by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD
When I was growing up, every summer my Grandma and Grandpa Vermeer took my cousins and I fishing up in Canada. Looking back, it was quite a treat, though I often did not fully appreciate it at the time. We would get up early every morning, usually before 6 a.m., which was “sleeping in” for my grandparents. Sleepy eyed and chilled, we’d shuffle to the table for a hot fisherman’s breakfast. During breakfast, we’d talk about the day, which lake we’d go to, and what Grandma would pack for our lunch. Then we’d get out onto the water as quickly as possible. Within two to five minutes of putting minnows on our hooks and letting our lines down, one of us would get a “hit”. Then the fishing frenzy would begin. We caught beautiful (well, if fish can be beautiful), big fish. Walleye and Northern Pike mostly.
Honestly, while on these over-stocked lakes, we would catch our fishing limit every day…sometimes we’d catch it within the first hour! Sickening, eh? (I always have to say “eh?” when I’m talking ‘bout Canada ). Once we caught our limit, we’d start weeding through our stringers full of fish and decide which ones we wanted to keep and which ones we wanted to release and replace. Finally, after about two whole hours of fishing we’d be just “exhausted” (remember we were kids), so we’d head back to shore for our gourmet lunch consisting of either fresh cooked fish or premade PB&J.
Catch – Release – Replace. This fishing experience serves as a great analogy for mental health. Did you know that we go fishing all the time? We cast out our attention like a fishing line, baited and hooked, trying to connect with the next great “catch”. And typically our mental ponds are stocked full. We catch something immediately. What we reel in may or may not be a “great keeper”. We are the ones judging its value. We may reel in something quite disappointing, and it is up to us to hold onto it or to let it go. Unfortunately, sometimes we get in the habit of catching and holding onto unhelpful thoughts, unhelpful expectations (for others, outcomes, or holding onto old memories – “coulda”, “woulda”, “shoulda’s”) and not releasing them. It is vitally important for us to release and replace those thoughts that are toxic to our mental health.
Try to apply the “catch – release – replace” analogy to your mental health management. What are you catching in your mental pond? Just be aware what you are “catching”. What is “hooking” your mind or thought patterns? We are all fishing…all the time. Just pay attention to your thoughts.
Now ask yourself, “do I want to keep these thoughts or let them go”? Are my habitual thoughts keepers? Or are they throwbacks? Hint: the throwbacks would definitely include the 3 O’s – others, outcomes and old stuff. In all honesty, whenever I do the above exercise many of my thoughts are throwbacks – something to do with old stuff, something about someone else, or some worry I have about the future. HOWEVER, when I catch it I realize that I can free myself by simply releasing it to God’s care and replacing it with something better. Perhaps putting my mind on something tangible in the present; focusing on gifts from God given to me in every moment; adopting an attitude of acceptance, thanksgiving, and trust. Take some time to reflect on and use this “catch – release – replace” mental health methodology. May God guide and bless your fishing expeditions.
“The way I see things determines how I think about them. The way I think about things determines the way I feel about them. The way I feel determines how I will act, react and choose. That will determine the results I will have to live and with. I choose to side with Your (God’s) ways in all things.” – A Daily Affirmation from Christ Life Ministries.
Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders.