Three powerful lessons to learn on how to deal with life’s problems by looking at our world’s most precious element.
Irecently went on a road trip that took me through Prague. While I was driving I remembered my old music teacher in school talking about Smetana’s “Die Moldau”. The Moldau, as it’s called in German (Czech: “Vtlava”) is the river that flows through Prague.
After turning it on and suddenly feeling incredibly smart and highly sophisticated because I was now listening to classical music I recalled that Smetana wrote this piece with the idea in mind of how the Vtlava flows. At first, it’s just small creeks that more and more flow together to build this vast stream.
Thinking of this and letting my mind wander a little bit I began to realize that — as weird as it sounds — there are a few lessons that water can teach us about how to live life.
Sounds strange? Read on.
When I listened to the piece and imagined the little creek and how it blazes the trail to grow bigger and bigger I realized that that’s precisely how we should treat obstacles in our life.
Let’s take a large rock for example. What does the creek do, when it hits the rock? If it doesn’t find a passage through the rock it will flow to the sides and work its way around it.
We spend so much time and energy in life in trying to break up problems by attacking them full force straight on. If we simply find the flexibility and work our way around them we will eventually find a way that leads past it so we can move forward. If we spend all of our energy trying to break straight through, we might actually get stuck if the problem just doesn’t give way.
B. H. Liddell Hart was a British soldier, military historian, and military theorist. Today he is a) dead and b) a man you’ve probably never heard about in your life before.
Nevertheless, as a military historian, he researched how wars have been won in the past. He looked at battles all throughout history ranging from classical antiquity up until modern times and came to an interesting conclusion.
While we often believe that wars have been won by two armies fighting it out head-to-head B. H. Liddell Hart actually came to a completely different conclusion.
Only 6 out of 280 battles have been one by one army defeating the opponent in direct battle. That’s 2%.
All of the others were won by other means like an ambush, flanking the enemy, getting the enemy to give up position and the like.
Basically anything but attacking straight on with full force.
When we’re trying to do business with someone and try to negotiate a deal the only way of sealing it will be if both parties worked around the problem of everyone wanting as much as possible at the least cost.
If both parties keep on stubbornly going head-on against each other both will lose and the deal is off. If they found a way to work around the problem then both will be successful.
Negotiating is the fine art of finding a way around the problem, not trying to break it in the first place.
So what can we learn from that now?
When we hit an obstacle in our life, we should try to find a way around it as it often will cost us way more energy than to try to break through. Sometimes the obstacles are so big they will slow us down or even grind us to a halt. Very often working out a way around them is the smarter way.
Have you ever tried to push a door open but then read the “Pull” sign?
I’m pretty sure you switched to doing that instead. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
You’d still be pushing.
That’s lesson #1 we can learn from water. Don’t waste your energy on big problems, try to find a smarter way to solve them. Don’t try to push the door open, pull instead.
Water also has another great ability. It’s constantly changing.
It starts off at the sea. When it heats up it becomes clouds. These can go vast distances only to come back down to earth as rain. Rain forms creeks, creeks become streams, streams become vast rivers and rivers eventually flow back to the sea.
That’s very similar to how our life works in general. We come from nothing. We are born into this world naked, we live our lives, hopefully creating something amazing but then we leave the world again, naked, only to return to nothing in the end.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Very often in life, we are scared of change. That’s understandable because being scared means that failure is an option.
But change can become less terrifying when we realize the very fact that there’s actually nothing to lose in life.
“You come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing
What have you lost? Nothing!” — Monty Python
When we understand that it’s all just a circle, we realize that change doesn’t have to be scary because failures don’t mean the end but much rather that we found a path that didn’t work.
“panta rhei” — Heraklit
You’ve probably heard that quote by the famous Greek philosopher before. It means “everything flows”. And it’s correct. Everything is constantly flowing, life is constantly changing. WE are constantly changing. Therefore being scared of change means being scared of the very essence of life, essentially even life itself.
Lesson #2: Change is life. Life is change. And there’s no reason to be scared of living, is there?
Wow. That was pretty philosophical. Let’s take it down a notch again and go back to the real world, shall we?
There’s actually another way water deals with obstacles.
If there’s no way around the rock and the water finds a small hole, over time it will continuously break up the obstacle from the inside.
Through persistence and time vast mountains have been ground down to sand, streams have created valleys of enormous size and puddles have become lakes.
If there’s no way around a problem, if we truly have to break straight through, we need to find a weak spot and direct our energy there. And through time and persistence, every problem will give way eventually.
Just think of a musician trying to learn to play a certain difficult piece. There’s no going around it or finding a smarter way. If the musician wants to be able to play the piece there’s only one option: Time to practice and persistence in playing that part over and over again until it’s possible.
Eventually every problem gives way just like streams becoming valleys.
So there you have it.
Three powerful lessons we can learn by looking at water.
When water faces an obstacle it flows around it and finds a better way.
Water changes and adapts to the environment.
And when there’s no way around and obstacle, water makes its way, through time and persistence.