What You Can Learn from a Shampoo Bottle

by Andy Wood on September 5, 2013

in Ability, Allocating Your Resources, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase

pha112000020I’m a big believer in cross training – especially since no less than Solomon said that “a wise man will hear and increase in learning.”  Under the banner of “all truth is God’s truth,” I make my living helping people find truth and wisdom in places where they may not otherwise look. That starts with scripture, of course. But even scripture sometimes points us to learning from other sources.  Check this out:

Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise… (Proverbs 6:6).

So in the spirit of being teachable, I have previously suggested that there are things you can learn from an orange salesman,  a party crasher, a baseball franchise, a ghost house, and a fired CEO.

Today’s teacher is a little less dramatic and a lot more in line with Solomon’s insect example.  I’m talking about those ubiquitous, ordinary shampoo bottles you have in your bathroom.

By my calculations, since age 13 I have used 958 bottles of shampoo, not counting the little ones you find in hotels.  There are three words that appear on every bottle of shampoo I’ve ever seen.

No, I don’t mean ammonium lauryl sulphate.

You find them in the instructions for how to use the product:  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Confession time.  I can count on one finger the number of times I have actually “repeated.”  Please don’t hate me.

Anyway, I have found myself metaphorically using those simple instructions to a host of other growth or focus areas lately, to the point that they made it to my journal this morning. I had made some progress toward a goal. And in a way of reminding myself to do what I already knew to do, the personal challenge was, lather, rinse, repeat.

So humor me for a minute.  Let’s go to the shower, tub, or sink and learn a few things about growth, success, leadership, productivity, relationships or anything else you may find relevant.

All from your shampoo bottle.

Wet Hair

Shampoo 2Let’s call this Step One-half.  The more detailed bottle-back instructions usually mention that before you can lather up you first have to get your hair wet. If you’ve ever globbed shampoo on a dry head, I don’t have to belabor the point.

But… applying our little metaphor to your work or success, this has an important meaning that’s often overlooked.  Just as I have to remove myself from a public, visible environment and go to a place where I can get my hair wet, the same holds true for whatever meaningful endeavor you undertake.  Here’s the principle:

Renewing starts with retreating.

If you have an IT department at the place where you work, you probably get “down for routine maintenance” messages occasionally. It’s how they move forward.  Unplug to upgrade and reengage.

Anybody who knows about spiritual life will tell you that it requires retreating from the busyness to a place where you can renew your spirit and hear from God. This means turning off the urgent to tend to the important. You retreat to renew.

Anybody who knows about money will tell you that every once in a while you need to stop earning and spending and investing in order to reconcile the books.  It’s important to make financial decisions based on clarity, and clarity takes time.  You retreat to renew.

Anybody who has ever been in any meaningful relationship will testify to the importance of closing the door and spending time alone with your beloved, or even sometimes spending time alone without him or her. Love and friendship deepen through focused attention. You retreat to renew.

I don’t know what it means for you to “get your hair wet,” but I do know you have to be intentional about it.  (I had to stop writing this and hit the shower because I had a lunch meeting. I would rather have kept going, but renewal means retreating, even when it’s inconvenient.)

It takes time away from the action to make you ready for the action. Make sense?  If that baffles you, call me when you burn out or get kicked to the curb.

Shampoo 3Lather

Okay, so your head is soaked and it’s application time. Easy enough when you’re applying your favorite brand of suds to your locks.  But what does “lather” represent in other arenas of your life?

Start with applying known solutions to problems.  In a sense, shampoo is a short-term solution to a recurring problem. I’m sure it would be convenient and cost-effective if you could find some trick to never have to wash your hair again and always have awesome-looking hair.  Sorry, bed-head. I don’t see that happening, short of the Hair Club for Men.

The same is true in other aspects of your life. It would sure be convenient if you never had to come apart for time with the Lord. Or if you never had to review your priorities and schedule on a regular basis.  But nobody has invented an automatic pilot that made all the plans and adjustments necessary for you to succeed. It. Takes. Time…

Praying time.

Thinking time.

Feeling time.

Communicating time.

Listening time.

Growing time.

Deciding time.

Lathering also involves letting the agent do its work. Shampoo can’t do what it does until it’s applied.  But you can’t do what shampoo does without its help. In practical terms, I have never tried to do for myself what I can pay a few cents a day for shampoo to do for me.  I can’t! I don’t have the goods to do what shampoo does, and you’d think I was stupid to try.

But I’ll tell you what I have done… I have tried to do in my own strength what only prayer is supposed to accomplish.

I have tried to function at a level of excellence when I was running on emotional fumes.

I have tried to mentally coast on automatic pilot, without taking the time to renew my mind and strength.

I have tried to forgive people without taking my offenses to the only Source of grace that’s worth anything.

All of that and more is just as stupid as assuming that just because I got my hair wet, I got it clean.


Ever walk out of the shower without forgetting to lose the suds?

Oh… guess that was just me.

Anyway, as I mentioned, shampoo is a temporary solution to a recurring problem. As soon as the problem is solved, you rinse your hair and move on.

What exactly happens when you rinse?  You take the benefits of the shampoo back into the public arena.

In a similar sense, in life the “real world” beckons. People to see, things to do, problems to solve, and wounds to salve all have their claim on your time and energy.  But you have new resources. You have new solutions to recurring problems. You have renewed your strength and you’re ready to mount up with wings like eagles!

What does “rinse” represent in the other areas?  Among other things, it means coming out of your cave ready to take on challenges.  Recluses and professional naval-gazers need not apply.

It also means making the connection between the “retreat” and the “charge.” For example, if your time away with your executive team doesn’t somehow prepare you for new strategies or focus, something is missing from your time away. If your time in Bible study or prayer doesn’t somehow provide new strength or wisdom to face the day’s challenges, I would gently suggest that you may want to improve that time somehow.


This, for me, is the big, fat missing issue. I see a little progress, and you’d think that because I do, I would recognize the supreme wisdom of doing it all over again tomorrow.


Not so much.

Some people become experts at taking extraordinary measures to save a sinking ship. But they ignore the day-to-day attention to the important things until they become urgent. Why?

Sometimes they take a random approach to things. That’s great for creativity, but bad news for productivity and self-renewal.

Sometimes they get distracted by stress or curiosities. Sometimes they get bored.  Sometimes a “squeakier wheel” gets the grease.

Sometimes they think they’re smarter than the process. (By the way, don’t ask me how I know these things.) Sometimes they prefer to live by the Brylcreem philosophy – a little dab’ll do ya’.

Sometimes they’re more focused on performance than on maintenance.  Sometimes they simply prefer coasting because it’s the path of least resistance.

Doesn’t it make sense to you that you can gain a whole lot more wisdom and perspective when you don’t desperately need it to survive? Doesn’t it make sense that if you were able to say no to the urgent and yes to the important on a consistent enough basis, that when the real problems show up, you’re already prepared to face them?

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

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Martha Orlando September 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

Amazing analogy, Andy! So easy to remember and apply to our daily lives.
Blessings, my friend!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Love and Grace

Natural Hair Restoration September 18, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Can’t beat a shampoo analogy to give good lessons about life! Thanks for the post!

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