Amy Rees Anderson

Self-Imposed Barriers

With Shark Week coming to its end today it seems fitting to share a shark experiment that teaches a valuable life lesson:

“A marine biologist was involved in an experiment with a shark. He placed a shark in a tank along with other small bait fishes.

As expected, the shark ate every single fish.

The marine biologist then inserted a clear fiberglass to create two sections within the tank.  He placed the shark in one section and smaller fished in the other section.

The shark quickly attacked, but then he bounced off the fiberglass. The shark kept on repeating this behavior. It just wouldn’t stop trying.

While the small fish in the other section remained unharmed and carefree. After about an hour, the shark finally gave up. 

This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks. Each time, the shark got less aggressive. Eventually the shark got tired and simply stopped attacking altogether.

The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass. The shark, however, didn’t attack. It was trained to believe in the existence of a barrier between it and the bait fish.

The moral:  Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark, we chose to stay with past failure and believe that we will always be unsuccessful. We build a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier between where we are and where we want to go. Don’t give up. Keep trying because success may be just  a try away.”

Have a great day!

~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )


  • hitesh bhatt says:

    i read the bog of august 16 and found it interesting. we have a similar phenomenon in south of India where elephants are used for religious ceremonies. after birth, one of it’s feet is chained (a metal chain) with a tree trunk. it tries its best to set itself free but in vain. after a year or so it stops trying. a full grown elephant that can uproot a large trunk is tied with an ordinary rope with just 1 knot and yet it makes no effort to free itself.

    i read your blog today after many many years. i admire your sincerity at bringing out a blog at such frequent intervals. regards.

  • Penny says:

    Thank you so much, this is exactly what I needed to hear. I just reached out to a family member that I had assigned the role of matriarch and peacekeeper, because she’s the oldest, and very opinionated and bossy. An important family event is coming up and I called to ask her help reaching out to two sisters that I don’t have a relationship with at all, and her response was “Our family is dysfunctional and will NEVER CHANGE.” She outed herself in the role I had long suspected. She’s the self appointed leader of hate and division. I will try a different way to contact the other two sisters. I ran into my little sister in a flea market two years ago. I recognized her voice as a vendor caught up to her to demand payment for a small item in her hands. She appeared frightened to see me, and paid the vendor and ran away. A friend of mine introduced me to her new boyfriend a few years ago. I knew already she had met him in recovery, and she had checked with some of her other friends that had vouched for him, he worked a good program. He was a disabled vet, and doing good works. I loved him immediately. They eventually married, and actually they’re probably 10 years strong. But at that time he had just about a year of recovery under his belt. He asked me all about my family, where they live, their names, a delightful conversation! When I got to the sister that broke off contact when I asked all family members to reach out to my son when his father was extremely ill, a phone call, a camping trip, a postcard, etc. she told me on the phone “I don’t like you, I never liked you, if I ever want to talk to you again I’ll call you!” That was in 2007… The current me would have called her out for her mean behavior and requested an apology. Anyway, my friends boyfriend was very excited when I mentioned her name and very small town, and that was also HIS small town, and he blurted out… I KNOW HER, SHE WAS MY BIGGEST CUSTOMER!!! And my friend jammed her elbow so hard into his ribs it stunned him speechless! She said YOU CANNOT BREAK ANYONE’S CONFIDENTIALITY!!! So he disclosed he used to be a big coke dealer. And I felt waves of forgiveness replace the pain… I’ve been trying to reach her through the toxic gatekeeper sister… Now I know she was in trouble when she blurted that out, and couldn’t find her way back to me, and I didn’t know how either… But I do know how to now, I will just ask my big brother to give me her contact information and I will call or write a letter… As for the little sister I got my blessing last summer. My son and I were sitting in a High School Graduation ceremony for a nephew. My feelings have been hurt since 1975, the year I moved away from home. Over the years I’ve left messages for my sister on her home answering machine. Not voicemail, they have a little machine. Every once in awhile, like once a decade, she would return my call, but I tried so many times I can’t count. I got up my nerve, and cheerfully asked her what the best way to contact her was? I had left so many voicemail messages for her, and she didn’t call back… She looked confused and her husband, not well known for his brilliance, cheerfully interrupted, and said happily like he was helping, “That’s because I delete her messages for her!!! She gets so many!!!” She had never know that!! So she had never asked him to write down the callers name and number so she could call them back…

    So, with staggering family failures, this is EXACTLY THE ARTICLE I NEEDED TO READ. I’m letting my long lost family members know my son is engaged to be married to the most delightful young woman and I’m so happy for them. He’s stuck overseas in the Military, she’s stuck in Europe, and they are trying to knit together our two families. I’ve pledged to take his young wife when he deploys next spring, and I want to ensure her family that as she follows her dreams she will be protected and loved and our family loves her new family. So when she told me yesterday that she was really excited to meet Scot’s family, I put my big girl panties on and I’M TRYING… And I’m putting in the mail some beautiful heirlooms from my sons family several generations back for her sister and parents, to connect them in love and let them hold beautiful items connected for generations to their new family, my son and his family….

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