Finding Your Eddy


Kayaking down white-water rivers is a turbulent and challenging activity. For even the most resilient, experienced kayakers, this can be equally exhilarating as it is a tiring and bruising experience. The opportunity to pause and regroup becomes really important.


They do this by finding an eddy.


An eddy is a circular pool of water that forms when the strongest currents of a river flow around surface rocks or any other obstruction. The resulting body of water to the side of the main rapids is often completely calm, in stark contrast to everything that’s happening around it. Kayakers make use of this oasis of still water to take stock, to reconfigure their route and plan what they do next.


Why do we, as senior leaders and managers, often find it so difficult to pause in this way? The most common reason I hear is a lack of time. Often, it’s actually because it feels like there’s a lack of measurable, tangible output to the time spent.


If you spent an hour of your day in reflective practice, then were asked by a peer or your boss what you’ve been doing, what would you say? How would that go down? And as a manager, how would you react to somebody who told you this is how they’ve just spent their time?


But the latest research presented by the International Academy of Neuroscience and Education offers us valuable new evidence-based insight into how we learn and create new habits. At its most basic, our brain does two things – protects us from threats, and seeks reward. One of the most compelling factors to support executive function (our ability to plan and pay attention, create focus and regulate our emotions) is the importance of reward.


Research shows that time spent on reward is linked to motivation, focus and supports and reinforces the creation of new habits of behaviour. Reflective practice is one way to trigger this chemical reaction in our brains; taking time to give conscious, deliberate thought to what has gone well, recognising the measures and benefits of that success, and learning from recent experience that we can use in future.


In short, if we ignore our primal need for reward, we inhibit our ability to learn and develop.


As leaders and managers, we spend most of our time in the rapids. We’re bombarded by competing demands. We are often challenged to think about the future when faced with immediate problems to solve in the here and now. We’re also constantly available due to the nature of modern work and the technology that drives the pace at which we operate.


When we’re at our most busy, it’s even more important to press pause and reflect on what we’ve done, why we succeeded, or how we might next time.


How do you get out of the white water and find a place to way to stop, reflect and get ready to go again?