Saturday, May 4, 2013

Riding Life's Waves

I like to refer to surfing as a metaphor for managing life-changes, even though I have never surfed! I put it down to all those years living on the island of Kauai – a surfer’s paradise - where every other person I knew was a surfer and most would happily expound on any one of the principles of riding the waves whenever I gave them half a chance. One of those principles that stuck in my memory is ‘pearling’.

Pearling occurs when you don’t reposition yourself to compensate for transitioning from the downhill slope of the wave to flat water. As a result, the surfboard digs vertically down into the bottom of the ocean, and you get pitched into the water! As you come up for air, you may find yourself floundering, anxiously trying to get back up on the board and, if you manage to, paddling furiously in order to catch the next wave that you know is due imminently! This is often called “The Impact Zone”, a ‘zone’ where time is of the essence! If fear and anxiety are allowed to take over, your much-needed focus will be gone with the waves and your next experience could be a wipe-out! I am struck by the parallels to life itself – and two questions emerge:

1.    When uninvited change occurs – as it seems to with greater and greater frequency - are we flexible enough to reposition ourselves to compensate for the necessary transition? In other words, are we willing to be adaptable, try something new, stretch our thinking till it surfaces out of the box we have hitherto made ourselves so comfortable in? Can we transcend old behaviours and ride the waves of change with flexibility, or are we sticking with long-established, customary measures that will inevitably pitch us back into the water?
2.    Are we anxiously and furiously flailing about, grasping at ‘sea-foam’, our fear of the possibilities ahead paralysing us and keeping us just treading water until the next wave wipes us out?

One thing I know for sure is that managing our emotions is key if we are to be successful at ‘riding these waves’. Although, when something bad seems to come out of left field, or disagreeable change is thrust upon us, it is natural to feel anxiety and even fear, our chances of successfully navigating whatever it is will be in direct proportion to our ability to process and move through these feelings, keeping our ‘emotional brain’ in check and our ‘thinking brain’ switched on: The two ‘brains’ can never be fully active simultaneously! When we are in anxiety or fear, our ‘emotional’ brain takes over and puts us into defense mode, causing, inflexibility, resistance to the unfamiliar, or even panic Short-term thinking and bad decisions are made in this state. Conversely, smart, innovative thinking that will create the new ways of doing things that we probably need, comes from a switched on ‘thinking brain’, which can only happen when we are in an emotional state of centredness; focused yet flexible, willing to reposition, and open to transcendence. ‘Riding the waves’ in this state will minimalize the chances of ‘pearling’ or ‘wiping out’, in fact we may eventually find the ride quite exhilarating! Let's go for that!