The Surfer Mentality
Today at a Glance
- The Surfer Mentality: When a surfer gets up on a wave, they enjoy the present moment, even though they know with certainty that the wave will eventually end. They fully enjoy THIS wave, with the wisdom and awareness that there are always more waves coming.
- 5 ideas of applications of this mentality: (1) enjoy your next wave and embrace the present moment, (2) be strategic about your positioning in between waves, (3) pass on more waves rather than jumping at the first one that comes your way, (4) always get in the water and stop sitting on the shore, and (5) roll with the punches that life deals you.
- Follow-up book recommendation: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. Audiobook is highly recommended.
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In The Happiness Hypothesis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt makes a compelling argument for the power of metaphor:
"Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know. For example, it's hard to think about life in general, but once you apply the metaphor "life is a journey," the metaphor guides you to some conclusions: You should learn the terrain, pick a direction, find some good traveling companions, and enjoy the trip, because there may be nothing at the end of the road."
If you're a regular reader of my work, you'll know that I agree. There are few things I find more useful and empowering than a digestible metaphor with broad applications to my life.
Today's piece shares a recently discovered metaphor, including the theory and applications that have created immense value in my day-to-day life.
Let's talk about The Surfer Mentality...
Riding the Waves of Life
I first came across the concept of the Surfer Mentality in a short video from my friend Guillaume Moubeche last year, but started to wrestle with it more after re-reading one of my favorite books: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.
Sahil Note: It is one of the best read audiobooks I've ever listened to. Highly recommend the audiobook version.
The book is a beautiful, poetic memoir of a young man's life, told through the lens of his various surfing adventures around the world. In re-reading it, I became obsessed with the metaphor of riding waves and its application to so many areas of our lives.
The Surfer Mentality is a simple, powerful application of this metaphor:
When a surfer gets up on a wave, they enjoy the present moment, even though they know with certainty that the wave will eventually end. They fully enjoy THIS wave, with the wisdom and awareness that there are always more waves coming.
Beyond this base layer, there are several other applications I have considered:
- The surfer knows that they don't have to ride every single wave that comes their way. They have the freedom and the power to choose which waves to take, and which waves to let pass by.
- The surfer knows that 90% of the time they won't be riding any wave, but just paddling and waiting. They know that sometimes there will be long, painful periods between the waves. Sometimes so long that they may start to wonder whether there will ever be a good wave again. They are aware that patience and proper positioning is all that matters for when the next wave inevitably comes.
- The surfer knows that the only way to live is by putting themself out there in the water. You can't catch any waves sitting on the shore. There's always a risk of getting crushed by a wave, but the rewards are worth it.
- The surfer knows that sometimes a wave will crash down on them and hold them underwater. They know that they may come up for air only to be hit by another wave crashing down. They are able to weather these hits with a stoic awareness that remaining fluid will serve them better than stiffening to fight the waves.
The Surfer Mentality has broad-based applications across all of our lives.
How to Embrace Your Inner Surfer
I don't surf (I have a funny, irrational fear of sharks), but I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I can apply this mentality into my own day-to-day life.
Here are 5 ideas you should steal...
- Enjoy Your Next Wave: The next time you find yourself riding a positive wave, enjoy it! Don't worry about how long it will last, when it will end, or whether you will ever ride such a beautiful wave again. Just slow down and appreciate where you are in the present. Trust that there will be more waves in the future.
- Be Strategic About Positioning: There's a tendency to passively wait between waves—but there's so much you can do in those liminal moments to set yourself up for a better ride. Think about your positioning and how you can make tweaks or changes that will put you in an advantageous spot when a wave does come.
- Pass on More Waves: When you're young, you want to ride every single wave. But when you catch the first wave that comes your way, you may miss the better one that came right after it. Learn to pass on more waves and wait for the right one.
- Always Get in the Surf: There's nothing good that happens sitting on the shore. Even if it's scary, get in the water.
- Be Like Water: When you get crushed by a wave, don't resist the water, try to be like the water. With grief in particular, it's ok to just be and experience it rather than trying to fight it. Let it come over you and trust that it will diminish with time.
So as you approach the days ahead, I would encourage you to think about adopting the Surfer Mentality:
Enjoy every ride while it lasts!
I'd love to hear from you:
- Which application of the Surfer Mentality resonates most clearly with you?
- Have you experienced any of these situations in recent days? How did your mindset impact your experience?
Tweet at me @SahilBloom and I'll do my best to get back to everyone.