The Spider Web

The other day, I was getting ready to go for a walk, and I noticed that a large spider had spun a large web near the corner of our garage. The web was about 1/2 done, and the spider was hard at work adding new layers. I had never watched a spider work on her (and in this case, I believe it was a her, as it looked like the spider had a large, pregnant belly – either that or it just ate a mouse; it was a large spider!) web before. It was rather captivating. She would move along, grab a string of web with one leg, delicately hook it onto a vertical line of webbing, and continue. She was incredibly persistent and methodical. Every once in a while, she placed lines of web that weren’t perfectly parallel or that didn’t line up well with the others, but she just kept going. As I watched, I had a hard time believing that this was simply instinctual behaviour, as it all seemed so intricate, well-conceived, and methodical. Further, the spider just kept plugging away, despite wind and other irritants. The next day, my wife told me that she accidentally swiped away half of the web as she was putting up Christmas lights. The spider apparently looked rather irritated. Later that evening, I went out and saw that she had completely remade the web.

I think we could learn from this kind of delicate, patient persistence. It’s easy to want problems to go away right now, to be more fit and healthier immediately, and to achieve our long-term goals (e.g., relationships, family, financial stability, promotions, and so forth) right away. Many of these things, however, take time and persistence. You can’t become fit after working out for 3 hours on one day. Relationships take time to build and nurture. Occupational goals can sometimes take many years, if not decades, to achieve. Building and maintaining mental health and wellness can be a lifetime goal.

I have no idea what was going through that spider’s mind, but if I were her, I’d probably be thinking, “Oh, for crying out loud. Look at how much I have left to do! This is going to take forever.” This used to happen to me at the beginning of university courses; I’d look at the syllabus and think, “There’s no way I can do all that!” It was like my brain was expecting that I had to do all of the work right now. It didn’t look like the spider was taking that approach. She just kept plugging away, neither speeding up to get it done faster nor getting demoralized and stopping altogether. The spider was “one-mindful,” as we say in DBT. Her attention and behaviour were focused on just one thing in the moment. This can be one way to avoid becoming demoralized when the goals we desperately seek are far off or require a lot of patience and persistence. Just focus on that one string of web that you’re placing. Focus your entire mind on the task at hand, whether it’s working on your resume, talking with someone you care about (with the long-term goal of building or improving that relationship), going for a 10 minute walk (with the ultimate goal of improving health and fitness), eating a healthy snack, working on your mental health, or simply sitting around. Try to remain aware of your bigger picture goals, but avoid letting them bog you down. If you experience setbacks, as we all do, turn your mind right back to what you were doing, and continue moving forward. Keep placing one strand at a time, and you will look back later and see that you’ve created an amazing web. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.