How to Catch the Stoke at Work


A few years ago, my wife and I took our 7 year old to San Diego for vacation. The most interesting part of our trip was not LegoLand, but instead it was the surfing lesson we took. Our 19-year-old instructor got us set-up with all the gear, and as part of his introduction he asked if we had ever surfed before. My son said, “No. I’m a little scared of falling.” The instructor said in the most stereotypical surfer affect, “Hey, that’s OK. I’ll take care of you out there. We’ll have a good time. In fact, my only goal for you today is that you catch the stoke.”

“Catching the stoke,” apparently, means having a great feeling about something. The way he said it immediately removed the pressure we were putting on ourselves to do a good job surfing. All we had to do was enjoy it. As a result, we allowed ourselves to take our time, take some risks, and eventually work our way to standing on the board. It was rad.

This also translates to work. Think of your most successful customers on challenge courses. If they relax and focus on what could go right (instead of what could go wrong), they actually perform better. The same is true for you.  Here are a few ways you can catch the stoke at work:

Visualize the Positive

In his book Golf My Way, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus says changing the way you view what you do makes a big difference. For example, he suggests thinking “I’m going to hit it down the middle of the fairway” instead of “Don’t hit it into the woods.” The former causes your muscles and mind to respond to what is possible.

Eliminate the Negative

In a famous study, researchers videotaped two groups of bowlers. Then, for one team, the experimenters edited out all of the mistakes and showed the team the film of everything they had done right. For the second team, everything they had done right was edited out and experimenters used the more traditional training method of showing the team its mistakes and strategizing how to correct them. While both teams improved, the team that saw what they did right had 100 percent greater improvement than did the team that was shown its mistakes.

Check Your Language

Numerous studies of workplace meetings have shown that teams’ language can predict how well the team will perform on tasks and assignments. Teams with a higher ratio of negative talk (e.g., starting sentences with “No,” blocking ideas, discussing why things can’t or won’t work, etc.) far underperform teams that speak to each other more positively. When team members acknowledge others’ ideas, stay open to new thinking, and imagine possibilities, they outperform other teams on time to completion and work quality.

Think about the attitude you are bringing into the workplace every day. You have an opportunity to not only catch the stoke yourself, but to help others catch it as well. It’s good for you, and it’s good for business.


About Author

Paul Thallner is CEO and Founder of High Peaks Group, a U.S.-based consulting firm that helps leaders and organizations tackle the tough people challenges in order to accelerate business performance.

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