Riding Your Wave to Paradise Beach

Trumping the mind's natural tendencies to embrace your best life

Posted Feb 19, 2014

by Laura Berger

"There are basically two kinds of people in the world: Sufferers, and Learners." –Richard Rose

One day, you'll be comfortable. You’ll have all the money you need and will be living your true purpose. You’ll grab the paper and sit down to your favorite morning program with a piping hot cup of coffee each day. Then you'll surf and play a round of golf. The only stress you'll ever experience is a semi-millennial plague or maybe a reversal of the poles.

Most people want nothing different, right? But do you know many people who really live like that? Why not? It's the only place everyone wants to be, so why can't they get themselves to do what it takes to go there? Unfortunately, more of it has to do with your natural tendencies than you may realize.

By way of analogy, a surfboard will always take the same route in the exact same conditions if a surfer isn't riding it. Like the surfboard, your subconscious is at peace with the familiar. Do you get anxious brushing your teeth? Of course not. But teaching a child to brush can become a months-long ordeal. Newness creates anxiety, and the subconscious unfortunately avoids anxiety-inducing circumstances like little else.

So your mind craves two different things:

  • Surf board = subconscious = familiar
  • Surfer = conscious = adventure and change

One problem is that a surfer will quite frequently catch a wave that he can’t handle and has to bail. Our lives are a constant battle between the board and the surfer. We say we want comfort, yet we seek newness, we often bite oversized chunks, we bail, and we persecute ourselves and/or have to suffer consequences. In the ocean the ramifications are usually small, but in life, they can be quite consequential.

In 2006, we moved a Central American seaside jungle to see if we could make a life for ourselves there. Our only initial task was to decompress from corporate life—to do nothing.

Yet, upon arrival, our surfers took over, gravitating toward keeping busy. We immediately thought we should have jobs—start a business. In the meantime, we killed super-venomous snakes, went paragliding from a 2,000-foot cliff, rappelled 200-foot waterfalls, and learned to use machetes daily almost as extensions of our arms, so our conscious minds had all the newness they could handle.

In reality, we had caught a wave determined to dump us in the ocean. From then on, we have studied the psychology of uncertainty to understand and teach others how to choose their best adventure and stick with it.

There are five key ways to get your mind to embrace uncertainty and at the same time, stay moving toward your goals:

Surfing Isn't the First Step

The first step to learning how to surf might have nothing to do with waves or steering. It's paddling. Most people don't think about this at first, but most waves, big or small, are a long way out there. And you will surf them for 5-10 seconds just to paddle for another 5-10 minutes! Given that paddling is swimming against the current with a 10+ pound piece of plastic under you, anyone would be well-served just to practice paddling for a few weeks before ever riding a wave. Many worthwhile things in life aren't sexy. I had to change my sleeping routine for a while before having the mental wherewithal to start writing Radical Sabbatical at 5 AM before work. Maybe you need to go part-time for a while before retiring cold-turkey. Before embarking on a big change, always think of the first steps before the first step.

Start with a Long Board –

Unfortunately, we often see clients and friends completely at the end of their rope by the time they decide to change their lives. As such, they immediately want to dive in and live their goal immediately. Take up an instrument, and you'll be frustrated after a few weeks when you aren't playing Beethoven. Start a new business, and you might be inclined to immediately go after elusive Fortune 500 clients. This is the surfer getting dumped by a thrilling wave. Surfing experts recommend starting with a long board because it's easier to steer and manage. Do the same in your pursuits, and before you know it, you'll be buying a short board and reenacting the last scene of Point Break in your dream life.

Rehearse –

Despite your subconscious freaking in the face of fear and discomfort, the good thing is that it doesn't know fact from fiction. Why else do people cry at movies?

Babe Ruth went through as much mental rehearsal as physical practice. High divers leap off trampolines before taking the big plunge from 10 meters. Surf instructors have their students lay their boards on the beach and practice popping to their feet there before going in the water. The idea is not so much acquiring the skill as it is to train your brain in an environment that the subconscious is comfortable with. So build vision boards, practice sales calls out loud, and do whatever else it takes while you're still on dry land before trying to ride your monster.

Mingle with Your Own –

Stand on a surf beach, and you'll see clusters of surfers floating like ducks on the water. Different groups hang out in different spots based on their level of ability. This is important for several reasons. First, you don't have to search blindly for good opportunities to catch waves. Second, you'll get to know the people who hang out near your own ideal waves. Third, you'll have a support structure that can help you through your challenges and celebrate your triumphs. There is nothing like giving your subconscious a constant reminder that you are not in it alone. So form a clan aligned with your goals and level of ability. Visit with them often.

Get a Rhythm –

One of the greatest ways to put your subconscious at bay is to form a rhythm. Different types of waves are ridden in different ways. Smaller ones require that you virtually head straight toward the beach. Begin doing a bunch of fancy turns, and you'll end up riding over the wave only to watch it break into the beach where you wanted to go. Fancy, unpredictable, improvised turns are for the more skilled. So as you are riding your beginner board on the smaller waves of your change, be deliberate in establishing a routine to create a sense of comfort for your mind.

Find a wave that works for your life, and direct that surfboard toward the shoreline of your dreams, befriending and managing the volatility that often destroys big leaps. After all, isn’t life about going vertical until you are permanently horizontal?


Radical Sabbaticalthe Amazon Kindle bestseller by Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo, is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.