Sunday, March 22, 2009

Video Blog From Devon, England - With Text

I've been back in the UK for a couple of weeks now. As subscribers to my newsletter will know (and if you're not signed up already, go to my website and enter your email address in the box bottom right) I've been involved in a hectic round of meetings - but have also taken the opportunity to catch up with a few friends on a whistle-stop tour of England.

Devon and Oxfordshire are two of my favourite counties. Devon for its gorgeous countryside and alternative vibe. Oxfordshire for the lovely honey-coloured Cotswold stone that glows in the sunshine, and for happy memories of rowing, regattas, and student days. Oh, incidentally, also some of the best pubs in the world.

We (Nicole, Program Director) and I seem to have brought the sunshine with us. Apparently it was cold and rainy until recently, but since we arrived we have enjoyed nonstop spring weather. Daffodils are yellowing hedgerows and gardens everywhere, skies have been blue, and there is a definite spring in the step of Mother Nature.

But it was late in the day when we pulled into Lyme Regis, the sun was setting, and the air was cooling rapidly - as you can tell by the pinkness of my nose.

Other stuff:

My book about my Atlantic row - and the life transformation that I went through to get there - is now available on Amazon. Click here to reserve your advance copy!

Photo: from L to R - Mick Dawson, Jan Meek, George Simpson and me at the launch party for the Golden Gate Endeavour crew, rowing double-handed from Japan to San Francisco. They launch shortly before my own departure on May 24. Good luck guys! And I hope to see you in San Francisco in September! Hopefully after hugely successful rows for all of us.

Meanwhile, the hard work continues. The green mission for 2009 continues to gather pace. Announcement is on April 27. Stay tuned!
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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ocean Rower's 5-Step Programme to Zen Acceptance

After I spoke recently at Google in Mountain View, CA, a Googler from the audience sent me an email with this thought-provoking opener: "As you can tell from my questions, I'm interested in the process of reducing stress by reaching that level of "zen acceptance," as you called it. I'm not necessarily looking for an easy way to get there -- I'm not sure there is an easy way. But it would be fascinating to find out the thought process you went through as you worked your way to zen acceptance (kind of like the 5 stages of grief?) Reading about what you went through may give people ideas of how they can create experiences for themselves (probably short of rowing across an ocean!) to work through a similar process toward the goal of zen acceptance. I really think this is an area that people can "train" themselves in, and there are so many mental and physical benefits that it's worth spending some energy on."

So I have duly spent some thought and energy on it, and although I think my answer still has some evolving to do, I'd like to post my thoughts here to stimulate some debate. Maybe you have a story to share so we can benefit from your experience? If so, please post it as a comment to this blog, so we can work on this together.

So here goes...

For me it was a combination of factors - and here I am talking about the Atlantic row in 2005-6. By the time of my 2008 row from San Francisco to Hawaii I had moved much closer to a state of zen acceptance - largely by doing things the wrong way on the Atlantic. I talk a lot more about this in the book that will come out on October 6 this year - Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean. But for now, here is a summary of what I went through on my zig-zagging journey towards some lowly level of enlightenment:

1. Several months of creating endless frustration and internal conflict caused by fighting reality ("the weather shouldn't be doing this," "my shoulders shouldn't be hurting" etc) until I realized that I could fight reality all I like, but reality wins!

2. Ditto when fighting the ocean. In the early stages I thought the ocean was being deliberately malicious towards me. I took it personally. Then I realized the ocean was just doing what oceans do. It wasn't trying to teach me a lesson - it was just obeying the laws of physics. The ocean was doing its thing, and I had to do mine, i.e. just carry on rowing!

3. Demise of satellite phone - when my access to weather forecasts was cut off for the last 24 days of the Atlantic row, it ended the seesaw between two extremes:
a) good forecast --> expectations of good progress --> disappointment and more frustration;
b) bad forecast --> fear and anxiety --> forecast usually wrong anyway so fear and anxiety a needless waste of emotional energy.
It forced me to live in the present moment, and accept things exactly as they were.

4. Recognition of the perfection in everything. This created an attitude of positive thinking that became self-fulfilling - the clouds had a silver lining, because I had decided that they would! So I sought the positive in everything. e.g. when my satphone broke, I realized that this was my perfect opportunity to truly test my self-sufficiency.

5. The "Retrospective Perspective" - putting the present experience in the larger context of my life, and knowing that it would all be worthwhile in the end. It really helped when I learned to project myself into the future, and know that even the worst adversity would one day make a great story to tell my friends in the pub. (Hmm, not sure pubs are very zen. Enlightenment/sobriety evidently still a long way off!)

So if I was going to try and break this down into something analogous to the "5 stages of grief" that you mention, they might be:

1. Indignation that "it shouldn't be this way!"
2. Frustration and anger as fight against reality escalates
3. Crisis and catharsis (yell therapy is good for this - and in the middle of the ocean, nobody can hear you scream...)
4. Grudging acceptance
5. Recognition that there is something positive to be found in every situation, and that the greater the suffering, the greater the learning. To grow you have to get outside your comfort zone, and getting outside your comfort zone is (duh!) UNCOMFORTABLE!

And that invaluable sixth stage.... telling the story over a pint of beer afterwards - which we can call celebrating one's achievements, and saying, "Well, hey, haven't I come a long way."

Ocean rowing was my crash course in personal development. But how to replicate this in a non-rowing environment? To be honest, I don't know. This is where I need you to help. What have you experienced that has pushed you to what you thought was your limit - only for you to continue beyond your limit and experience some kind of enlightened acceptance?

Over to you!

[Photo: on the ocean, no one can hear you scream....]

Other stuff:

As those of you who have been following my Twitter feed will know, I am now in London for a couple of weeks of meetings and PR. At last Nicole and I have some breathing space to regroup and consolidate. The clock is ticking, and much remains to be done, especially around the launch of this year's green initiative.

Meanwhile, packages have been arriving in Hawaii - tea tree oil, wet wipes, a newly-serviced Winslow life raft, Aquapacs. Work continues on my boat, in readiness for my launch on May 24.

Ocean Rowing Update

For ocean rowing afficionados, there are two rows currently in progress you may like to follow. I am especially proud to link to Sarah Outen, who I have been informally mentoring for the last couple of years, and who launched her attempt on the Indian Ocean a few days ago. She is a fantastic writer/blogger as well as a mature and impressive young woman, so please check out her blog and join me in wishing her well.

And Oliver Hicks continues to battle his way through the Southern Ocean. Good luck Olly!

Are you Stupid or Not Stupid?

I'd like to make special mention of an important film I went to see last night at its premier in London. The Age of Stupid has been tagged the natural successor to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour - moving the emphasis from information to action. Powerful, informative, potentially life-changing. Recommended. More than recommended. Positively encouraged, urged, compelled. Please go! (Have I made my point?!)

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

RozCast Video from Lake Havasu, Arizona

For a change of pace, today's blog is a vlog - a video recorded yesterday here in Arizona. This is approximately the format I hope to use for weekly RozCasts while I am out on the ocean on Stage 2 of my trans-Pacific row, so this is a bit of a pilot episode. I'd really welcome some feedback so please feel free to add comments to this blog to let me know what you think.

You might notice that I have also geotagged the video. We are investigating ways to geotag all my online updates - blogs, podcasts, Tweets and videos - so that you (and my Mum!) can keep track of me.

Speaking of Mum, please join me in wishing her all the very best for her hip replacement operation this weekend. Good luck, Mum, and I'm wishing you the speediest of all speedy recoveries!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dream Obituary

One of the things that gives my mother the biggest kick, and enables her to forgive my rather unusual career choice, is when we receive messages from people who have been inspired to review and reflect upon their lives when they heard about my own change of direction. One such is Andre Branco from Brazil, who asked me how I did the obituary exercise that first brought it home to me that my life was heading in the wrong direction. (I briefly describe this in the intro video on my home page at

As I recall, my answer was rather vague, along the lines that I just sat down and did it. Andre has taken this to a higher level, and I'd like to share with you what he wrote to me a week or so ago - in case you're thinking of doing your own life audit.

Warning: this process can seriously change your life!

Over to Andre....


For the last three months, I deliberately squeezed myself between two pressures: the shame of replying your last Facebook message with anything different than what I'm about to say below; and the shame of taking too long to reply.

The first nudge prompted me not to reply until I acted; the second prompted me to reply. So I had no choice but to act.

It worked wonderfully: I've "finished" my Dream Obituary.
(I quote the "finished", since I believe it will always be a work-in-progress document; a wonderful and very well-thought 80/20 nevertheless.)

In a Nutshell:

I want to tell you how grateful I am for the insights you shared with me! Knowing how much you achieved after it gave me the will I needed to take the whole process serious. And now I have a solid photograph of who I want to become in my life, plus actions to take now to start bridging the gap. Nothing could be more important. =)

If you happen to be curious about the details of my experience, here it goes.

The Process:

  • Printed the last message you sent me, describing how your process was, and took it with me to Buenos Aires. (I spent 10 days there on my own, between tango and cycling.)
  • In the 1st Jan, I sat down in a quiet, nice cafe (see photos). I ordered some nice yerba mate to sip and stay focused. I re-read your message, meditated on how far you've gone by starting with this process, and dove into the blank paper.
  • Some four hours later, I had a quite exhaustive-but-to-the-point four-page manuscript before me.
  • Although an obituary is something read in third in person, I deliberately and consciously chose to write in first person to highlight to myself that the evaluation might be my point-of-view, not the impression of others. (If people happen to misinterpret my life and intentions in my obituary, that's less of a problem, isn't it?)
  • Two weeks later, I typed the draft, corrected some phrasing and regrouped the assertions in five different sections for the sake of clarity and easiness to remember.
  • Just today, after weeks of procrastination, I addressed every single bullet in there with two replies: STATUS and NEXT ACTION. I hadn't so far thought about the gap between who I want to become and who I am, and the exercise gave me the chance to reflect on this gap and on how to bridge it starting today! The good thing: in some topics, I was either quite done or at least already very on track.
  • Finally, I chose the frequency the document was going to be checked and reviewed, and calendarized it.
  • Although the big picture is in my head all the time, I chose to address (focus on, think about, pay more attention to) one specific topic a week, so I don't get overwhelmed and am sure to take baby steps, one at a time
  • ....and that's it. Now, lots of work ahead.
—AndrĂ© Branco
Rio de Janeiro
(right now kinda shielded from the way-too-noisy Carnival going on out there)

I hope you'll find Andre's process helpful - and thanks to Andre for allowing me to share.

Other Stuff:

Phew. This has been a heck of a week. About 20 meetings, plus various scheduled phone calls. Lots of really cool stuff happening that I would love to share with you, but it may be a little premature. So for now I'll post a couple of photos and leave the rest to your imagination.

But be assured, it's ALL good!

Presentation at Google - followed up with a meeting with Google Ocean folks.

Poring over charts with Captain Vince of the White Holly - the research vessel that helped me salvage the Brocade in 2007 after the aborted attempt on the Pacific. Hmm, where to land between Hawaii and Australia? So many options!

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