I recently went fly fishing on the Salmon River in Pulaski, N.Y., to try and land the Chinook, Coho and Steelhead making their annual fall run up the river. Fishing is perceived by those who don’t do it as a form of mindless relaxation. But it’s just the opposite--it requires complete and utter immersion. It’s therapeutic because you can’t think of anything else--your personal finances, that loose gutter over the porch, EHR implementation timelines--or you’re coming up empty-handed (or empty-netted, as it were).  But immersion is valuable beyond a river--it’s equally satisfying to do it on an everyday basis, and we simply don’t do enough of it.

Fly fishing at its heart is cast, drift, lift, repeat. But you also have to throw in a few thoughts to changes in water flow and temperature, fly patterns, the position of the sun, the length of your leader, your knots, the strategy behind your casts so you’re covering every inch of the boil of water you’re fishing, where your shadow falls on the water, where the dangerous current is when you’re moving, along with focusing on doing the exact same casting motion every one of the thousands of times you repeat it.

So there’s little room for anything but the task at hand. When the day’s done, I’ve found my mind not empty, but orderly. The concerns and problems of everyday life eventually come back, but there’s a new clarity to how I can confront them and a different perception of just how big of issues they are. After an entire day of utter focus, personal and professional problems I’d been losing sleep over aren’t the insurmountable obstacles I’d worked them up to be.

But fly fishing’s not the only way to get to this point. I get the same benefits from total immersion in a story or a work project--when I ignore the chatter of the e-mail box and braying of my office phone and go about my job with the same meticulous approach as I do fly fishing. When you get right down to it, every one of us mentally gets lost in the weeds, letting small bumps in the road take on the size of mountains, or getting distracted from the most important, critical detail of a project by extemporaneous concerns that, objectively, should get brushed away. Author and outdoorsman John Gierach sums it up nicely:  "They say you forget your troubles on a trout stream, but that's not quite it. What happens is that you begin to see where your troubles fit into the grand scheme of things, and suddenly they're just not such a big deal anymore."

Another point: During my latest trip I broke my best rod, somehow managed to break the drag on my reel, took a head-over-heels fall in fast water, and lost many, many times more fish than I landed. So, like during a normal day, a lot of things went wrong, mistakes were made, but I shrugged them off and got my focus back. If you lose your focus on a river, bad things can happen, same as at work, especially for those toiling in the health care industry.  That’s why it’s so important to clear your mind and immerse yourself in doing the most important task confronting you. Do that, and everything else falls into place.


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