How to Live Like an Anglerfish

The anglerfish is my favorite deep sea creature. (Yes, I have a favorite deep sea creature.)

Anglerfish have a growth coming out of their head. At the tip of this growth is a pod of bacteria capable of producing light. The anglerfish uses this light to attract prey, and it’s often compared to a fishing rod because of its shape and function. The anglerfish strikes the prey with its clear, freaky teeth when it comes to check out the light. This brings us to the first lesson we can learn from the anglerfish.

Strike At the Earliest Opportunity

Ocean and land plants transform sunlight into energy through photosynthesis and pass that energy onto other creatures. But no sunlight reaches the deep sea. The deepest area of the deep sea is the Mariana Trench, which is about 11,000 meters (almost seven miles). The lack of light makes the deep sea a low-energy environment, which means an anglerfish can’t swim around like Michael Phelps as it looks for food. They’ll even swim upside down (presumably because flipping over would take too much effort?). Observations of anglerfish have indicated “a lack of stamina consistent with ‘sit and wait predators.'”1 

Let’s think about this in the course of a day. You have things you need to do, and limited time and energy to do them. The anglerfish waits for its prey, but in this case, your prey (i.e., your tasks) are already within striking distance, meaning you should strike as soon as you can. This makes even more sense when you consider that we have the most energy in the beginning of the day.

If you were an anglerfish, you would not wait until tonight to work on your proposal, your project, or your 5th book. You’d work on it right after waking up (and you’d use your head growth thingy as a reading light). The anglerfish strikes as soon as it can in order to survive, but humans have two sorts of survival—physical and psychological. We can be alive, but feel and act dead. The solution is to get into the habit of striking your opportunities like a predator as soon as you see them.

But what if you don’t act immediately? You’re in better shape than an anglerfish. If an anglerfish misses an opportunity to eat, it might not get another opportunity before it dies, but your next opportunity is the very next moment of your life. The anglerfish teaches us that the best time to strike is any and every time you have an opportunity to get your target. If you’ve missed opportunities in the past, don’t let that blind you from the new opportunities you have right now. The present moment is neutral and opportunities are everywhere.

Get Noticed

The ocean is a strange place.

Here’s an anglerfish. The ocean is a strange place. Photo from National Geographic.

The success of the anglerfish depends on its ability to be noticed. Otherwise, it’s a slow, passive fish.

Pictures of anglerfish make them look fierce and scary, but they are generally small fish—most are less than a foot long, though some can grow up to 3 feet2—and they move very slowly. Small size and slow movement are poor traits for hunting. But imagine that you’re a small fish in the pitch black world of the deep sea. In the distance, you see a faint light. What do you do? CHECK IT OUT! Of course, this will lead to your imminent consumption by the anglerfish, but you don’t know that, you’re just going for the light.

On dry land, it also pays to stand out. I’m the guy who says that motivational content is lame as the rest of the world says it’s the key to success. I’m not just saying that to stand out—read my books—but it does make me stand out in the sea of same-same motivational content. If I were writing the same content as everyone else, I would not have had the success that I’ve had with my blog and books. 

Humans are drawn to things that stand out. Michael Jackson wore a white glove on one hand. Do you think that only one of his hands was cold during performances? No way. He wore it for intrigue, and it worked. Even as I dissect it logically, I’m still intrigued that he only wore one glove. I mean, gloves are supposed to be worn in pairs, right? Right?! 

If you want to live like an anglerfish—and you should—you will figure out creative ways to get noticed. Whether you’re an entrepreneur like me or a corporate employee, getting noticed can be the difference between success or failure. Some of the best, most capable employees get fewer raises and promotions than inferior workers because they don’t know how to get noticed.

When I worked as an intern with Duke Energy in college, I remember the interns had a conference with a lot of the corporate bigwigs. Most of us were in typical business casual attire, but one guy wore a suit and tie and when they asked us if we had any questions or comments, he stood up and confidently said his goal was to become the CEO of the company. He stood out. I don’t know where he is now, but I’d guess he’s doing well because he knows how to stand out with confidence.

For the anglerfish, getting noticed is the difference between life and death, and for us it can be the difference between a good life and a frustrating one. Stand out in the right ways and in the right areas and more opportunities will come your way. When they do, bite them with your transparent razor-sharp teeth.

Partner Up!

The anglerfish doesn’t do it alone. Its light is produced through a symbiotic relationship with special luminescent bacteria that live in its growth-thingy. Without the help of the bacteria, the anglerfish would probably swim upside down until it died. But because of the light produced by the luminescent bacteria, the anglerfish gets opportunities to eat other fish and survive.

One of my greatest weaknesses is the tendency to be a lone anglerfish. But I can’t deny that a very key part of my first book’s success was due to a friend and fellow author named Steve “SJ” Scott. When I first released Mini Habits, it sold a good number of copies and rose up Amazon’s charts. About a week after the launch, Mr. Scott promoted the book to his list and I got a second wave of sales that kept it in the higher rankings of Amazon’s sales charts. Following that, good reviews, word of mouth, and a Bookbub promotion catapulted Mini Habits into the spotlight. Mini Habits is now in 14 languages and has sold over 125,000 copies worldwide. Now, it’s impossible to know what would have happened Steve hadn’t shared it, but his promotion gave my book a boost at a crucial time. 

If you’re like me, you want to do everything yourself, but we all need help from those around us from time to time. Nobody wins 100% on their own. Don’t think of it as a bad thing to “need help from others,” think of it as an honor when others are willing to help you.

But that’s not the full story. The anglerfish gives back, too. It provides a home and nutrients to the bioluminescent bacteria that give it light. It’s a symbiotic relationship in which both sides benefit. These are the basis of every friendship, and they can also be found in business. Look for opportunities that benefit you and others. 

The anglerfish is a very interesting creature. It’s physically unimpressive, slow, and small, but it survives by a combination of attracting prey to it, striking when the prey is within reach, and maintaining its symbiotic relationship with the bioluminescent bacteria that make it all possible.

We all have our own weaknesses, but if we creatively stand out, take opportunities, and find mutually beneficial relationships, we’ll do just fine. And that’s how to live like an anglerfish. While you’re at it, you might as well develop gills and the ability to withstand 8 tons of pressure per square inch. Then you can swim down to the mariana trench.

Other articles in the live like animals series: Shark | Eagle | Jellyfish | Snake

PS. Check out this video to see an anglerfish swimming in its natural habitat. The video quality is great and this particular anglerfish has a broken tooth. Warning: an anglerfish has never finished first in a beauty contest. The most beautiful anglerfish once finished second to a naked mole rat.

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