Life Lessons in Surfing Class


I’m thrilled to be sharing with you the unique example of body mind connections associated with learning to surf without ever getting on a surf board. Thankfully, author Amy Cuddy in her phenomenal book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges was introduced to the challenge when she married an Australian that loved to surf. During the demoralizing learning process of standing up and falling off repeatedly she struggled with her self-confidence hoping for a better way to succeed at this task. Luckily, she came across journalist Eve Fairbanks writings on the subject of surfing and, Eureka! Cuddy recognized how deeply connected to presence the process is. According to her, “Our first mistake she (Fairbanks) said, is to focus too much on the specific skills we think are required to become a good surfer—or to be seen as good at our jobs or attractive to potential partners. Fairbanks relates, ‘Amateurs imagine adventure sports are all about skills: We have to acquire strength and muscle memory before we can accomplish a sporting feat.’ With this mind-set Fairbanks at first fixated on how she measured up, whether or not she had skill, and where she was on the learning curve—all of which made her insecure.” Fairbanks recalls, “After a mixed record of successes and failures, my teacher told me that at some point I just had to ‘decide to stay on the board.” Fairbanks was stunned by how shifting from the thinking mind to the body’s own natural response to balancing on the board made all the difference. Where she had been repeatedly falling, she now was able to stay upright and catch the waves. Cuddy notes, “By Fairbank’s staying on that board, her body showed her what she was capable of in a way that over thinking never could. The problem is that what lies inside our minds is invisible. We can only imagine it. But we experience our bodies sensually. It’s so powerful to get a sense of our character as our bodies express it, as all of our senses perceive it.”

Moving from water to life on land, our thinking mind can persuade us not to attempt new things based on our lack of experience and emotional (fear) response. Before either of these ladies attempted surfing, their minds had gone into overdrive rationalizing what priorities and level of skill were required for them to succeed. Instead, they learned that their primary decision should be focusing on staying on the board, building up their self-confidence and easing into a new skill set. Cuddy saw the parallel of learning to surf and running a business. “Faced with on-land choices—the kind of choices I sometimes balk at—I felt my body on the board, choosing and succeeding to stay upright. It made it much easier to believe I could stay on the figurative ‘board of a business plan’ rather than being held back by my invisible thinking mind until I found certainty to proceed in decision making. In the end Fairbanks reveals that we might have the “recipe for success” backwards. “Advisers often tell us we have to be confident about our decisions. That decisions come at the end of a certainty-acquisition process and simply ratify an inner truth. But in fact, it goes the other way: Decisions create confidence.” The body mind connection is real. Essentially, they run ‘independently’ together for optimum results. Surf’s up!

Karen Restivo is a Life & Communication Coach and owner of SerenityMatagorda Isle. You can learn more about Karen by visiting her online at or emailing her at

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