THE BLOG

Reading Leads to Bigger Ponds

16/07/2015 15:46 BST | Updated 14/07/2016 10:59 BST

Before I moved to NYC nearly thirty years ago, people in my hometown in Georgia often referred to me as a 'big fish in little pond', perhaps because of my ambitions to leave; to swim around in a much bigger pond.

In doing so, if only metaphorically -- I have never learned to swim, much as I've tried -- I came to understand that big fish don't need big ponds to get the most out of life, and little fish don't need little ponds to get the least. It's a mind-consuming matter, whatever the size of the pond or the fish.

Quite frankly, when the mind is all-consumed, it can become quite narrow. Hence the term narrow-minded, connotatively meaning to close down to new ideas, and/or fresh ways of thinking, which leads to limiting one's world all together.

On three occasions recently, I found myself so consumed in a small space that I understood all too well what it meant to feel limited. In each situation, I felt compromised, and instead of exploring my options for freedom from this kind of thinking, I got bogged down in it.

In one Instance, I stood gripping a piece of paper, trembling while reading it to an arrogant doctor, while others looked on as if I were the one who had lost the plot. Another time, during what was meant to be a productive business dinner, I reacted rather exceptionally to a hard curve ball I had been thrown, and again was treated as if I had actually thrown the ball.

On both of these occasions, as well as the third one -- which, in brief, had me shouting over FaceTime, feeling betrayed by a health-care representative, who looked on in dismay -- I was existing in the smallest of ponds and couldn't see my way to clearer waters.

Such limited thinking clouded my views and closed the door to any sensible resolution, and further still, left me looking like an idiot and certainly feeling like one.

Embroiled in this feeling and seemingly trapped in a small world, I have decided it is time for proper big-fish thinking; to seek 'out of the small waters solutions', in order to stand up for what I believe is right.

On reflection, I realize there is no magic bullet for escaping small-pond thinking, but one basic thing definitely opens the mind and eyes to freedom: reading. Not as I did in my example, as part of reacting, but as a way of life, a hobby, a good practice.

Experts and pop psychologists alike might say reading is only the tip of the iceberg, or perhaps one limited way to help think your way out of a tight space. Even so, it has its merits.

Over the years, I have found that reading opens the door to perspectives and possibilities, so even in the midst of chaos sometimes, I can recall something I have read, which makes a big difference to the way I respond. Others agree. One friend often reminds me that a problem shared is a problem halved, and via reading, you review similar problems without subjection and judgement.

Recently, I read with great interest Benilde Little's Welcome to My Breakdown, which is a great testament to this concept. Happily, I passed it on to an acquaintance.

Also, reading is an immediate way of transporting yourself to another world, a bit like travelling, which is an excellent route to learning about other ways of life, as well as other perspectives. While not everyone can or wants to travel, most of us, however, can read and broaden our horizons, whether through magazines, novels, reference books, even the Internet ... but with great care with the latter, of course.

Finally, the act of reading is calming and relaxing unto itself. Recently I have noticed how hard life has become for some friends and family, and admittedly myself from time to time, as mentioned above. I'm not down-playing life's problems and challenges; they are surely as terrible as they feel, but they don't have to take over. When they do, it's time to get a grip and take it easy. Reach for a good reference book for an easier approach, or a good novel for a relaxing break.

Living a hard life, consumed by problems, is not only a quick route to stagnancy and boredom, but also it creates a toxic, small world. And while reading isn't a panacea, it is an opportunity to escape to another space, and opportunities are key to finding a way back to a bigger space -- a pond, if you will -- loaded with possibilities and challenges alike.

Let's face it: wide-open spaces in the mind's eye offer the freedom to think rationally and reasonably, which leads to behaving responsibly, wherever you live and whatever your ambitions ... most times anyhow.