with us.

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