Peaks and Valleys

"…they began to discuss what the old man called a Peaks and Valleys approach. He said it was a philosophy with skills—a way of looking at things and doing things that makes you calmer and more successful in good and bad times."

- Peaks and Valleys, page 93

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That idea is more than just flowery prose penned by Dickens, it is ever-present in everyone’s lives. You have a great few days at work, followed by a rough week.  Why does life have so many ups and downs and what can you do about it? Spencer Johnson, author of Peaks and Valleys, believes that peaks and valleys in life, like their physical counterparts, are not only natural but should be encouraged.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Peaks and Valleys

"It is natural for everyone everywhere to have peaks and valleys at work and in life."
- Peaks and Valleys, page 16

Johnson explains through a short parable the value in acknowledging that everyone has ups and downs. There is no shame in acknowledging that not every day is the best day ever. He believes that because everyone has ups and downs it is how we react to the changing landscape that makes the difference.

Not every day has to be amazing. In fact the whole idea of novelty is that some days need to be different to make them feel special. Johnson writes that the ups and downs help to provide a sense of balance and appreciation. If you didn’t have cold, frozen winters, warm summer evenings wouldn’t mean as much. So rather than trying to avoid your peaks and valleys look at them with a broader perspective. Embrace your valleys knowing that with time and work you can be on your way to a better view.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Connect the Peaks and Valleys

"The errors you make in today’s good times create tomorrow’s bad times. And the wise things you do in today’s bad times create tomorrow’s good times."
- Peaks and Valleys, page 21

When you observe mountain peaks from a distance you will notice that the valleys connect the peaks. Johnson points out that “between peaks there are always valleys,” and how well you “manage your valley determines how soon you will reach your next peak.” Through your actions you create your good times as well as your bad. Poor decisions can cut your time on a peak short, while wise decisions to learn from errors can reduce your time spent in a valley.

Still, leaving a valley takes effort. You have to work with increased zeal to make progress; but if you continue to work, eventually you will leave the valley behind. There is wisdom in preparing for your next valley while still on a peak. For example, most people do not worry about food storage during times of relative stability, it is only after a natural disaster that the importance of preparation ahead of time becomes apparent.

Recognize that you cannot stay on a peak forever. However, through paying attention to your actions, your time in that next inevitable valley can be shortened greatly.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Embrace the Opposite

"Peaks and Valleys are opposites."
- Peaks and Valleys, page 86

If you are stuck, unable to exit a valley, remember that peaks and valleys are opposites. Ask yourself, what put you in the valley? If you do the opposite you will get the opposite results and will likely start on your way toward another peak. You may find yourself in a valley due to a routine that you refused to change because it was working. Other times the path out of a valley will not be so obvious, however, Johnson believes, “the way to leave a valley will appear when you choose to see things differently.”

Recently, I’ve experienced some of my own peaks and valleys. I enjoy long distance running and last month I injured a tendon resulting in a very quick decent from my metaphorical peak. After several weeks of icing and rest I have tried to work my way out of the valley at what feels like a snail’s pace. Being forced to step back and start from a more elementary level has helped me appreciate more the ability to log some of the longer runs that I had started to take for granted. While the injury drastically set back my training schedule, it has given me time to reflect on why I had such a long peak and what led to my quick descent to the valley. Only in writing this summary did I realize that the dive resulted from a lack of diligence on my part. Feeling overconfident in my fitness, I stopped completing the frequent strength training routines that helped keep me on my peak for so long. After looking at my injury from a ‘what did I stop doing’ rather than a ‘what happened’ perspective helped me to see the path out of the valley.

Some days are rough. Having valleys or days where you are run over by a metaphorical dump truck are nothing to be ashamed of; we’ve all had and will continue to have days like that. The difference lies in our reaction. That will differentiate how soon we find ourselves leaving the valley behind on our way up another peak.

In the comments below let us know how you plan to work through your valley or enjoy your peak.

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Jakob Browning

ABOUT Jakob Browning

I am Jakob Browning. This fall I'll start my final year of law school. I enjoy running long distances. I have three younger brothers who will all probably be taller than me soon...
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