by Achim Nowak

Why Not Have A SEAHORSE Mindset?

January 14, 2024

Perhaps it’s because I just booked a trip to a Portuguese fishing village. I find myself thinking of the summers of my childhood. And seahorse moments.

Between the ages of 6 and 9, I spent every summer in a little beach town 45 minutes outside of Lisbon/Portugal. Ericeira. While mom and her friend Claire sat in the shade of the cloth cabana we rented on the beach, my brother Thomas and I would eagerly wade into the shallow water of the Atlantic and walk out to the rock formations just beyond the beach. Amid the nooks and crevices of these rocks, a secret world of underwater flora and fauna awaited us. Of all the delights and discoveries in the universe right around those rocks, nothing was more thrilling to me than the moment when I would find a seahorse.

I loved the shape of the seahorses. Their salty smell. Their slippery grace. Their mystical and primal beauty.

Finding a seahorse was a moment of sweet discovery and exquisite joy.

If you can build a muscle, you can build a mindset.”

Jay Shetty, Author of Think Like A Monk

For many of us, such moments of childlike delight seem to become rare as we grow into “responsible adults.” We get bogged down by work demands that don’t seem magical or inspiring. We feel overwhelmed because we have too much on our plate. And much of our frenzied activity is driven by the belief that our life is not enough, as is. We yearn to get promoted to the next job, move into a more spacious home, have a more thrilling life partner.

If everything is mindset, why not cultivate a seahorse mindset? I don’t suggest you run off to Ericeira or your beach of choice to invoke such moments. No, let’s find such moments in the place where we spent most of our time. At work. Every day. Right in front of us.

Because seahorses are everywhere. Here are a few primers that may help us cultivate a seahorse mindset and capture more seahorse moments.

Create some disruption.

I had a house guest visiting me, a few years back. Rachel stayed for two weeks, and she was a marvelously thoughtful guest. And yet, there were moments when I resented that she was there. Rachel was staying in the guest house which I also used as my place to lounge, read, write and do a bit of work. I didn’t do those things in the guest house while Rachel was there. And every time I looked from my kitchen counter out to the pool deck there Rachel was – lounging in a chaise, reading a book, galivanting in the pool.

I have to chuckle as I jot down these words today. The second I released those thoughts I managed to find delight in the fact that Rachel was around and in full view of me. I got to have quick spontaneous conversations with someone I liked, anytime I wanted. I received genuine joy from watching Rachel enjoy the pool. I, the committed lap swimmer, got to experience the pool he loved in an entirely new way. I caught the appreciative smiles Rachel sent my way as I worked at the kitchen counter. Yup, seahorse moments. 

Choose to linger.

Easy to say here. I notice how I fight my very own advice. Even though I am my own boss and have more wiggle room in my schedule than most, I have my to-do lists and my client calls and my Mastermind sessions. I like to dash from item to item, commitment to commitment. Action mode.

Linger means I show up with the intention to NOT rush. Notice. Linger. Notice. Linger. And linger some more. Just for a second or two. In conversation with a colleague. In observing something that’s going on right in front of me. Or in reflecting on a thought that just showed up in my brain. Uhuh. Linger with myself. Delight and discovery are much more likely to occur when I give myself permission to linger. Lingering tends to feel darn good.

Expand your vision.

Our vision tends to be narrowly focused on a task we’re performing or a specific quest we’re on. When we’re not looking for something particular, we’re likely looking out at the world and not seeing anything at all. Or at best, a blur of what’s actually there. Our preoccupation with the thoughts that float through our brain overrides any visual or auditory evidence that is right in front of us. The seahorse is there. We simply don’t see it.

I can’t engage with the seahorse if I don’t notice it. How do we enhance our likelihood of seeing the seahorse? Command-switch from IN to OUT. That means switch from preoccupation with your thoughts to the sensory evidence in front of you. And when you’re in OUT mode, think OUT far and wide. Peripheral vision. Wide lens. Truly scan the big picture. Catch the unexpected. Notice the detail. Be willing to be surprised.

Anticipate the delight.

The beauty of my beach days in Ericeira? I looked forward to wading out to the rocks every single morning in anticipation of the delights I might find. I had a seahorse mindset, based on lots of empirical evidence. I knew magical moments were waiting for me, out there by the rocks. This anticipatory joy alone invoked more delightful discoveries.

Now, there may be lots of things about work you don’t look forward to in the morning. Focusing on those will not get you closer to delight. Instead, do a little inventory of the things at work that DO give you pleasure. Pleasure may come in fleeting moments. Informal ones. The verbal banter with a certain colleague. The receptionist’s greeting. A quick meal shared with your boss. The satisfaction of solving a problem. Choose to wholeheartedly feel the delight in such moments. Anticipate the possibility of more such moments. Anticipation is magical in and of itself, isn’t it!

For many of us, summertime and warm weather give us permission to slow down. Old-school firms still honor this by having “summer hours.” I lived for a year on the island of Tobago, just North of the Equator. The weather in Tobago was steamy hot all day, year-round. Summer hours every day. Life got slower. And even though life on Tobago was way more predictable than my life in New York or Miami, there were also many more seahorse moments. Every day.

Mindset. Permission. Notice. Linger. Summer hours every day.

And linger some more.

Let it be seahorse season, 365 days a year. Mindset is a muscle. You choose.

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