Surfing and self compassion

This summer a friend and I decided, over a few glasses of wine, to learn how to surf. I regret not learning as a teenager - back in my day girls generally didn’t surf and even though I had cousins who surfed it never once occurred to me to ask to learn.

It’s one of those things I’d just like to be able to do. To go to the beach specifically to go surfing. Not to take the dog for a walk, or to find shells, or to sunbathe. But to surf. To be able to ride the waves, focus on the sea and to be present to just surfing: a worry break from the stress of everyday life, a chance to exercise and an opportunity to practice being present to each moment as it unfolds. Surfing ticks all those boxes for me with the added bonus of learning with an old friend. A built in accountability partner and someone whose friendship I cherish. Now we not only get to learn together, we also get to spend time together. This surfing lark was sounding better and better.

As neither of us really knew what we were doing we thought our next move would be to get some lessons. We duly enrolled in a local surf school and booked ourselves a series. We had brilliant instructors, really patient and very clear with their instructions, tips and advice. But, wow, surfing is hard! There’s so much to think about and it all happens so quickly once the wave lifts you up and moves you into the shore. All those pre-rehearsed drills on the beach suddenly leave your mind as you focus on keeping the board on the wave and trying to stay level. Sometimes I’d manage to get half way up before I got tipped off, occasionally I made standing but so far I haven’t actually had any control over where my board goes, much less getting to ride a wave.

Listening to my inner critic was interesting. She had plenty of raw material and at the beginning I became aware of her power. Thoughts like “You’re hopeless” and “I don’t know why you’re even bothering to try, you won’t catch this one” were surfacing regularly and they were certainly spoiling my fun. By now I’m far enough into my journey of self awareness to notice these sabotaging thoughts and also to know that I’m the one who is in charge of them. I get to turn them around. I am the one with the power to change these thoughts.

So the next time I found myself knocked off my board after another attempt; I picked myself up and said to myself “I know how hard this is for you right now honey. The next wave will be another chance to try.” And off I paddled to try again. Every time I came off my board I would be giving myself encouragement, sending myself positive thoughts and giving myself compassion for how challenging and difficult learning to surf really was for me.

Once I was able to catch those negative thoughts, then it was easy to acknowledge my disappointment with myself, to myself. Then I was able to focus my attention to turning those negative thoughts into positive thoughts. I can’t say that it made me a better surfer, but I do know it certainly made my experience of learning how to surf an awful lot more fun. Not only was I more likely to have another try, it also made me far more present to the beauty of my surroundings and to the encouragement of my fellow surfers.

My son is an amazing surfer. He is self taught, drawn to the sport at the age of 7 and given an old board after his attempts at surfing his boogie board were noticed. He has learnt as he’s grown and has always been blessed to have a natural knack for picking up new sports easily and effortlessly. So reminding myself that learning to surf can be hard wasn’t something that I believed at first. I thought after a few lessons I’d be able to catch small waves and then progress onto bigger waves. But surrounded by other women all at similar ages and working at similar levels of ability I was able to appreciate just how hard we were all working, and to remind myself that others struggle to learn too.

One summer of surfing hasn’t made me a shredder on the waves, but it’s certainly given me a taste of how I’d love to spend my time next summer. It’s also allowed me an insight into the workings of my mind and to focus on noticing and changing my self talk while I was learning something new.

I challenge you to think about your own self talk and the role it plays in your life. Do you notice it, and if you do does it build you up, support and nourish you? Or does it tear you down? Do you speak to yourself like your worst enemy, or like your own best friend? Given that scientists are saying we have between 50,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day, self talk becomes an incredibly important issue. We need to be aware of what we’re telling ourselves, of changing those negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Of noticing our mindset as much as we notice the clothes we are wearing.

I think it’s important to respect ourselves mentally, it leads to much more positive choices physically. If you’re telling yourself that you matter as you enter the supermarket you’re far more likely to make food choices that will support and nourish yourself. If you’re driving home after a day at work and you’re tired but you’re telling yourself that you matter you’re far more likely to stop for a walk on the way home. You know this is an important break time for you; it will allow yourself to de-stress from work, get some fresh air into your lungs and recharge your energy levels before you arrive home. Taking the time to notice your mindset and the story you are telling yourself, to yourself, does make a difference.

Remember that feeling emotions is a part of being human. It’s what we do with the emotions, and the choices we make about the emotions we choose to let in, that count. Each and every one of us can be responsible for noticing and acknowledging how we feel and for asking ourselves “What can I do to make myself happier in this moment?” To talk to ourselves like we’re our own B.F.F. After all, we’re quick to stick up for our own B.F.F. we always want the best for her so why shouldn’t we want the best for us?