Surf's up: are you ready to ride?

Written by
Alan Watkins

04 Sep 2015

04 Sep 2015 • by Alan Watkins

Take control

Do you ever feel as if you’re drowning in your to-do list? Being pulled this way and that in the ever-changing tides at work? Life certainly seems to be getting tougher. If you think it’s hard now, I have news for you… it’s only going to get tougher, faster and more turbulent. If that fills you with dread, take heart. We’re going to look at ways to help you enjoy the thrill of riding the crest of a wave, instead of floundering in the foam.

The way on to your own personal surfboard that will help you ride the waves is actually very straightforward, but requires you to think differently about the whole problem. You will need to look at yourself and manage yourself differently. This means you have to stop looking at others as the cause of your problems; be that your colleagues, boss, customers, the market, or macroeconomic conditions. The one thing you can control is yourself. You can move to a place that doesn’t feel overwhelming, exhausting, or constantly on the edge, regardless of what is going on around you.

I’m not just talking about being more able to cope with the fast pace and changeability, I’m talking about enjoying the thrill of riding the waves.

Jump on the board, accept your emotions

The starting point in being able to cope in the surf is getting a grip on how you feel. When you’re faced with the work equivalent of 10ft waves and a rip tide, are you panicky and do you feel out of your depth? Do you wonder whether sharks may be circling to attack if you get it wrong, and are you scared of getting wiped out? You may be justified in feeling that way, but it doesn’t help you surf. You have to choose to get on the board, attack, and enjoy the thrill of the ride. In addition, you must change how you feel about things. You cannot do any of that if you do not first accept that it is indeed possible to consciously control how you feel – in fact you are the only one who can.

The realisation that your emotions and how you feel – from one moment to the next – can be controlled is transformative. Your feelings never need to be dictated by your boss, your customers, the market, or anyone else again. Accepting that you can develop total control means you can jump on the board and ride those waves with confidence.

Ride the wave develop emotional awareness

Getting on the surfboard is only the first step; developing awareness of our feelings is essential if we’re going to choose how we feel. How are you right now – reading this article? Ask most people and they’ll just guess. It’s not something you’ve probably ever really paid much attention to. Why would you? You’re way too busy trying to get ahead of your to-do list to stop and think about how you actually feel.

When you do pay attention to your feelings, you may find it difficult to distinguish between different emotions. It’s not unlike tasting wine. Initially you can’t tell the difference between one bottle and another. Over time, your palate becomes better educated and your emotional palate can be similarly developed.

When we ask a room full of people how many emotions they can identify and remember feeling over the previous week, they usually manage around a dozen. There are actually 34,000 different emotions. To help people
develop their emotional awareness and emotional literacy, we built an app of the Universe of Emotions. We’ve identified more than 2,000 emotions in the universe.

Each planet is an emotion and you can plot where you are emotionally, at any moment. Are you on the planet of frustrated? Overwhelmed? Annoyed? Irritated? Or are you on the planet of excited, exuberant, content or delighted? Ultimately, if you don’t know which planet you are on, you’re lost. 

You need to know where you are, emotionally speaking, to be able to deal with the waves of pressure at work.

By identifying your emotions every day, you’d notice a much greater level of emotional awareness, or self-awareness, within two or three weeks. You would also have significantly enhanced your emotional literacy… way beyond the 12 emotions most people can name. This can give you a significant competitive advantage, particularly since so few people have any degree of awareness, or control, of this dimension of who they are.

Why learning to surf (emotional control) is so important

The reason that emotional awareness,literacy and control are so important in business is that emotions determine our behaviour. If your workforce is mostly on the planet of ‘disengaged’, they’re not going to do what you want them to do. They won’t deliver the results you want. If, on the other hand, they’re on the planet of ‘determined’, ‘relentless’ or ‘fully engaged’, you’ll see a whole different set of behaviours.

One of the challenges of leadership is motivating the workforce. Imagine a universe where people are selfmotivated, where you don’t have to exhort them to a better state – they turn up to work already fired up and ready to go, every morning. Imagine the results you could generate if everyone in your workforce was optimally motivated every day. That is exactly what can happen when people take ownership of their own emotional state. Leaders no longer need to drag, pull, push or cajole people as they are already operating from a motivated and energetic place.

This might sound like a pipe dream – but it only sounds like that if you don’t have the tools. When you have the tools, it’s an achievable dream. In fact, it’s the only sensible option – the surf is getting rougher, we have no choice but to get on the board and start riding the waves.

When you do, you’ll find it’s exhilarating and thrilling. Why? Because you’ve taken control, you’ve started to manage yourself, you’ve taught yourself to surf. It may sound radical, dude, but that’s what it really takes to be world-class, so enjoy it – surf ’s up!