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Episode #11: What is the power of choice?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Choosing a greener future – one stroke at a time

Roz Savage, MBE, is a British ocean rower, environmental campaigner, and keynote speaker.  She holds four world records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian.

A latecomer to the life of adventure, Roz worked as a management consultant in London for 11 years. Since embarking on her first ocean in 2005, she has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5 million oarstrokes, and spent cumulatively over 500 days of her life at sea in a 23-foot rowboat.

Turtle Talks host Monica Laurence sits down with Roz as she chronicles the hilarious and sometimes hair-raising adventures at sea as she braved 20-foot waves, was capsized 3 times in 24 hours, and faced death by dehydration when both her watermakers broke. The ocean has forced her to develop courage, tenacity, perseverance, and the strength to transcend self-imposed limits. Today, Roz uses her ocean rowing adventures to inspire action on the top environmental challenges facing the world today.

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Monica: I’m here with Roz Savage, ocean rower, environmental campaigner, author, speaker and life coach. Roz holds four world records for ocean rowing including first woman to row solo across three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5 million oar strokes, and spent cumulatively over 500 days of her life alone at sea in a 23 foot rowboat. A former management consultant and latecomer to a life of adventure, Roz knows a thing or two about the power of choice. Roz, welcome to Turtle Talks.

Roz: Oh, such a pleasure to be here with you Monica.

Monica: So Roz how is it that you came to be the first woman to row solo across three oceans?

Roz: Well it could certainly have been a very, very different outcome. If you’d had met me when I was a schoolgirl I was not at all sporty nor adventurous. Certainly not a tomboy. I was happy with my nose stuck in a book. And having my nose stuck in a book got me through exams, which got me into a good university and to a law degree and into an office job as a management consultant. And life could very easily have carried on like that almost indefinitely until I reach my mid-30’s or kind of more early 30’s and realized I was fundamentally unhappy which was a bit of a surprise to me because I had a good job, I had a nice house, had a good relationship and it seemed like everything should be perfect with this picture. But that’s not how it felt from the inside and it was that profound unhappiness that was the first clue that something was not right. And so that led me to try and figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life and what actually would make me happy. And the first choice I made seemed fairly innocuous at the time. It was a choice to do an exercise out of a personal development book, which suggested that if you want to get really clear about what matters to you in life you should try writing two versions of your own obituary. The one that you want and the one that you’re heading for if you carry on as you are.

It sounded very innocent on the face of it but that one exercise pretty much rocked my world. I realized that what I wanted was to be living courageously. Whereas what I was actually doing was really just existing and being very constrained by a whole raft of self-limiting beliefs and fears. And so I saw this huge gulf open up between where I wanted to be and where I actually was and really had very little idea how to bridge that gulf. But it’s funny that once I’d seen that alternative potential reality, even though I had no way of knowing how to make it come true, just little by little I started to make different decisions, different choices on a day by day basis.

Monica: Roz, do you recall what some of those self-limiting beliefs or fears were?

Roz: Definitely way up on the list was fear of failure. When you’ve been good at jumping through other people’s hoops at school and in your early career your life becomes all about, or my life became all about jumping through hoops. You start thinking why am I even jumping through these hoops? These aren’t my hoops. So yeah, fear of failure was a big one and in fact I needed to go through a lot of failures, a “failed career,” a “failed marriage,” to realize that most failures don’t kill you and in fact they really open up a lot of possibilities once you let go of that fear.

Another self-limiting belief was around what success was supposed to look like. I’d come from a family with not very much money as a teenager. I went to southern California and was really blown away by the standard of living over there and thought, “This is what I want. This is what’s going to make me happy.” And I’m not denying that, you know, money can make you happy, but also it took a few bitter experiences for me to later realize that you can have money and not be happy. You can also, within limits, have less money and be really happy. It all really depends on what’s important to you. And I realized that for me having a sense of fulfillment and contribution and freedom and adventure, not even necessarily literal ocean-rowing kind of adventure, but just that adventurousness in life, meant a lot more to me than a few zero’s here or there in the bank account.

Monica: Freedom is a really interesting concept.

Roz: Yeah.

Monica: I don’t know that we give it enough thought actually how the choices we’re making everyday result in our freedom or our lack of freedom.

Roz: I think of one of the most important freedoms that I’ve discovered is the freedom to be me. For a long time I really had no idea who I was. I was very governed by must and should and ought. My parents were absolutely lovely and certainly gave me a very secure upbringing but they were both very, I think, duty-driven. They were both Methodist preachers and there was sort of that moral aspect to my upbringing that I can remember when I was trying to figure out in my 30’s what was going on. I remember one of my best friends asking me repeatedly, “What do you want?” And me just being completely flummoxed by this question because I had just never thought in those terms of what do I actually want? What brings me joy? What makes me happy? I’m not saying that I didn’t have joy and happiness growing up but it just wasn’t a priority. And so that freedom to allow myself to be me and to enjoy some things and to not enjoy other things and being able to move away from the things that I didn’t enjoy. That was huge.

Monica: When you wrote that obituary Roz…

Roz: Yeah.

Monica: How did you then come to the answers to those questions as to what you really wanted? So often that is the difficult aspect when you’ve been duty bound and jumping through the hoops that other people have set for you.

Roz: I thought about the obituaries that I really enjoyed reading in the newspaper so in effect I was thinking about who do I admire? What kind of role model do I want to emulate? And they were those colorful characters who would just get out there and really embrace life and kind of really live, I don’t say fearlessly, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to be held back by convention or conformity. They seemed to have such vivid, colorful lives compared with what felt like a very gray life to me at that time. So that was definitely a central theme when I was doing the obituary exercise. Oh, the other number one rule is that you have to in no way be constrained by reality. I had to really not think about where am I now. I really had to leap forward to the age of 80 or whatever age I may be when I’m sitting there in my rocking chair and looking back. And to just think about what would make me really proud of the way that I lived my life. But to think for a millisecond about, “Oh but what’s realistic?” And, “How can I get from where I am now to where I want to be?” That’s death to the whole exercise. It’s got to be just completely wild blue sky thinking. And I can absolutely vouch for the fact that once you get a glimpse of that authentic version you can’t then not know it anymore.

When I wrote that fancy obituary, it felt so real to me that at the end of it I kind of sat back and thought, “Wow, what an amazing life I’ve had.” And I had to remind myself that it wasn’t actually the real one. But it had felt like I got a glimpse of a parallel universe where I was living this thriving life. And I think once you’ve got that “what” figured out, like “what do I want my life to look like?” The “how am I going to get there” in a weird way starts taking care of itself on a subconscious or a spiritual level. However you want to frame it according to your worldview. But once you’ve seen that reality it becomes almost like an irresistible force, or that’s the way that it transpired in my life anyway.

Monica: That’s really inspiring Roz. How is it that you chose rowing as your path? So now you have this vision of where you’re going to go.

Roz: Yeah.

Monica: And you hadn’t really looked at the how you were going to get there but you actually feel in your bones the fact that you have lived this life. So how did you go about determining the how?

Roz: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about courage, which was in many ways the missing ingredient back in my old life. In order to find our courage I think what we need to do is to find something that just really motivates us so enormously, so massively that we just have to do something differently. And for me that thing was having my environmental awakening. I’d traveled to Peru as one of my first forays into this new life and there started to understand the view of the indigenous people in Peru – that human beings really need to respect the Earth and work in harmony with the Earth that it has to be this give and take relationship. Not the, what seems to be more like a take, take, take in the western paradigm. And so when I got back from my travels I started looking into environmental issues some more and became really passionately concerned about what’s going on.

I think we’ve come a long way in the 12 years since I was having this awakening but certainly back then I was just horrified by how much the world had changed even in my lifetime. Which back then was like 35 years, and in that time the human population had doubled while the amount of whole forest in the Earth had halved. I found out we’re taking 90 million tons of fish out of the ocean every year and we’re putting 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean and these and many, many other facts just added up to a really scary picture. And so with all the zeal of the convert, I thought I have to do something about this. And I don’t care if it’s even utterly insignificant, I just can’t stand by and watch the world go to hell in a handcart without doing something about it. But obviously being a recovering management consultant wasn’t a very compelling platform. So I needed to find some way to get people’s attention, I suppose, so that I could hit them with my message.

It was around this time that I happened to meet a guy who had rowed across the Atlantic with his mother of all people. I’d been interested in adventure but thought you had to be a big hairy guy with a big bushy beard to go and have an adventure, but to find out that someone’s mom had done this, and I had rowed at Oxford, and so I thought well that’s sort of unusual and that would be a good way to get people’s attention. Oh and there’s this new thing called blogging, and then shortly after that Twitter and Facebook came along. And it’s so cool I can actually post messages from the middle of the ocean and use those as my platform to talk to people about our environmental challenges. And so I know it sounds a bit random, in fact it was in a way even more random than I’m portraying it, because it’s not like I sat down with my spreadsheet of criteria for what my next job should be. It was like I was asking myself this really big question about okay, I’m learning some new life skills, I’ve got his environmental mission, I’m coming out of a marriage so I’m quite keen to find out how self-reliant I can be.

All these ideas I’d pictured a bit like they went into a melting pot or a cauldron of my subconscious, and then one day I was honestly not thinking about anything in particular. I was driving and just this answer popped into my head and to this day I can’t tell you whether it was from my subconscious or from some higher power or where it came from but it just seemed absolutely perfect. It just ticked all the boxes. My first thought was, “That’s it.” My second thought was, “That’s impossible.” And so I tried to talk myself out of it but just with every passing day found more and more reasons why it really was the answer to this big question I’d been asking. And along with that realized that if I didn’t do it, I’d really be betraying all of this hard work that I’d done on myself. All of these things that I had given up in order to become free and clear to really pursue my path. It reached a point where there was just no way that I was going to not do it. I had to at least try or else spend the rest of my life just severely disappointed with myself. So I committed to it and discovered my courage to do things that I had never done before, not even close. And signed up to do my first ocean, the first of many.

Monica: So that’s where you started? You started by tackling an ocean? Did you maybe start with a training program or…?

Roz: Oh I had, there were so many different aspects to it. There was the training program but I also had to acquire a boat, which meant I had to raise money. I then had to figure out how to fit out the boat so that I could be completely self-reliant for months at a time on the ocean. At that point there were about 200 people in the world who had rowed across an ocean, not very many of them solo. But regardless I just tracked down as many of these people as I could and just interrogated them relentlessly about how to prepare for this physically, psychologically, technically. What courses I needed to go on, what books I needed to read. And just started to compile this enormous to-do list and then start working my way through it. I think there’s actually a huge amount to be said for having enough naive optimism to get yourself into something really big and hairy and audacious and then too much stubbornness to give up on it once you’ve embarked on that journey either. Even the land-based part had its own challenges, and it only got tougher once I was on the water. It was that sense of absolute calling and commitment that helped me to keep going even when the way ahead looked extremely hazy and I’m sort of blundering forward with my arms outstretched in front of me and just trusting that the universe would continue to take care of me.

Monica: Was there any point in time that your faith in the universe taking care of you may have wavered?

Roz: Oh yes. Well during the preparation there were a few financial wobbles but I think it really came home to me what I’d let myself in for that first night out on the ocean. I’d had trouble during the day when the water maker wouldn’t work the first time I started it up. I did manage to get it working but for a few moments there I thought it was going to be the shortest ocean row in history. Then around sunset I’m being horribly seasick and just wishing that I was anywhere else. And then that first night alone in my little boat on a dark, dark ocean just being thrown around by the waves and just really feeling very small and very scared and wondering what the hell was I thinking. So that’s where the stubbornness comes in really useful.

Monica: Did you meet a new version of yourself when you were at that moment at sea? When you found yourself in the reality of being tossed about in your boat at night?

Roz: Yes, I did. In fact that whole first voyage, which was three and a half months mostly utterly miserable, was an enormous character building experience. And in all honesty pretty much every day I felt like I was failing. I felt like I was failing because my carefully chosen equipment was breaking. All four oars broke before I got halfway across. I got injured even though I had trained like a maniac in the run up to it – up to 16 hours in a day on the rowing machine specifically so I wouldn’t get a sports injury. But I think the biggest challenge for me was the psychological one. I’d gone out there really believing that this was something that I was called to do and very naively believed that meant it was going to be easy. I guess this is the thing about a life path, whether you call it the spiritual path or however you want to term it. Just because it’s important, even almost vital, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, very far from it. But in fact it was exactly all of those trials and tribulations that strengthened me.

There were times when I thought I was going to drive myself crazy when I felt I just hit my absolute limits of pain, of boredom, of frustration because I was going so slowly. And I just had to find ways to handle that. To reframe it. To find a different perspective. Whether that was flipping a situation around – actually trying to embrace the discomfort because it became the evidence that I was most definitely outside of my comfort zone when I was that uncomfortable. Or in a kind of more almost meditative sense, to step outside of myself to try and observe myself and my suffering rather than being caught up in my own emotional drama. And there were times that I would actually talk out loud to myself or in a third person say, “Aww, poor little Roz, she’s having a real pity party today.” To kind of yeah, almost tease myself for being so pathetic. To separate myself from that in a dialogue that was taking me into very dark and difficult places. And so towards the end of that voyage, really only in the last three days did I start to dare to believe that I was going to make it across. And to really respect that person that I had become through all of those trials and tribulations.

Monica: I think this point you’re making is a really critical one – which is when we have a calling, it does feel transcendent and it does feel that as a result it should be easy. And then when it’s not, then I find that it’s easy to question if you’re truly on the right track, rather than persevere through that path.

Roz: I was really indignant. Because at times the ocean really seemed to have it in for me. I mean not just breaking my oars and my cook stove and my stereo and all of these other things, but just like mean little things. Like I’m just about to eat my dinner when a wave would just come along just like plop like right into my dinner and I’m like, “Damn you!” It felt quite personal. And I had to create some different stories for myself about what was really going on here. Because I really was in a very spiritual frame of mind when I went out on to the ocean. I thought that I would just magically, you know, the winds would just whaft me over to the far shore and it was all going to be this wonderful kind of meditative… I think I’d been reading too much Henry David Thoreau, so I thought it was going to be like my watery Walden. And it was a very rude shock to the system. It felt like a real slap in the face, when it was so much harder than I had expected. I don’t think I even got to this point of wisdom on the ocean.

But in retrospect, I learned exactly what I needed to learn on that voyage and I wouldn’t have discovered my courage, I wouldn’t have discovered my resilience or my resourcefulness or all of these other strong qualities if I hadn’t have had such a crappy time out there. If everything had been easy I wouldn’t have become who I am.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about grit, and there are kind of three different meanings to this that I really like. One is I had to grit my teeth and get through it because it sucked. The second one is that grit and perseverance and tenacity that I needed to keep me going. But then the third one is that that piece of grit that gets into an oyster shell and to stop that piece of grit being so irritating the oyster coats it with this beautiful pearly substance that creates this thing of great beauty. And that’s what I needed was to have all of those things that deeply, deeply irritated me at the time and to try and make them into something beautiful.

And so yes, just because you’re on this spiritual path and I still debate this with myself, like if something’s feeling hard, if I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall, is that meant to be a sign that that’s not meant to be and there’s something else that I ought to be trying instead? Or am I being tested in some way? And I think sometimes it’s one and sometimes it’s the other and I’m still not an expert in telling the difference. I suppose for me personally what I’ve concluded from that is that if you’ve got something that’s really big and important to you, you’ll know whether this is something you’re willing to give up on or not. And for me it wasn’t just my desire to get myself on track for that fantasy obituary, it was about the environmental mission as well and there were multiple other reasons why I wasn’t going to give up on that and to do whatever it took. I think you just know there’s some sort of intuitive sense about whether life is really telling you, “No, you shouldn’t be doing this thing,” or whether it actually is that hero’s journey. I’m not calling myself a hero here, I’m just talking about that sort of classic Campbell version of the hero’s journey. He has to be tested. He has to go through the hardships in order to eventually triumph and for that triumph to be meaningful. So I think in our hearts we know which of those situations we’re facing. Does that resonate with you?

Monica: It does. It’s sometimes very challenging to know the difference between a road block that is a sign or a difficulty that is worth surmounting in order to continue to be dedicated to that vision.

Roz: Yes. Although definitely there are times when you need to call it quits. Like I had a failed attempt on the Pacific and I think especially in the world of adventure, the history books have plenty of examples of people who maybe were a bit too determined to make something happen. Who knows, maybe that was their path to die on Mount Everest or whatever. But I think it was always my belief that certainly for now I’m more useful alive than dead. And so at times I’ve had to make some difficult decisions in order to stay safe. In whatever our challenge is there can come a time when you need to say, “You know what? This just isn’t the sensible thing to do.”

Monica: So for you Roz, that greater calling is environmental integrity, honoring our planet. What are some of the steps that you’ve taken to unite your extreme rowing with this environmental movement?

Roz: Well that is a really interesting question because there are specific issues that I have campaigned on, like plastic pollution in the oceans. Also on my travels across the Pacific seeing the people on the small Pacific Islands who are going to be first impacted by climate change with rising oceans and more extreme weather, and that’s made me passionate on that subject too. But, ultimately, what I was trying to do was to raise consciousness in whatever form that might take. I think there are many different ways to the top of this mountain. For me my environmental passion was what woke me up, but for other people it might be their spiritual journey. It might be their personal development. There are many different things that can inspire us to be our best selves. And I’ve realized relatively recently that the thing that I am most passionate about is for people to be living consciously in order for us to maximize human evolution, both individually and collectively because I believe that the two are linked. That everything we do on our own personal journey to evolve ourselves – that rising tide lifts all boats. So it’s not just something that we do selfishly, but it’s actually a contribution to our fellow humans to do our important inner work.

And I’ve realized that the things that really bug me in the world today are the things that get in the way of that evolution of consciousness. So, if we don’t get our sustainability sorted out to the extent that the human race becomes either extinct, or our existence on this planet becomes so difficult that we slide down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, rather than rising up it. That’s not going to be good for us as a whole. Likewise, people who seem to kind of sleep walk through life if they’re too distracted by materialism or by working too hard. This inner work is so important.

We all have something to contribute to that collective evolution. And that’s what really, really floats my boat. So I can understand that maybe the environment is not going to be something that everyone gets excited about. But I think we all care about something be that about education, or care for the elderly or about social justice or about equality. I think if we look hard we all have something that we really care about that can inspire us to be our higher more courageous selves. So I would suppose if I have a call to action that’s it, is for everybody to find that thing that they really care about. That will unleash all of that untapped potential that’s inside of all of us.

Monica: It’s so interesting how we create busy-ness in our lives as a way of distracting ourselves from having to face the question of that calling.

Roz: I’ve certainly been there and still am quite often there. I was very affected by reading the, I know it’s such a classic book now but it’s still so valid, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And that need to differentiate between the urgent and the important. And it’s so easy to get caught up in that urgent. Especially when it’s someone else’s urgent. From my old life I know weeks and months and years could go past without me actually doing anything that was really important because I was so caught up in the urgent.

And so I really make such a conscious effort now to take some time out on a regular, at least a weekly basis, to hang out in a coffee shop with my journal and just write a number of pages just to let the thoughts flow and get some perspective on where am I going, and is that actually where I want to be going. I find that time with my journal gives me such greater clarity that I often realize that some of the things I’ve been running around doing I’m actually just chasing my own tail and not actually things that are taking me any closer to anywhere that I want to be. So it actually saves me time in the longer run because I just get clear about a lot of things that I want to be doing and need to be doing to get me closer to my goal right now.

Monica: In this episode of Turtle Talks we talk about the power of choice. That particular question is framed in the context of choices around how we consume energy, but I’d like to take that a little more broadly in perspective because I think as you’re describing your practice of writing in your journal that even that in and of itself is a choice. It’s a choice to cut through the busy-ness. It’s a conscious decision to redirect your attention, and I’m wondering for you what is the power of choice in one’s life?

Roz: Oh wow, I could write a whole book on this really. It is so crucial, I love that Annie Dillard quote about how we spend our days is ultimately how we spend our lives. And I think we sometimes overlook how important these tiny little choices are. Because with every choice that we make we’re telling ourselves something about who we are. There’s a phrase from “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsh where he says, “Every tiny thing that we say, think or do says something to the world about who we are.” And when I first read that I was like, “Whoa. That’s pretty heavy.” It was almost terrifying but at the same time it had that ring of truth about it and that’s a pretty high level of accountability that I can’t live up to that on a daily basis, but I do try to be careful about what I think and those choices that I make about what to think. I suppose this is really what mindfulness is about is having that slight degree of detachment from our thoughts so that over time we can train ourselves to think the thoughts that will serve us well. Like the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and about what we can do and what we can’t do. And it can be quite terrifying when you listen to that inner chatter.

I mean that’s what brains do as I came very well aware when I spent three and a half months alone on the ocean with a broken stereo, with really nothing but my own thoughts. So I feel qualified to speak on this subject. I’m fascinated by the idea of neuroplasticity that the thoughts that we have actually do rewire our brain. The first time we think a thought it creates like this little weak connection in our brains. But if we like that thought or if for some reason we get stuck in the rut of that thought and over time that particular thought, that story about ourselves becomes more and more wired into the very structure of our brain cells so that the thought starts coming to us very automatically and very easily and very frequently. And we can probably all think of some beliefs that we hold about ourselves that actually we could really…we’d quite like to reprogram. And so really even on that very microscopic, moment-by-moment level, and this is just in our heads. This is before anything even comes out of our mouths or anything that we do with our bodies. Even those thoughts are very much creating our reality.

And ultimately we may feel that our subconscious is producing those thoughts and it can be hard work to change them. But if we’re not enjoying the results that we’re getting from our thought patterns, if we want something to change in our lives, then we need to look to those thoughts and to start thinking some different ones and to ingrain those new more positive stories into our brains. It’s a lifetime’s work. But once you start becoming really conscious of that, I’ve found you do really start noticing results. That the world does to varying degrees start to reflect back to us those thoughts that we’re thinking.

Monica: The first step in that path is becoming aware of the thoughts themselves. Sometimes it’s so unconscious the stories we tell ourselves, the thoughts we have in our mind. We don’t even recognize them for what they are and in many cases they are quite destructive.

Roz: So true. And there is a meditation practice where when thoughts come and go you practice seeing them as little clouds drifting across the blue sky of your mind so or another image that I liked was there’s like a conveyor belt, you know like a baggage carousel or something like that and your thoughts are those pieces of baggage trundling around. And you don’t have to choose them all, you know? You can say, “Oh, that thought is going to be a good one. I’m going to pick that one.” Or, “This one’s going to be useful right now. But that one, no, I can manage without that one. I’ve thought that thought before and it didn’t go very well so I’m just going to let that one keep moving.”

Monica: I love that you’re applying the concept of choice even to the thoughts that are drifting through your consciousness and deciding which ones of those to embrace and which ones to simply let them slide by.

Roz: Well I really had to learn this because when I was alone without a stereo, without any distraction at all for 24/7 I did find that my mind went into some dark and rather negative places and I needed to find a way to stop myself going down that spiral. I think those thoughts will always pop up unbidden unless you’re a complete bidder. Certainly for me your subconscious can throw out some very weird stuff and it can drive you a bit crazy if you just pick up everything that it throws out. And so I needed to find ways to pause for a moment when I felt myself starting to go down that psychological spiral. And take a few moments, if I couldn’t think something nice just try not to think anything at all and just sort of go, “Whoa! Subconscious, let’s just hold it there for a moment because I don’t like where this is going.” And just try to inject a voice of sanity in there. And yes, if that required me to speak out loud to myself at least that got me out of that lonely place in my head.

Monica: One of the techniques that was shared with me is to write down a mantra or an affirmation that is the precise statement of what you want the empowering thought to be. Then to literally read that out loud to yourself before you go to sleep. So that while you’re sleeping you have an opportunity to start to incorporate that new thinking, in a very powerful way. And I was told to do this, the same affirmation, every night for a week going until you just had reprogramed that thought. Is that a technique that you have found might work for you or are there other methods that you use?

Roz: Absolutely. I love that because I do think that frame of mind that you’re in as you fall asleep that’s kind of what your mind is going to be marinating in for the next however many hours you’re asleep for. And so I try to be very gentle with myself as I’m going to sleep and as I’m waking up because that’s when you’re sort of tender, you know, when you’re in that semi-conscious state. So to go to sleep with positive thoughts is such a powerful thing to do. I have found that if I say something to myself that’s maybe too opposite to my existing belief that as soon as I say it then my subconscious goes, “Yeah right.” You know it just kind of throws it out because it’s going, “You know that’s not true. Who are we kidding?”

And so sometimes I found that I need a more neutral statement as a stepping stone onto the very positive statements. I’m trying to think of an example. You know if someone’s really concerned that they weigh far too much and they’re going, “I am slim and beautiful.” They might struggle a little bit to uphold that as truth depending on their particular psyche. And you know I’ve struggled with my weight and I know that if I was telling myself I’m slim and beautiful my subconscious would just be going, “Yeah…” So even if I had said something like, “I have a strong body, and I respect and love my body.” You know, something like that. Something that the subconscious might go, “Well, yeah okay. I can go with that,” as a stepping stone onto the more positive one.

Roz: The things that we choose to tell ourselves and that concept of choice I just love it that that’s your theme because we can choose what to think and what not to think. And yes it is hard work, and yes it an iterative and ongoing process but it is absolutely central to our future, not just happiness but also health and prosperity and everything else.

Monica: Given that this particular series of Turtle Talks is about clean energy I’m wondering have you given thought to what life would look like if we didn’t use oil? Which of course would be a choice. What would a new paradigm be that would be completely renewable energy as our source of power?

Roz: I don’t claim to be an energy engineer or to have the magic new form of energy that is going to render oil obsolete, but we definitely do need to find a replacement for it. And I do think that the world could be so much better. At the moment we tend to look at the how. We look at the challenges of getting from here to energy nirvana rather than looking at what the energy nirvana would be and getting really excited about it and just going, you know, like Kennedy and the space program we are just going to make this happen. When you look at how the supplies of fossil fuels are diminishing, it’s very obvious that we’re going to have to make the transition sooner or later. And given the not very good side effects of fossil fuels it would seem to make perfect sense for the intelligent species to decide to make the transition sooner.

Personally I do believe in radical transformation on many levels and so I think change can happen a lot more rapidly. It’s unfortunately one of the stories that we collectively tell ourselves is that change takes time and it’s going to be a slow process and it has to be incremental. Rather than, “Oh dammit, let’s just crack on and let’s make things different.” So I don’t really want to get into the how do we change over, but a lot of the places that I go to in the world it’s becoming increasingly clear that private car ownership is one of our biggest uses of oil. Private car ownership is increasingly unfeasible.

Certainly in London they’ve worked out that during the era of the horse and cart the average speed was eight miles an hour and now with the car it’s eight and a half miles an hour. When you’re stuck in gridlock all the time we definitely need to be doing something different. And for private car ownership to become a thing of the past it would be sort of like Uber for everybody that when you want to go somewhere you call up for a car and it shows up and it takes you to exactly where you want to go with as much stuff as you have to carry. There are just really radical ways that we need to rethink things.

Monica: Well the sharing economy is certainly radical. It has the potential to truly shift how we live and better share resources rather than having this model that we own everything ourselves as our way of existence.

Roz: There’s nothing like rowing across a few oceans to make you appreciate simplicity. I had a very simple life onboard the boats, and I think a lot of the overconsumption that we see is grounded in fear – fear of not keeping up with the neighbors and fear of what people will think. Fear of not being socially accepted and we’re kind of hard wired to have some of these fears. It’s important to be accepted by our tribe for our survival. But some of these fears are becoming quite outdated now and it’s time that we … again it’s coming back to that theme of rethinking our stories and really interrogating which ones are serving us and which ones are not. And looking at the really long-term perspective on that.

Monica: Roz what dreams do you still have in you?

Roz: So many. I do dream of a world where people know how to be happy and they know that it’s not from having all the toys. It’s from human connection, it’s from fulfillment, it’s from contribution, it’s from altruism and it’s from pursuing a path and wanting to make the world a better place on every level. And I really feel like if we could get that we could radically reduce our consumption and hence our waste and have much happier people at the same time. It’s not an either or, we can absolutely have both of those things. And I realize that may sound very idealistic to some but I make absolutely no apology for that. I’m a real believer in the power of having a positive vision for the future and then aligning with that. Making those choices on a daily basis and accumulating those choices that 7.3 billion people are making moment after moment, day after day, year after year. If we could get those individual choices on track for a happier, less materialistic future, human beings could be so awesome. I mean we already are, but we sometimes sabotage ourselves and we have so much potential. So much creativity, so much imagination and I just dream of a world where everybody has found those resources within themselves and are bringing those resources into the service of the greater good.

Monica: Reflecting back on those two versions of your obituary that you wrote, which was such a powerful exercise in completely re-navigating your path – if you were to sit down today, and you were to do that exercise again, what do you think you might write? What would be your legacy?

Roz: Great question. You know in a way I actually am going through that exercise right now and I’m kind of waiting for the universe to give me the answer. Because I feel like in my journey so far, my life journey and my literal journeys, I’ve learned an awful lot about how to take on big, scary, unpleasant things that maybe other people don’t want to do. And I’m really willing to use that and in fact, I’m desperate to use it. I have to believe that all of this work that I’ve put in is going to go on to bear more fruit and so I see the ocean rowing voyages as really the stepping-stones to something and I’m trying to figure out what that something is.

And I know the answer is going to come from inside of me and I know it’s probably not going to be what I thought it was going to be. But as yet I don’t know what it is so I’m just doing the work. I’m making the daily choices to meditate and to spend time with my journal and to read thought provoking books and to have thought provoking conversations with people. Present conversation very much included. And waiting to see where that’s going to lead me and trying not to get too frustrated with the process. Trying just to be patient with it and waiting to see what emerges in the faith that that is going to be the perfect answer. So watch this space.

Monica: Roz, what an incredible pleasure to speak with you today. Thank you so very much for joining us on Turtle Talks.

Roz: The pleasure’s all mine. Thank you so much Monica.

About Roz Savage: Roz Savage MBE is an ocean rower, environmental campaigner, author, speaker and life coach. She holds four world records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row solo across three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5 million oarstrokes, and spent cumulatively over 500 days of her life alone at sea in a 23-foot rowboat.

A latecomer to the life of adventure, Roz was a management consultant in London for 11 years before deciding there was more to life than a steady income and a house in the suburbs. Since embarking on her first ocean in 2005, she has braved storms, capsizes, and the psychological challenge of spending up to five months alone at sea. Her hardships have forced her to find the strength to overcome everything – especially herself.

She has published two books – “Rowing The Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean”, and “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific”.

Her passion now is taking the lessons that she has learned both on and off the ocean, and using them to help her clients to overcome self-limiting beliefs and achieve their highest potential. 

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