I have a friend who lets his Koi fish suck on his toes.

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When he first told me about this, I didn’t know what was more strange: that his fish sucked on his toes . . . or that he liked it.

What did make sense to me, though, is something that offers universal application. He explained to me that it relaxes him. It’s a stress reliever.

The Japanese have Karaoke. The Tarahumara have running and Tesgüino (corn beer). Triathletes have sport.

Since people have a tendency to become high-pressured systems, it’s important to have safety valves.

Safety valves should serve many purposes. Sure, the main thing they do is release built-up pressure. But the results of a good safety valve are many:

Steady energy
More pleasure
Stress relief
Better sleep

For at least a decade, one of my primary safety valves was beer, saké, red wine, and scotch. This is not a “you should stop drinking alcohol” article, but for people like me, alcohol was not an optimal safety valve.

It did provide me with pleasure and stress relief; however, it did not provide me with better sleep and steady energy. In life, if you’re swinging for the fence, consider meeting all four criteria.

It took me awhile to determine my optimal safety valves. (It was a process.) I leaned contemplatively against trees, I waxed poetic in journals, I sought advice from my muse, and I poked and prodded myself like a lab rat, or a voodoo doll — all of this in an effort to find out which safety valves work the best for me.

But thanks to social media, you might be able to suss out how you’re wired and which safety valves work best for you simply by completing one of those “What ________ would you be?” quizzes on Facebook. You’ve likely seen these. After you answer a handful of questions, you find out which Muppet or Star Wars or Harry Potter character you are. Or, you find out which state or country best suits your personality. Believe it or not, you can get a glimpse of how to work with yourself by simply answering the questions, engaging in some introspection, and figuring out what it means that your Sesame Street character is The Cookie Monster.

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I’ve often said to my wife that if one of these quizzes existed to let me know what type of dog I’d be, I wouldn’t need to take it.

I know I’d be a Border Collie.

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From what I understand, these dogs have a lot of energy. And they’re fairly intelligent. Border Collies were once described to me as dogs that could run 20 miles, herd hundreds of cattle, and then install solar panels on your roof — all before noon.

These dogs have a disposition such that if they are not being productive, they’ll likely be destructive.

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Of course, through a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned that I’m quite similar. And in an effort to avoid being destructive, I’ve identified safety valves on which I consistently rely.

One, naturally, is sport. If I train a few hours each day, I get much of the aggressive energy out of me. But then there’s another energy that still exists. Fortunately, I’ve found a vocation that helps me tap that energy.

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When I’m in the classroom, the lecturing and the performing and the juggling provide a great outlet.

When I’m doing it right, I am fairly balanced throughout the day. I don’t spike, and I don’t destroy. Instead, I produce.

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It doesn’t always work.

There are off days.

But that, I suppose, is what makes all of this so intriguing. It’s learning how to work with yourself. It’s sorting out how you’re wired. It’s, essentially, writing your own Instruction Manual.

Back in college, I had a friend who wore a shirt that read: “You cannot escape yourself”. That truth continues to resound 20 years later. And since we cannot escape ourselves, we might as well embrace who we are, and figure out how to be our best.

Consider taking a moment to identify your safety valves. Are they helping you get the best out of yourself?

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