4 min read

Fish Don't Know They're In Water


I got this saying from Derek Siverswriter, entrepreneur, founder of CD Baby and many other disruptive businesses.You can find his original article here — it’s short.

He may have taken the term from somewhere else, but I heard it first from him, so I’m accrediting it to him for the time being.

Derek is a disruptive thinker, which I’m obviously drawn to, given the nature of my own work.

Disruptive thinkers don’t think much about whether or not people will accept their ideas right now, they push through and build things, no one thought they could build.

They share numerous thoughts and ideas with others, with no negative concern.

Disruptive thinkers have taught me that passion and a critical eye to question the ‘norm’ of their surroundings, are, as far as I can tell, 2 critical skills for success in whatever you do.

When I look for commonalities among successful entrepreneurs, almost all of them were doing what at the time seemed impossible, improbable or just down right silly.

Today of course we have adopted our culture around disruptive businesses like Facebook, Google or Apple and disruptive people like Seth GodinMalcolm Gladwell, or Jim Collins.

Forward thinkers like these, never stop trying to gain perspective on new situations or realizations, or as Seth Godin puts it, they Poke the Box.

These companies are never going to stop trying to disrupt business or create new ways of doing things you didn’t even realize you had a problem with.

Perspective is a key ingredient in what makes Derek, Derek and you, well…you.

It’s gained over a lifetime of experiences and reflections, and is I believe is intertwined with your accomplishments in life.

Perspective is what made Gandhi, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King.

It’s easy to tell — just check out Derek’s book list to see what I mean — that Derek is always seeking to gain perspective.

It is also the key ingredient in this particular saying.

Derek relates the saying to how he views culture — and I’m inclined to agree — but I’m willing to take it a step further.

What if we thought of Derek or Seth or Malcolm as fish that do know they’re in water?

At least as it pertains to critical thinking?

If you always seek to gain perspective, would that help you realize when you’re in water?

What if you knew you were water as it relates to fitness? Could you change it then?

See, without even reading the rest of Derek’s article, my mind exploded into a thought process of just how much this saying pertains to people trying to lose weight or change their lives.

Most people don’t know they are in water.

How could I overlook this?

They think they know what they have to do in order to change, but they really don’t, which is why they are still in water.

They yo-yo diet, surround themselves with the same people, find themselves in vicious cycles, try the same unproductive things over and over again — the definition of insanity is repeating the same things over and over again but expecting a different result, according to Einstein — and generally fight against the current of the water.

Currently trying to lose fat? Gain muscle? Eat better? Exercise more?

How’s that working out for you?

I often ask people what they think they need to do to reach their goals — losing weight is the most common though not only reason people see me — and get all kinds of answers, some of them are on the right path but a lot of them are misguided and everyone is definitely stuck on how to create a plan that will get themselves out of the water.

By the time they come to see me, most of them have been trying to lose weight for years and are just frustrated.

Some common answers to this question:

  • I should stop eating dairy for a month
  • I am going to cut back on carbs this month
  • I need to stop eating chicken wings and drinking beer as much
  • I need to do more cardio

Even if these were the answers to your problem, most are associated with a limited time frame for completion — meaning they are not good solutions to what are in fact long-term problems — or are far too general to isolate, as a restrictive factor for your progress.

After a few months of swimming upstream with the right ideas, to a place you could get out of the water and not getting there as quickly as they hoped, we often give up.

Change is hard, so we offer up excuses, ‘I don’t have the time,’ ‘I can’t do it,’ ‘I’m just genetically predisposed to this body,’ etc…etc…

The real truth as to why I believe people give up, has little to do with any of those excuses; it’s that most people are tired of swimming up stream.

It’s easier to go with the current than it is to fight it, even if it’s only for 6 or 12 months.

It’s hard to learn the skills that will keep you on land and a lot easier to go through the motions.

At that point any excuse at all will do.

To fall back in — not recognize you’re back in water — is a human protective mechanism: Denial.

We’re all guilty of it at some point, and even if you know how common a human psychological reaction this is, you can’t save yourself from falling into it from time to time.

This is why 90% of heart attack survivors fail to change their lifestyle within a year of their heart attack.

The fear of dying from the heart attack has dwindled in the first few months, the incentive to change is mostly gone, so they are happy to slip back into the water, deny that they could die from their lifestyle and it’s easier to go with the current.

No one really wants to live with a feeling of fear that they are not going to be able to change, especially when it seems impossible.

The short-term seems more real, what I’m doing right now seems to have more precedence over my life, but it also sets you up for tomorrow, next week and next month.

In fact if you have a goal, what are you going to do this month to take you towards it? What about this week? How about today? Food for thought…

Swimming against the current, or upstream may make you feel like your drowning from time to time, but I encourage you to push through.

When we’re in water, we don’t need more information, we need to gain a new perspective.