Making Decisions – Life Lessons from Animated Fish

Life Lessons from Animated Fish

These days, I’m learning life lessons from animated fish.  Bear with me, but call the authorities if you need to.  I’ve clearly watched Finding Nemo and Finding Dory too many times (a woman can only hear her child scream “Watch Fish? Watch Fish? WATCH FISH!” so loudly before giving in).  If you haven’t seen them, they’re cute movies, really.  But what struck me today was the interplay between Dory and Nemo’s dad, Marlin.

You see, Marlin is this super-analytic, overly-protective father who would be super happy if his son never left the anemone, er, house (they’re clownfish).  As he and Dory are on their adventures together, he is paralyzed by his fear, indecision, and logic.  He won’t make any move because he can’t foresee how it is all going to work out.  He panics when something doesn’t go the way it should, or he can’t see how it’s all going to fit together.  He is pessimistic.  He worries.  He often knows what the next step is — but doesn’t take that next step because it’s not a sure thing.

Enter Dory.  The delightful blue tang who suffers from short-term memory loss.  She lives in the moment (she doesn’t remember the past).  She’s an optimist.  She believes that things are going to work out okay.  She moves forward quickly and decisively.  She trusts her gut.  Her mantra is “Just keep swimming!”  (If that song is now playing in your head, I’m sorry.)

At a pivotal moment, when Marlin and Dory are facing certain danger, and the only way out is to face an unknown danger, Marlin and his furrowed brow ask Dory, “But how do you know something bad won’t happen?”

“I don’t.”

Dory is the one who gets them out of trouble.  They only get through their adventure because she (sometimes impulsively) pushes them forward, acting on instinct.  Of course, it all works out because it’s Pixar and Walt Disney and that’s the way movies work (thankfully), but it’s also a lesson for life.

Are you more like Marlin or Dory?  See, Marlin and I have a lot in common.  I have big ideas, and then I analyze and research and look at my plans from every angle (and then I make up some new angles).  While all of these wonderful ideas are swirling in my head – the world is going on without me.  I am still outlining.  I am still researching.  While I am taking notes, fear creeps in.  (That negative voice – Mildred – starts talking.)  I look at my list of pros and cons so many times that the cons kill my momentum.  I work so hard at figuring out the goal, what the end game is, that I don’t actually make the first move.  Even with small decisions — I get decision fatigue.  I waste time and energy becoming bogged down by trying to figure out the best way of doing something, and I end up doing nothing at all.

This happens to me a lot. It keeps me stuck.

I mistake paralysis for planning.

I need to be more like Dory.  I need to stop being paralyzed by what could happen, by the worst case scenario, or just not knowing.  I need to trust.

There is no fool-proof way of living a life.

Life is only a series of decisions, not right decisions or wrong decisions (for the most part).  They only have that judgment attached to them in retrospect.  It’s not about good or bad— it’s just what is next.  We can’t be assured of any specific outcome.  Dory knows this.  We just have to keep moving forward, even if we don’t know the answer.  Just keep swimming.  Sure, there’s a time to analyze and research, but we shouldn’t spend so much time looking at the problem that we fail to solve it.

Imagine you are standing on a street, surrounded by buildings.  You could stand where you are, steady and secure, guessing what you’ll find at the next intersection.  But standing there just thinking about what lays ahead doesn’t do you any good until you take those first few steps to the corner to see where the path might lead.

Dory trusts her instincts and moves forward when it feels right.  I’m going to try to stay out of my head so much.  I’m going to practice trusting that everything will work out, knowing that it’s better to move forward before I feel ready than to stay in a planning paralysis.  Besides, life is not static.

Even if I make the “best” decision or come up with my ideal plan, the “best” decision may change when I reach the next intersection.

Trevor Noah talked about this with Oprah on SuperSoul Conversations recently.  He had this idea of what he wanted The Daily Show to be, but he realized that it changes.  It’s fluid.  It’s less about what he wants the show to be and more about getting out of its way and helping the show be what it needs to be.  That’s true for most of the big parts of our lives, isn’t it?  By forcing a particular result, or waiting until there is absolutely no room for error, we may miss out on a better opportunity or an outcome even more awesome than the one we are working toward.  Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.

Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,

Anne English signature Anne

Where are you stuck? Is there a project that you’ve spent too much time analyzing and not enough time moving forward?

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar
    22 May 2018 at 1:23 pm

    This is very helpful for me, Anne. I come from a family whose decision-making is racked by analysis paralysis. My husband is the total opposite–a “ready, fire, aim” type who just wants to do stuff and then fix it after the fact. I therefore LOVE how you draw the distinction between “paralysis” and “planning.” I want be somewhere in between. 🙂

    • Anne English
      23 May 2018 at 5:18 pm

      I’m so glad it resonated with you! It was such an “Aha!” for me. And, of course, some decisions are better suited for one style or another… but even with the big stuff, it’s helped me to realize when it’s time to just “fire” already!

  2. Avatar
    22 May 2018 at 2:21 pm

    I recognize myself in this so much! I frequently suffer from analysis paralysis, but I don’t have time to be stuck. So I’m trying to “just do it.” Starting a blog ( was one of those exercises. I’d been talking about it for ages and then just set myself a deadline, or it would never have happened. 🙂

    • Anne English
      23 May 2018 at 5:14 pm

      I fully agree. I did the same thing with this blog — it had to get to the point where I not starting it was worse than starting it. I am so glad that I did it! Setting a deadline and marking off time on the calendar is the only way I get things done these days. P.S. I love your blog! 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Denis tunca
    23 May 2018 at 5:46 am

    I love this! Thank you for sharing it. Never thought of it this way.

    • Anne English
      23 May 2018 at 5:19 pm

      Thank you! I am so glad it connected with you!

  4. Avatar
    Indya | The Small Adventurer
    23 May 2018 at 10:32 am

    I love your analysis of these films! More often than not, I am too caught up in what’s right in front of me and forget that most movies – especially kid’s ones – come with an underlying message, and I definitely think you’ve figured out these movie’s messages!

    I, too, am a Marlin through and through, but I like to believe that I am slowly becoming more like Dory too. I just have to remind myself that, yes, I don’t know if something bad will happen, but that means I also don’t know that it might NOT. Sometimes, you just have to take that chance!

    • Anne English
      23 May 2018 at 5:25 pm

      Thank you! By the time I knew every word to them, they were easier to analyze. 🙂
      It’s really hard to take that chance, but sometimes just recognizing that I have the tendency toward planning paralysis is helpful. Keep taking those chances! (within reason, of course…)

  5. Avatar
    23 May 2018 at 1:41 pm

    These movies are the best! I think I am unfortunately a Marlin, but I would like to be a Dory lol!

    • Anne English
      23 May 2018 at 5:27 pm

      There’s value to balancing Marlin with a little Dory, occasionally. 🙂

  6. Anne English
    13 June 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you for your kind words and sharing my post! I am so happy that it resonated with you!

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