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“Row Row Row Your Boat…Gently down the stream…”

Sunset, Key Largo, Florida
Image via Wikipedia

Navigating thought is a lot like driving a boat.

It requires a combination of conviction, courage, and steady forward movement.

Set the scene:

Last night, I drove a boat around a lake while sharing time with a friend.

And while it’s been over two years since I steered anything on open water, I felt pretty confident I’d remember how.

Growing up, I’d operated boats ranging from 25-35 feet, as I spent weekends with Dad on the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Key Largo, FL.

And like waterskiing or motorcycling, once you know how to operate a boat, you never really forget how to do it. You just need a bit of mental wiggle room to remind yourself how.

It was a calm night, the other night and surely no undertow like that of the ocean.

But moments after heading out of the boat slip and venturing into Lake Lewisville, that old familiar dance with ‘the unknown’ ensued in thought:

  • As manageable as it seemed, I wasn’t quite sure initially how to operate the boat
  • I had no idea where I was going
  • I had no idea the rules of lake boating

Honesty made me hugely aware I’d assumed all these unknowns would just fall into place. But so as to not risk anything, I paused, put the boat in neutral and engaged my friend in talking through how to operate the boat and to let me know the rules of the lake.

I scoped out the gears and other operating equipment I needed to use; I learned where to keep the boat and where to steer clear of, and I figured out how we’d find our way back to the boat slip in the dark.

10 minutes of focused practical learning made all the difference.

And the evening was glorious.

Thought Navigation Tips:

So what’s my recap of the other night’s adventure have to do with ‘navigating thought‘ anyway?

Well, whether you realize it or not, you’re driving your life.

Your moments are the boat.

Your thought is what’s steering.

Here’s what helps me navigate. See if these resonate for you:

  • Know where you wanna go
  • Learn and follow the suggested guidelines
  • Head out with confidence
  • When you hit an unknown, ask for help.
  • Drive the pace that works for you.
  • Realize you’re never stuck: if you prefer ocean to lake, move your boat. 😉

Row Row Row Your Boat Explanation:

1. Know where you wanna go

The night on the lake my ‘where’ was simply a boat ride around the lake.

Turns out we did stop at a restaurant (Sneaky Pete’s…and I’ll share I became it’s mayor on Four Square…whoo hoo!:) ).

Knowing where you want to go — in thought — helps you get there.

What do I mean?

This: establishing a goal before engaging in any activity helps you see your way there.

So for example, in conversation, what matters most to me is cooperation.

I care more about cooperative communication than I do in proving my point.

Having established this destination– in thought — I have a navigating tool in any conversation.

And while the outcome of cooperation doesn’t always occur, and while at times I talk ‘at’ rather than ‘with’, I know my desired goal, my destination, and I continue to work toward achieving it.

2. Follow suggested guidelines

The other night, I learned markers just out from the shore indicate where it’s potentially too shallow to operate the boat.

Staying clear of those areas ensured I wouldn’t run aground.

This is simple but necessary. Wherever you are, whatever domain you’re amidst, there’s expectations of behavior and guidelines to follow.

If I’d driven the boat too close to the shore, I would have run aground.

If I know I”m striving to cooperate in communication, I’m less likely to talk at, raise my voice, argue to ensure I make my point.

And knowing that doing so often causes conflict, especially when the person with whom you’re speaking is insisting on proving his or her point, I’ve learned: pause. You don’t need to ‘win’ or prove anything.

Sometimes knowing the guidelines helps you steer clear of problematic, uncomfortable situations.

3. Head out with confidence

Once I learned the controls and the rules of boating on the lake, I headed out to the open water with much more conviction in my ability to steer safely than prior.

There were still plenty of unknowns. But not enough to stall the ride.

This is a simple point: We don’t always have all the answers, but we can take one step, pause, and sift out options for the next step. Confidence isn’t so much about being able to see every detail between your now and your preferred destination. It’s about trusting you will know how to navigate the unknown.

4. When you face the unknown, ask for help

I felt stuck. I pulled the boat to the side and I asked my friend to school me in the gears and the lay out of the lake. Those moments were few but the benefit of asking for help far reaching.

Same in day to day.

Sometimes asking for help takes the form of asking someone.

Other times, recognizing you need help may find you quietly sifting thoughts and hearing what your gutt tells you to do.

Either way, seeking and obtaining help isn’t a sign of weakness, isn’t a public admittance you don’t know everything.

It’s evidence you know your limits and are willing to grow and learn and expand beyond them.

5. Drive the pace that works for you

I’ve always felt a turtle in a hare’s world.

That night on the boat I drove it modestly slow.

But I drove at a pace I felt safe with.

Same in life.

When you’re able, pace yourself the mode that suits you.

Pacing occurs in thought.

And no one but you can control your desired pace.

6. Realize you’re never stuck

Feeling stuck is a disposition not a reality.

Easier said than acted on I know.

But we’re never stuck. Even if it feels as if our relationship, our now, our job, our situation imprisons us.

There’s always a solution and it always begins by knowing that at any moment, you are safe, and you can know and are knowing what you need to know to move forward.


I hadn’t intended on writing so much about that boat ride.

And I’m realizing I could write much on each step.

But for the now, there ya go, a few steps that help me steady on, keep forward moving and keep knowing there’s always a way to expanding ourselves and continuing to grow.

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