On Goldfish and Attention Spans ...

"He has the attention span of a goldfish!"

I've heard this said many times in my life, but until recently I'd never questioned the origins of this saying.  Turns out that, in the eyes of science, fish have very short attention spans - almost to the point of a disorder as made famous by Dory of the Finding Nemo series.

The basis for this statement is that a fish can be caught on a hook, fooled by a neon pink worm, endure the trama of being pulled from its watery home, having a metal face piercing forcibly removed by pliers, suffer a near death experience, then be released back into the water only to be caught again by the same baited hook a few minutes later (I didn't check if this could happen a third time, but I'm hoping that even fish can learn!).

As I think about this, I realize that this doesn't actually apply to attention span, but to all of memory - we all do it and, quite frankly, the path to success is often equated to the idea of moving on from failure, or the belief that if I try again it might end with a different result.  We have all heard that winning isn't about how many times you fall, its about how many times you get back up ... be the last man standing.

In my own life I have been "hungry" enough for something that I've been hooked twice.  In 2003 while training to participate in an MMA fight I tore my left hamstring in half in a sparring accident.  I never really accepted that my MMA dreams were over and in 2018 I tore the right hamstring off the bone.  In 2014 I tore my right bicep tendon off at the elbow and needed surgery to repair it. In 2017 I tore the subscapular tendon and bicepital tendon in my left arm, which also required surgery.  And if you put the dates together you'll know that I went back to training after that surgery as well ...

I guess the point is, while human attention span may not be quite that of a goldfish, our bodies and minds are remarkably capable of forgetting pain and trauma so that we can make 2nd and 3rd attempts at things, even when the first attempt ended in catastrophic failure.  We can pull the positive out of the situation.  We learn from our failures, we adjust (albeit it often just slight) and we try again.  Over and over in fact until we succeed ... or quit or die trying.

I guess what I wonder most, and science could never tell us, is whether the fish has just forgotten that the pink wriggler leads to being hooked and having a near death experience, or is the fish saying to itself "last time that almost killed me, but this time I'm going to try and get it from the left side, because I'm hungry and I really want that pink food."?

So when Benjamin Franklin said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." he was incorrect.  The path to success is through doing the same thing over and over until you get it right!

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