When All You’ve Got is a Shark Everything Looks Like a Seal

When All You’ve Got is a Shark Everything Looks Like a Seal

Most of us have our favorite strategies for certain problems. Coffee for example is how many people deal with the problem of mornings. Television is how many people deal with the problem of attention spans.

In many cases these strategies are effective, reasonable, and appropriate. But at other times our preferences get in the way of our ability to live a balanced life.

Run Bee Run
Recently a friend asked me if I could recommend a running program. She told me she was worried about running because she thought she was overweight and she had experienced a major foot injury in the past.

She also told me that the last time she started a running program she had to rest for 3 days after her final run because her foot was hurting so much.

Then almost in anticipation of my concern she said she had tried other activities, but she just felt a sense of freedom when she ran. She knew that she could just change her diet, but that she could lose weight much faster if she also exercised.

When I finished her letter, I realized that she had become stuck on one strategy to deal with her problem.

While she was correct that exercise makes losing weight easier and more sustainable, her preference for running was getting in the way. In fact is she did want to start running again it was essential she find other types of exercise to get her back to where she could run again.

Hooked on Underwater Basket Weaving
I often see this problem in the fitness world. People get hooked on one strategy for losing weight or getting stronger and they can’t let it go. Often these strategies work for a while but at some point they stop serving us.

Instead of being a reliable go-to, they become a crutch and then a hindrance to our ability to grow. The same way clichés go from being effective phrases to lazy standbys.


I could have titled this post, “When all you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” and most of you would have understood what I was talking about very quickly. This metaphor is effective because it works across many cultures, generations, and life styles.

The problem with clichés and favorite strategies is they make us blind to all the possibilities. If you have a shark mentality, every problem looks like something to attack. If you have a possum mentality, every problem is a reason to play dead.


Health concerns are especially prone to this kind of single mindedness. We get hooked on cross fit or Zumba or running and we think that is the key to our health and happiness. We stop seeing all the other ways we might find balance in our lives.

And very often there is nothing to compel us to change our minds. We can keep using this strategy for days, months, and years with out an issue. The problem is when that strategy breaks down, often our good intentions break down with it.

You want to get healthy and you used to love running, so you go run 8 miles and hurt yourself. Then not only do you stop running, you also give up on getting healthy.

If we want to find balance in our lives it is important to expand the strategies we use.

When we have more strategies, we are able to respond to a variety of situations as they arise. And we can decide if we want to respond like a hammer, a shark, a possum, or an eel.

Then instead of becoming stuck with one view of the world, we can see things from many angles and perspectives.

Advice Cometh

With that in mind I gave my friend the following advice. I told her if she did want to start running, she should do 4 things:
1. See a Physical Therapist – to deal with the movement issues that were causing injury.
2. Buy new shoes – because old shoes lead to injuries and new shoes often encourage us to be active.
2. Use a walk run program – like couch to 5k or the Galloway method. The idea is to start slowly and gently.
3. Cross train – Find other activities you can do so you can limit your running and stay active if you are injured.

In addition, I told her that there are many types of exercise. If she was serious about bringing balance into her life, she should try some of them out. Four suggestions I offered her were:
1. Swimming – its amazing exercise and super low impact on the body
2. Some sort of HIIT – high intensity cardio – I’ve always been attracted to boxing classes myself.
3. Walking – I know its not as fun as running but mile for mile burns the same amount of calories
4. Group fitness – Zumba, spin classes, yoga etc – these all rock because they offer a social aspect, which can be fun and motivating.

In truth, it doesn’t matter what she chooses so long as she keeps investigating what works.

The thing that makes mindful fitness different is that it relies on our ability to notice and observe what works. Instead of giving you a excel spreadsheet diet and exercise plan it asks us to learn how to move with the ebb and flow of our own lives.


5 thoughts on “When All You’ve Got is a Shark Everything Looks Like a Seal

  1. HI Mr. G, Great post that speaks to my situation spot on! I realized that I had to slow down on the running because I would get flashbacks so I started strengthening and stretching my body with yoga, dance and pilates. Then early this summer I got really bad sciatica….and had to readjust again….but I keep going, keep slowing the process down so that I can be fit for the long-run (so to speak) rather than winning anything. Now I’m working with non-impact cardio and a huge amount of mindfulness in terms of maintaining proper alignment and strengthening my core muscles. I’ve decided it’s okay to be a tortoise who is healthy and strong and uninjured than a rushing to get somewhere hare! Also, when I, trust my tortoise/hobbit nature, I feel happier and more confident and am learning how to recognize and then ask for what I really need! Thanks for getting me started back on the road to fitness!!!! Love, Miss C

  2. Hi there –

    I spend a LOT of time taking care of my plants, vacuuming, doing laundry, making beds, making runs to the trash – your basic housework, but I do it as quickly as I can. I know it’s not really “exercise”, but it IS fairly repetitious, and I’m often winded at times during the day (Three days a week of groceries, carried up 2 flights of stairs – about 4 trips each is a good 20-minute workout and I live alone so anything that goes down or comes up the stairs goes with ME). I’m almost 50, which is when you start getting the advice to walk, and lift weights. I was an exercise junkie in my 20s and 30s – step aerobics 90 min 3x a week, alternating strength-training every day – so I was very fit, which is essential if you’re the working mother of two small kids, running a home. But I’m not now, and, moreover, since my husband passed away in January, walking, or any other exercise like that is not tempting. The upshot of what I’m saying is that my days are anything but inactive – they’re just not organized into a typical exercise routine. I was wondering if there was some way to use, or measure, or whatever, the activity load I have to do to run the house into an “acceptable” exercise routine. When I was working out with cardio and strength-training, I was practicing law, and sat at my desk many, many hours a day. Nowadays, I scarcely ever sit.

    Just wondering what you thought, in view of the vary-your-exercise theme of this post – and thinking there may be others with similar situations.


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