“I Will” – A surfer’s code for a personal mission

World champion surfer and motivational speaker Shaun Tomson inspires thousands of people every year to take their next wave by committing to 12 simple and personal statements of intent. School kids, students, corporate teams and CEOs have all experienced the power of his message – one that was developed in the highs and lows of his surfing career and personal life. During his recent #livethecode tour across South Africa he reached over 20,000 pupils with a simple message that “will is the rocket fuel that takes us from our dreams to reality.” Part of his message includes getting kids to write 12 “I will” statements and when he spoke at FNB recently he shared some of these life changing codes and the power of the individual “I Will”.

As an executive team we each wrote our 12 statements and read them back to the group, highlighting one that was most meaningful which went up on the board at the front. It was a list of remarkably simple intentions that might not always be associated with personal reflection at that level. “I will pitch up“, “I will dance life’s dance“, “I will seek simple ways“, “I will never take myself too seriously” and “I will be more present” – all 31 were put up in front of the entire division at an awards evening a few days later. Tomson cites research that nearly two thirds of workers in America are disengaged but shared social processes such as the surfer’s code can cause a ripple effect of emotional change and well being.

It can also help overcome enormous personal setbacks which he compares to his life or death choice on the famous Banzai Pipeline. After being pummeled into the reef under the water by a 15 foot high wave he literally had “17 seconds to live”. One of the most dangerous surfing pipelines in the world it has claimed more than a dozen lives, including professional and experienced surfers. Shaking the ground each time, the waves break every 17 seconds and he knew that was how much time he had before the next wave would kill him. Heavily bruised and bleeding he made it back up but his next choice was even bigger; should he give up and head for shore or paddle back out? That day formed one of the most powerful surfer code statements, “I will always paddle back out” which he has encouraged countless more to do in the breaking waves of their own lives.

Group cohesion is powerful for teams to drive organisational change at all levels; dropping a single stone causes a ripple which creates waves of transformation and positive momentum. Personal statements of intent at an individual level can unlock the power of shared accountability for the group. From his roots in Durban to world fame and impact on tens of thousands, conveying this message is Thomson’s mission, sharing his lessons from a life of surfing is his passion.

As for my 12 statements of will? The one I put up on the board was, “I will see myself through the eyes of my children”. A simple but powerful intention to surf life confidently and assertively – no matter how big the breaking waves.

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