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6 Ways to Build a Surfer’s Mindset

DID YOU KNOW A SURFER’S MINDSET CAN HELP YOU THROUGH EVERYTHING FROM SURFING BIG WAVES TO RIDING THE STORM OF SOCIAL ISOLATION AND COVID-19 OUT?

This mindset toolkit was originally designed for WaterWomen to use in the water as we navigate bigger swell and surf conditions that cause us anxiety.  But that was before COVID-19.  

Waking up each day to news of a global pandemic, preparing your household for isolated living, and learning to social distance are now the most stressful pain points of our day-to-day life.  Notwithstanding, many of us have lost our freedom to surf, do our favorite form of exercise, or spend time in nature.  These elements are a deadly mix that can serve up stress, anxiety, and depression to the best of us.  

In these trying times, tools that help us get control of our minds are more important than ever. This surfer’s mindset toolkit goes way beyond the water.  Use these tools before a business presentation, during an argument, or when facing the anxiety of homeschooling young children while working from home and self isolating in a 90 square metre apartment.  

The best part about this mindset toolkit is that you already have everything you need because all you need is YOU and…

Surfers meditating
The Sea Hearts using their mindset toolkit in Lombok

YOUR BREATH

The quality and method of your breath can change your life.   Breathing is the first thing we do when we die and the last thing we do when we leave.  In between, you can chose to breathe consciously to conquer your fear instinct, diminish stress, and stay centered even in the most tremulous seas. I’ve spent a lot of time learning breathwork and think my stress tolerance and surfing has improved because of it.

At the most basic level, we teach two kinds of breaths on our Surfaris: (1) the Nose Breath and (2) the Dump Breath.  If you haven’t trained yourself to breathe in and out of your nose at rest, now is the time.  Nose breathing allows us to instantly access the parasympathetic system and calm ourselves down.  The parasympathetic system is the anthesis of the fight-or-flight instinct and combats stress in all situations.  In the parasympathetic state, your heart rates slows, your blood pressure reduces, and brain activity slows.  All this by breathing in and out through your nose rather than your mouth.  

While surfing, nose breathing is an amazing way to calm down when you’re feeling anxious in the line-up.  Just focus on your breath as it passes through your nose and into your lungs.  In all walks of life, use nose breathing whenever you feel uncomfortable or need to calm down.  This is the easiest way to counter your fight-or-flight instinct and bring your body back to rest plus your nose naturally filters the air of particles that could contain the virus.  

In case you’re wondering, The Dump Breath is how you expel all the used up oxygen out of your lungs and is the first thing you want to do when you surface after a wipeout, hold down, or duck dive.  In critical situations, you want to completely empty your lungs so you can refill them with fresh air and prepare for what’s next.

YOUR BODY

Have you ever heard of power posing? This self-improvement technique was basically premised on the idea that our body language controls how we think and feel about ourselves. Following this craze back in 2012, people were striking high power poses before all kinds of challenges – job interviews, public speaking, little league games, etc.  

While standing in an expansive, eagle winged pose before your next surf may or may not make you feel kooky as hell, relaxing physically may automatically relax your mind.  Your body positioning and language tells your mind how to feel and can affect your mood.

Take a heavy hold down for example.  If you can relax your body as you get thrashed underwater, you will not only conserve oxygen and energy but also release physical tension that will in turn help your brain relax.  You can also think how your body affects your mind during your day to day life.  Watch yourself as you watch the news, do you tense up your shoulders or hold yourself in a closed position?  Instead, try relaxing your body part by part when you are feeling stressed.  

Your body can also be a great tool for distracting your mind and slowing down hyperactive thinking patterns during meditation (more below).   

Surfer's mindset

YOUR MIND (OR LACK THEREOF)

Is your brain running on overdrive?  If you’re consuming every news article, press conference, stat, or graph that comes your way, there’s no doubt you are under stress (more on the news at the end).  If bad news and worries consume your mainframe, then it’s time to consider resetting your programming and building a surfer’s mindset through a meditation practice.

The best thing about beginning a meditation practice is the lasting benefit your practice will have on all parts of your life. In particular, out in the ocean.  For surfing, practicing meditation gives us the ability to control the way we think about the situations we encounter in the water.  Meditation by its very nature creates a space between a stimulus and our reaction.  If you want to surf with more confidence in gnarlier conditions, meditation will help you create an override button on the amygdala and thus circumvent your normal, innate fear response.  

Regular meditation also cultivates an ability to place our attention elsewhere even in the face of a super provocative stimulus.  Think: a world pandemic or a monster set on the horizon.  Many forms of meditation use a technique called a body scan to do this.  Essentially, you focus on each part of the body from the head to the toes slowly and methodically.  This is a great tool to stay with a meditation or for use during breath hold training.  

The bottom line is you must recognize that you are not your thoughts.  Even if your brain is running a million miles a minute, you can start now and spend time in silence following your breath or scanning through the parts of your body.  Just a few minutes a day can make a massive difference.  

YOUR FLOW

On the Sea Hearts Instagram, I wrote about some very important advice I heard on and how it inspired me to take action.  The gist was this: in order to stay sane in times of turbulence, we need to do our work like our life depends on it because it does.  Whether it’s your normal occupation (from a distance), an involved hobby, or a favorite practice, happiness flows from the ability to be completely engrossed in what you are doing.  Famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this “optimal state of consciousness where feel our best and perform our best” as the flow state.  

Thus, the fourth tool in the WaterWoman’s Mindset Toolkit is YOUR FLOW.  If you’re still able to work, dedicate yourself to your job as much as possible.  Block out work time.  Organize with your partner to take the kids for a 90 minute or longer block.  Work for entire time during your child’s naps.  However you work it, don’t let too much time pass before you are completely engrossed in your work, your art, or any other activity that causes you to lose track of time and yourself.  

Surfer's mindset - the swing of life
Is this swing too low or just perfect? You decide whether this unplanned staycation is a blessing or a curse.

YOUR FREE WILL

I am a massive fan of stoic philosophy and one of my most grounding habits is reading The Daily Stoic each morning.  A cornerstone of Stoic philosophy is that you must only worry about things within your realm of control and forget everything else.  

One of Stoicism’s founding fathers, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: 

“Today I escaped from the crush of circumstances, or better put, I threw them out, for the crush wasn’t from outside me but in my own assumptions.”

You cannot control anyone else, world events, or governments just like you cannot control the wind, waves, or weather.  But you can control your perceptions, thoughts, and judgements.  You can control how you feel about global change, physical duress, or uncomfortable situations.  You can chose to smile in the face of pain or stress.

It’s up to you to decide whether you freak out and give up or whether you smile and keep moving forward.   Part of our goal as WaterWomen is to create an inner sanctuary through training, meditation, and intentional behavior where you effectively are safe from anything life throws at you.  

Case in point, I once heard an amazing story about Rubin “the Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight champion boxer who was wrongly accused of murder and served 20 years in prison before finally being released on appeal. Despite losing 20 years of his life in jail, the Hurricane never lost his mind.  He chose to use his energy for self-improvement and education rather than anger, bitterness, or feeling like a victim. 

Use your free will to take this once step further and smile through adversity.  Smiling creates a natural chemical release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin to your brain.  Going to your “happy place” isn’t just cliché, it actually works.  Physically smiling and thinking about a thought that gave you massive joy, triggers that chemical release.  Try it today when you’re feeling down or struggling through something difficult.

YOUR FEARS 

As counterintuitive as it may seem, you can use your worst fears to your advantage by exploring them rather than hiding them away.  If you’ve been on one of our Surfaris, you’d know that getting to KNOW your fears by listing them out is the first step to conquering what scares you.  Play a game of worst case scenario.  Write out what you fear whatever that is, no matter how trivial or far fetched it may seem.  Only through awareness can we attempt to get our fear under control. While we’re on the subject, the same goes for things you want to achieve.  Whether you’re trying to prepare for “good” or “bad” things, understanding all the outcomes, creating a plan of action to deal with each one, and training to respond will allow you to do what feels right in those key situations.  In surfing and in life, the trifecta of KNOWLEDGE, ACTION, and POSITIVITY can carry you through anything.

Do you actually know why you’re scared? I couldn’t have paddled into this wave and grabbed my rail to stall without throughly understanding and preparing for my fears.

A NOTE ABOUT THE NEWS: 

Normally, I never watch the news and rarely read news outlets online because I don’t see the point.  I would rather be purposefully unaware than constantly inundated with overhyped negative mental imagery.  If something is really important, I’ll hear about it via word of mouth.  

Yet as a traveller, expat living abroad, and global citizen, I’ve been following COVD-19 and trying to understand the virus’s many characteristics and corresponding line graphs.  Inevitably, too much time consuming media makes me more anxious so I still limit my time with the news and on social media.  Two longstanding rules include not using my phone right before I go to sleep or immediately when I wake up.  To facilitate this, I charge my phone in another room.  

I think it is essential to control your own media exposure and be especially vigilant over what your children see and hear as well.  

 

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