Prozac for the Soul

Streamside Meditation – Prozac for the soul.

I have recently been reading an excellent and newly released book , “Lost Connections” Uncovering the real causes of anxiety and depression-and the unexpected solutions.  (Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Circus, Jan 18)

I won’t go into the details, although that may come in time. What I can do is recommend it to you, whether you think you have ever been anxious and depressed or not. Because it isn’t just about that, it is about considering how our environment and the things that we accept as “normal” in society are most likely making many of us sick.

There were however a number of things in the book which really struck a chord with me, and some of them I think may well say something about why we fish and indeed why we should fish.

Firstly it turns out that there are only two primary motivations that drive us to do anything. What the author terms “Extrinsic or Intrinsic motivation”.

Extrinsic motivation is doing things to get stuff. The science shows that “getting stuff” as a result of your efforts doesn’t provide any long lasting psychological benefit in terms of a sense of well being.  This isn’t some opinion piece, it is backed up by real scientific study. Working like a dog to get that new car will give you a transient boost, but it won’t last. It could even ultimately increase your anxiety when you have to find money for the insurance and worry about scratching the paintwork. And anyway, if you have been seriously infected with society’s extrinsic values, your pleasure will diminish the moment your neighbour gets his bigger and newer model.

On the other hand, “Intrinsic motivation” proved to show sustained results in terms of people’s sense of well being.

My understanding of intrinsic motivation is that it relates to the stuff that you do or achieve simply because you want to, reading a book, writing a letter,  painting a picture, climbing a mountain , going fishing or just standing on a lawn casting a fly line.

Essentially then, something which is worthwhile for the simple sake of doing it, and without material goals or specific payoffs.  Think in terms of children playing, they do this simply for the joy of doing it. Joy it turns out is a word that you don’t hear too much these days and one has to wonder why that should be. Perhaps it is simply because people don’t experience it, a sad but likely truth.

I think that we all recognize at some point that there are (hopefully) things in our lives that are like that. For most people reading this blog almost certainly one of those things is going fishing, (oddly it turns out that for me, writing this blog is exactly the same thing). Most of us don’t expect to get anything out of it. We don’t kill or eat the fish and on the best days it doesn’t even matter if we don’t catch any fish.

I would put it to you that going fishing is a wonderfully intrinsically satisfying pursuit that we all do for little reason other than we like doing it, and we all know inside ourselves that it is good for us. Those who question the validity of our chosen passion, usually with that universal query “what’s the point if you don’t eat the fish” are caught up in societal acceptance of the importance of extrinsic goals. For them there has to be a payoff, a reward, a trophy prize at the end of any endeavor.

I suspect that anglers in general, and to my mind fly anglers in particular, have come to realize that it is the very fact that we don’t take anything which makes it worthwhile. We have discovered for ourselves what Johann Hari has highlighted, doing things we like doing, for little reason other than the fact that we like doing them is actually very very good for our sense of well being. In fact the science suggests that it can have a material effect on our real physical health.

It turns out there are a number of other similar factors which influence how you feel. One of the positive ones is meditation. My limited understanding of meditation is essentially that you clear your mind of all the clutter and I think we all recognize that happens to us when we are fishing.

A negative factor is the effect of unwanted input, mostly advertising, which infects most of our waking hours. The constant chatter that says you aren’t good enough without this, that you can be more successful, more sexy, more admired, less inadequate if you swallow this pill, buy this car, use this cream. In our normal lives, and ever more so with the advent of social media, we are bombarded with messages that try to highlight our flaws and inadequacies in an attempt to sell us more stuff.

If you look at it, most advertising has a negative message, even something apparently as innocuous as the Photo Shopped front cover of a magazine essentially suggests that you are flawed. That your skin isn’t perfect, your waistline too full, your hair lacking luster or perhaps your partner isn’t up to scratch. Even adverts that don’t look like adverts are there to make you feel less than. None of us is immune to it. It is equally pretty obvious that this background chatter doesn’t exist on a trout stream.

 

Finally, another finding, highlighted in this book is the benefit you can gain by “reconnecting to nature” to simply be in a natural space, to breath in its beauty, balance, and connectedness to everything else. Again, that is something that simply “happens” when you are out on the water.

So when you are fishing, you are already doing a lot of the things that are recommended in this book in terms of benefiting your mental and physical wellness, and that is before you factor in the advantages of exercise and clean air. Who would have known?

You are in pursuit of joy, for little reason than it is good for you, you have stilled your mind, or at least focused it sufficiently that you are at peace. You are in direct touch with nature and generally in a large enough space that your ego becomes minimalized by the sheer scale of things. Turns out that there is a lot of scientific evidence that what you do when you go fishing is tremendously good for you.

I can’t tell you how many friends and clients report to me that the time that they spend fishing is the ONLY time that they are not worrying about something else. Work, relationships, money, mortgages, children, and such which tend to clog our minds and cloud our judgement.

I know of a friend from my past, whose wife would make him sandwiches and send him fishing when he was showing signs of being stressed out.  She recognized that he was a happier, healthier person having spent a day on the water and no doubt a nicer person to be around too.

Many of us instinctively understand this to be true, but for some reason it is all too easy to allow the extrinsic motivations that drive modern society to encroach on our reasoning and we find ourselves “Putting off going fishing” for “something more important”. What this book suggests in fairly scientific terms is that, there isn’t much that is rightfully more important.  In fact I think that the next time someone asks me “What’s the point of going fishing” I am going to tell them “The point is that it is very good for me”. What better explanation does one need?

I have often joked, when people ask me about going fishing, that it is “cheaper than therapy”, now I know that not only is it cheaper, there’s a very good chance that it is more effective too.

I have always known that most fly anglers are pretty smart, but who would have thought that we have discovered an “anti-depressant” , that has no known side effects, works better than anything the pharmaceutical giants can come up with, is for most of us, readily available and highly effective?

 

Books from the author of this blog are available for download from Smashwords

 

 

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3 Responses to “Prozac for the Soul”

  1. galleyslave1 Says:

    Excellent. I’ve always thought that ‘a bad days fishing is better than a good day working’ even when everything goes against you and every tree catches your fly and you spend more time tying flies on your line than having them in the water, it’s still therapy. Great observation.

  2. John Dean Says:

    Hi Tim, Thankyou for this piece, I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in it. Considering how much fishing I do and how unhinged I still am there are many who will be delighted to learn that it is fishing that is preventing me from going completely over the edge.

    However I really just wanted to say that I have bought four of your books online and enjoyed them very much. I have literally hundreds of fishing books and it was a pleasure to read your accounts written and argued for in a straight forward manner which I have interpreted as being South African. It seems very much the direct approach of a Springbok forward pack which all Kiwis learn from birth must be taken seriously and respected for their power and authenticity. The British and American writers who have provided the the bulk of our great fly fishing lexicon are often prone to be more flamboyant and some cases more pretentious.

    I must also thank you for your arguments in favour of thumb on top which I have now adopted after many years of trout fishing with the V grip. There has been an obvious improvement in my casting accuracy and control. I have to admit to still using the V grip for my saltwater fishing which demands a longer stroke quite often at approx a 45degre angle. ( Btw Tim Rajeff argues for the use of the two grips in the same circumstances. His reasons can be found on you-tube).

    Anyway Tim I just wanted to congratulate you on your fine writings on the sport I love. Keep it up.

    All the best,

    John Dean.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    ________________________________

    • paracaddis Says:

      Dear John,
      What a wonderfully expansive and positive note to start my day, thank you for taking the trouble. There may however be a flaw in your argument, I am proudly of Cornish heritage and an immigrant to SA, a long time one to be sure. So it could be cultural adaptation and influence that you see, or it could be that us Cornish just aren’t bright enough to make things complicated. 🙂 The purpose of most my writing is really my own form of self medication, and I suppose a secondary and no less worthwhile goal would be to have it provide pleasure to others. That it does for you I consider to be one of the highest compliments, So thanks again for taking the trouble to write.

      P.S. Whilst I do advocate “Thumb on top grip” for most circumstances, and almost never “finger on top” The “V” Grip definitely has massive advantages in terms of real distance, 170 degree casting and offers far better tracking than the others for most casters. So you are in my opinion absolutely correct to switch between then as you do. Personally now, if I am going for broke in a demonstration distance cast I will change both my grip and stance to avoid tracking errors. Most of my trout fishing , the thumb on top rules..

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