Finding Nemo and Learning to Keep on Swimming

I saw Finding Nemo when it was first released in 2003. Last night, nine years later, I decided the time was ripe to introduce it to my 5-year-old. This was to be her third full-length movie and I chose it because of my fond memories of Dory and the Turtle Dude Dad. I had forgotten just how traumatic the opening scene is and how the narrative unfolds around one life-threatening scare after the other.  Zoitsa wailed with raw grief when Nemo’s mother and sibling roe-babies were eaten by the shark; I thought her heart would break. I have never seen her so terrified and distraught. I began to think I had made a mistake in exposing her to this. I deliberated switching it off and popping on the Bananas in  Pyjamas (a firm favourite in our family- the original, not the animated version!).  In the end the message of the movie itself guided me in my decision.

Marlin, Nemo’s father is crippled with fear after the death of his wife and babies. He becomes overprotective of Nemo and parents Nemo from a place of insecurity and anxiety. He simply cannot live in the moment; he is continually foretelling doom and gloom. Nemo is being taught that the world is a dangerous place, one that he cannot cope with.  He is being taught to avoid challenges and cling to a limited, trembling comfort zone.  Nemo, however is a resilient little chap and leaps at life with joy and curiosity. He is frustrated by his father’s limitations.  His thirst for knowledge and adventure spurs him on to discovery. Perhaps in reaction to his father’s fearfulness Nemo knows no fear. He takes risks, really dangerous risks, and is captured by a human.

Thus begins Marlin’s quest. Marlin’s love for his son is stronger (just) than his fear. He will face any adversity to find Nemo.  This is new ground for Marlin, he has to – as the old classic teaches- feel the fear and do it anyway.  I shall add, “feel the fear and do it anyway…if the goal is important to you.” For Marlin, parental love trumps fear.

Dory is not just a cute ditsy little fish whose character is included for the comedy factor. Oh no, her approach is an integral support to Marlin’s commitment to finding Nemo.  Thanks to short-term memory loss, Dory is not fixated on “if only” thoughts of the  past and she is not paralysed by “what if” thoughts of the future. Dory lives in the moment. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming,” she sings. Keep your eye on your goal and don’t look back! What a wise little fishy!

Did my daughter internalise all these messages so cleverly interwoven through the tale (or is that tail?)? When Marlin and Nemo are reunited she squealed with joy and tears streamed down her face. “Mummy! I have happy tears!” she cried.  I hugged her tight and said, “You were so, so scared. You almost couldn’t watch. But you really wanted Marlin to find Nemo so you held my hand and  just like Dory said to keep on swimming, you kept on watching and now you are so, so happy you have happy tears. Wow! You were brave because you cared about Nemo!”

Right up until lights out Zoitsa chanted, “Keep on swimming. Keep on swimming.” Those cute little fishies certainly taught both me and my daughter a lot. I think I will be more careful about choosing gentler movies  for a while longer – after all facing fear is most valuable when in pursuit of a goal and watching scary movies isn’t really high on our family to-do list- but both she and I know that if something is worth it, we can cope with the fear. We might need a Dory to help us, to remind us as she reminded Marlin,” When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do?” You know the answer, chant it with me now, “Just keep swimming”!


*How have you coped with fear, anxiety or nervousness? Do you have a story to share about a time when you focused on your values and goals to cope with anxiety and obstacles to your gaols? How did you look after yourself at this time? Did you show yourself kindness and compassion? Did you seek support or comforting activities? I would love to hear from you!*

Happy swimming folks 🙂


Adults: 10 common thinking errors

Definition of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are logical, but they are not rational. They can create real difficulty with your thinking. They are absolutely normal and we all make these thinking errors. We are more likely to make more of them and to feel that that are true when we are stressed. That is just the way the human mind works; it tries to simplify all the incoming information so we can cope and make a decision quickly. We all know (when we are calm) that simple aint necessarily true. Life is usually a complex shade of grey!

See if you are making any of the ten common distortions that people use. No need to argue with them, dispute them, or prove them wrong…just begin to notice that your mind does indeed tell stories – some useful, others not; some factual others not.  Once you recognise that your mind’s output is not all that reliable you will find it easier to let your thoughts float on by if they are not useful; you won’t get as stuck, bogged down by distressing beliefs that may or may not even be true!

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see your self as a total failure.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    1. MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out
    2. THE FORTUNETELLER ERROR: you can anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the binocular trick.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’t, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him” “He’s a Goddamn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see your self as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Source: Burns, D. Feeling Good. The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated. (The ten cognitive errors are from Burns, the explanation is my own interpretation of some of the tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.)