How to Create Positive Change: Micro-Habits for Surfers

Imagine the first time you stood on a surfboard, the ocean beneath you, unpredictable and ever-changing. Learning to surf isn’t an overnight achievement; it’s a journey of incremental progress, where each session builds upon the last, no matter how small the improvement. This gradual progression is a fundamental truth in surfing, yet, curiously, when it comes to other aspects of our lives, like getting fitter, healthier, or more successful, we often expect these changes to happen almost overnight.

Why this disconnect? Everything worthwhile in life, from mastering a sport like surfing to transforming personal habits, takes time and consistent effort. Small, repeated actions are the building blocks of great achievements. As surfers, we understand that riding the perfect wave requires patience, practice, and a series of tiny yet significant steps. This approach is no different when it comes to forming new habits. Instead of seeking immediate, dramatic change, the subtle, daily improvements pave the way to lasting transformation.

In my life, I decided to make podcasting a habit. 90% of podcasts experience “podfade” — not lasting more than 20 episodes. But I decided to lock it in and committed to publishing one episode per week on the Resilience Podcast. This became a habit, and I ended up with two podcasts and an amazing — and growing audience! Check out my new show, the Brad Hook Podcast, where I interviewed Barton Lynch. Other micro-habits that have worked for me include morning sunshine to reset my circadian rhythm (more on this further down) and daily stretching.

In this article, we’ll explore the world of micro-habits and why these small, consistent actions are the secret to making lasting changes in our lives, just as they improve our surfing performance. It’s about understanding that every significant achievement is a culmination of many small, often unnoticed, efforts. Micro becomes meso (intermediate), which ultimately becomes macro. You are a web of habits, some positive and some less so. What will you deliberately practice?

The Downfall of New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, as the calendar turns, millions of people set lofty goals in the form of New Year’s resolutions. Yet, studies show that a staggering 80% of these resolutions fail by February. Why? According to research from the University of Scranton, the primary reason is the lack of immediate results. Our brains are wired for instant gratification, and when change doesn’t happen quickly, motivation dwindles.

In the world of surfing, this is akin to aiming to do an air 360 before mastering the top turn. The enormity of the task often leads to frustration and eventual abandonment of the goal. It’s not the ambition that’s at fault; it’s the scale and the immediacy of the expected results that set us up for failure.

The Power of Micro-Habits

Enter micro-habits. These tiny, regular practices may seem insignificant in isolation, but their cumulative effect over time can be transformative.

Simplicity and Sustainability: The Core of Micro-Habits

At their core, micro-habits are about simplicity and sustainability. They are small actions, so simple that they require minimal effort or willpower to complete. For a surfer, this could be as straightforward as doing five minutes of balance exercises each day, or spending three minutes preparing mentally with a breathing exercise before each surf session. These tasks are easy to integrate into daily routines, making them more likely to stick.

Building Blocks of Mastery

Micro-habits are the building blocks of mastery. Just as a surfer incrementally improves by catching wave after wave, micro-habits enable gradual improvement in any area of life. This is particularly crucial in surfing, a sport that demands a blend of physical skill, mental resilience, and deep understanding of the ocean. By consistently applying small habits, surfers can refine their techniques, enhance their physical fitness, and sharpen their mental acuity, leading to improved performance over time.

The Science Behind the Effectiveness

The effectiveness of micro-habits is rooted in neuroscience. When we repeat an action, our brain’s neural pathways strengthen in response to this repetition. This process, known as synaptic plasticity, is the foundation of habit formation. By engaging in micro-habits, surfers are essentially rewiring their brains to make these small actions a natural and automatic part of their daily routine.

Circumventing the Resistance to Change

One of the greatest challenges in adopting new behaviors is overcoming the brain’s natural resistance to change. Micro-habits circumvent this resistance by their sheer simplicity. They are less daunting than large, sweeping changes and, therefore, more likely to be undertaken and sustained. This is crucial in surfing, where incremental improvements can lead to significant advancements in skill and confidence.

The Ripple Effect: Beyond Surfing

The impact of micro-habits extends far beyond the surfboard. As surfers cultivate these small habits in their sport, they often find the discipline and focus spilling over into other areas of their lives. Whether it’s improved health and fitness, better time management, or enhanced personal relationships, the principles of micro-habit formation are universally applicable.

Overcoming Homeostasis: The Science Behind Micro-Habits

The concept of homeostasis – the body’s tendency to resist change and maintain a steady, consistent state – is a significant barrier in habit formation and behavioral change. For surfers, this resistance can manifest in the comfort of sticking to familiar routines, waves, or boards, hindering progress and growth.

Bypassing the Brain’s Resistance

Micro-habits effectively bypass the brain’s resistance to change by introducing small, manageable alterations to one’s routine. This subtlety is key; it’s about coaxing rather than forcing the body and mind to adapt. For instance, a surfer might start by simply visualizing a new maneuver for a few minutes each day, gradually embedding the concept into their mental repertoire before physically attempting it.

Utilizing Homeostasis to Your Advantage

Interestingly, once a micro-habit is established, the same principle of homeostasis that once resisted change now works to maintain this new behavior. This means that over time, what once was an effort becomes a new norm, whether it’s a pre-surf warm-up routine or a post-surf stretching session.

Compound Growth: The 1% Rule from ‘Atomic Habits’

James Clear’s concept in “Atomic Habits” of improving by 1% every day underscores the essence of micro-habits. Applied to surfing, this principle translates into a steady, ongoing effort to enhance one aspect of surfing by a small margin each day.

Exponential Improvement Over Time

The magic of the 1% rule lies in its compounding effect. Just as compound interest grows a financial investment over time, each small improvement a surfer makes builds upon the last. If a surfer improves 1% each day, they are theoretically 37 times better by the end of the year. This exponential improvement is not just about better performance on the waves; it’s about a deeper understanding of the sport, better fitness, and a more profound connection with the ocean. I believe that dedicating 9.6 minutes per day to personal growth can make a huge difference over time.

Practical Application in Surfing

Practically, this could involve focusing on one aspect of surfing technique, like paddle strength or foot positioning, and making a tiny improvement each session. It’s not about drastic changes but about making small, sustainable tweaks that accumulate over time.

The author practicing a cutback, hoping for 1% better each time.

Surf-Specific Micro-Habits

Incorporating micro-habits into a surfer’s routine can significantly improve their performance and enjoyment of the sport. Here are some specific micro-habits that surfers can adopt:

Daily Physical Conditioning: Incorporate a few minutes of core strengthening or balance exercises into your daily routine. This might involve simple activities like plank holds or balance board exercises.

Sleep: Are you an early riser or a late-night owl? Aligning with your chronotype and ensuring you get at least seven hours of sleep will improve your well-being and surfing. Go to bed and wake up five minutes earlier or later util you find your optimal sleep rhythm.

Mindful Surfing Practice: Dedicate the first few minutes of each surf session to focus on one particular aspect of your technique, whether it’s your stance, your paddling, or your wave selection.

Visualization Techniques: Spend a few minutes each day visualizing successful maneuvers, wave riding, or even challenging surf conditions. This mental rehearsal can enhance muscle memory and confidence.

Wave Journaling: Keep a brief log of your surf sessions, noting the conditions, your performance, and areas for improvement. This habit can help in recognizing patterns and tracking progress.

Environmental Awareness: Develop a habit of observing the ocean for a few minutes before diving in. Understanding the day’s wave patterns, wind conditions, and tides can immensely improve your surfing experience.

Gratitude: Surfers experience deep gratitude for a good session — we call it stoke. Did you realize that gratitude is incredible for both mental health and overall well-being. A micro-habit that can change your life is writing down three things that went well each day. Research shows it even improves sleep.

Potential Pitfalls: Risks in Micro-Habit Formation

While micro-habits are generally beneficial, there are potential risks to be aware of:

Overemphasis on Routine: Becoming too rigid with habits can stifle creativity and adaptability, especially in a dynamic sport like surfing where conditions are always changing.

Neglecting Larger Goals: Focusing exclusively on small habits can sometimes lead to losing sight of bigger objectives and long-term improvements.

Habit Saturation: Trying to adopt too many micro-habits at once can be overwhelming, leading to burnout or a drop in overall performance.

Misaligned Habits: It’s important that the micro-habits you choose are aligned with your overall surfing goals. Irrelevant habits can lead to wasted effort and frustration.

Complacency: There’s a risk of becoming complacent with small successes, which can hinder the drive to push further and tackle more significant challenges.

Scaling Up: Phased Approach to Upleveling Micro-Habits

Once you’ve established a set of micro-habits and are seeing their benefits in your surfing and daily life, the next step is to consider scaling them up. This doesn’t mean making drastic changes but rather enhancing these habits in a phased and manageable manner.

Phase One: Establishment and Consistency

  • Begin by ensuring that your new habits are firmly established and have become a consistent part of your routine. This could mean having successfully integrated daily balance exercises, consistent sleep patterns, or regular moments of gratitude into your life.

Phase Two: Incremental Intensification

  • Once a habit is part of your daily routine, look for ways to intensify it slightly. If you’re accustomed to 10 minutes of balance training, consider increasing it to 15. If you’ve been reflecting on your gratitude at the end of each surf session, try adding a morning gratitude practice as well.

Phase Three: Integrating Complementary Habits

  • Look for new, complementary habits that can further enhance your performance and well-being. For instance, if you’ve mastered a sleep routine, consider adding a nutrition-related micro-habit, like drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning or incorporating a nutrient-rich snack post-surf.

Assessment and Adjustment

  • Regularly assess the impact of these scaled-up habits. Are they helping you progress towards your surfing goals? Are they sustainable in the long term? Be prepared to adjust as necessary.

The Journey of Continuous Improvement

As we conclude, remember that a surfer’s journey, much like the journey of life, is one of continuous improvement. Micro-habits’ power lies in their subtlety and their potential for compounding growth. Focusing on small, sustainable changes sets the stage for significant, long-term achievements.

Incorporate these habits into your daily routine, scale them thoughtfully, and watch as they collectively transform your surfing experience and your life. Each day brings a new opportunity to be slightly better than the day before, and over time, these incremental gains will reflect in your mastery of the waves and your well-being.

As you continue to ride the waves of change, both literal and metaphorical, let the power of micro-habits guide you towards a more fulfilled, balanced, and successful surfing journey.