You may be reading this as a rainstorm of emails and texts flood your inbox when you thought you’d just sorted through them, or you’re still peeved traffic this morning was more like a monsoon of cars trying to cut you off–making you late to work.

We’ve all been there as moments of frustration, irritability, and grumpiness start to consume our daily routine. But, have you noticed it’s our default setting? When a car cuts me off, I’m annoyed along with a series of choice words rattling in my head. We never really choose to stop and breathe.

​David Foster Wallace
gave the Commencement Address at Kenyon College, back in 2005, when he delivered one of the most memorable speeches about the importance of perspective. It all starts with a story:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet
an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says
“Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a
bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes
“What the hell is water?”

The great moment of humor in his metaphor is really the bigger point he works toward. The crux of Wallace’s speech lies in what the two young fish can’t see. They’re so accustomed to their environment yet fail to see what’s in front of them (rather, surrounds them) is actually water.

Daily, we’re accustomed to our hard-wired, “default setting” which comprises of our own, self-centered world. Think about it: We’re the primary focus of every experience we’ve ever had. Instead of lecturing on self-virtue, Wallace advocates for a redirection away from our default setting–train our brains to be more mindful with perspective:

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to
do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness;
awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all
around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and
“This is water.”
“This is water.”

Wallace notes the difficulty of switching off the default setting. But, the reward of breaking away, to be present and to be mindful, makes all the difference when being able to bring awareness outside yourself in order to actively stay present with the world around you.

Originally published at