How a Stingray reminded me about the direct connection between what goes on in my brain and what follows in my experience.

A couple of months ago, in the quiet and magical calm of the early morning, I was out on the water in Malabar Bay on my stand-up paddleboard, when the biggest stingray I’ve ever seen swam gracefully right under me.

Time moved very slowly for a moment as I watched it glide under me in the crystal-clear water, posing no threat.

Until that moment my legs had been quite stable on my new (and more challenging) SUP board. But within a split second of seeing the ‘foreign body’, I immediately perceived danger and my legs started to wobble instantly.

How peculiar. An immediate negative response, despite no imminent danger.

Seconds later I recovered from my fright, and I couldn’t help thinking about how readily (and quickly!) our thoughts drive our physical, emotional and behavioural responses. It turned my attention to all the workplaces that I’ve worked in. Where thoughts of imminent danger and reactions to ‘foreign bodies’ are commonplace, especially when change is afoot.

Just like they did for me, they invoke a range of varied responses, reactions, and degrees of concern (real or perceived), which are typically negative.

Our mind and body connection are so strong, and combined with our primary response of flight or flight, this negativity permeates through our bodies so quickly we can’t help but ‘resist’ anything that’s changed or will be changing.

It took a stingray to remind me...

While I spend my days working with change and the human responses to it, it took that stingray in that moment to slap me in the face with the stark reminder that the best of intentions, the most seasoned of leaders, and the most artfully articulated change plans and messages will still be received as a ‘foreign body’ and generate a visceral and most likely negative reaction in 99.9% of humans. Even those that will glide past gently, without any choppy waters, and even if we are standing on top of a stable board, seemingly safe and secure.

What typically follows these responses is a chemical cocktail including cortisol that rushes through our systems. And this happens over and over again, daily. Truth is, if we can’t self-monitor in the ‘always on’ context that is work these days, we run the very real risk of loss of clarity (at best) and complete blow out and burnout (at worst) with all the obvious associated side effects and impacts on ourselves and others.

What is the stingray in Your workplace context?

Does it, whatever it is, represent real or perceived danger? How are you responding to it? What do you need to make your legs stop wobbling?

Thoughts drive our entire experience and our thoughts are what differentiate us from each other. If you want mastery, you must make mindfulness a daily practice. This enables you to stay clear with how explicitly your thoughts and experiences are connected to each other, and make decisions accordingly.

For me, out on the water in that moment, I was quickly able to adjust my thought processes from fear and concern to genuine wonder ….and just as quickly, I noticed my legs stopped wobbling. I thank the last few years of meditation and Tai Chi practice for that.

I emerged from the experience reflective. I had responded, but not succumbed, and felt better for it. And stepped back onto dry land with not a drop of water on me.

How do you, and your teams emerge from wobbly experiences …perceived or otherwise?

Something worth considering, and perhaps talking about!

And in the meantime, I wish you well in your open water, with your stingrays.

With gratitude and smiles