Have you ever wondered why a walk by the sea or a dip in the lake feels so calming and rejuvenating? It's not just the holiday mood or the escape from routine, there's a profound connection between our mental health and water, and Dr. Wallace J Nichols, marine biologist, and best-selling author, is here to enlighten us about it.
Dr. Nichols, the founder of the Blue Mind movement, takes us on a journey to explore the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social benefits of water. He reveals why being near water makes us calmer, more compassionate, and more creative, and how we can leverage this connection to reach our potential and follow our dreams.
Dr. Nichols delves into water's impact on our lives, painting a vivid picture of how it can serve as an anchor during turbulent times. He introduces us to the concepts of blue mind and red mind, exploring how water can offer an escape from screen-based lives and serve as a stress-buster, while also boosting creativity. He explains how the physiological response to water can be harnessed to increase productivity and bring balance to our lives.
Rounding off our conversation, the talk steers towards the importance of spending quality time near water with our loved ones. Dr. Nichols shares the beneficial effects this has on our mental health and overall well-being. He also talks about his lifelong passion for healing people and the planet, sharing his inspiring journey as an ‘ocean warrior.’
This episode will not only leave you contemplating your relationship with water but also how your choices and actions can contribute to making the world a better place.
Don't miss this captivating conversation with Dr. Nichols and his invaluable advice!
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Hello and welcome to the Career Changers podcast. I'm Elisa Martiniig and I'm the founder and editor-in-chief of the Career Changers. I'm definitely one of them. I learned from my experience that following our dreams requires courage, self-awareness and a lot of inner work. I love to discover stories of career change and share them with the world as a source of inspiration for all those who are still searching. Career changes are not straightforward chronology written in our CVs, but the sum-up of our dreams, ambitions, failures and successes. The Career Changers is an online community that aims to inspire thousands of people during their journey to self-realization. We discover and share inspirational real-life stories of career change. We inspire people that are thinking to change career. We support people that want or need to change career but feel stuck or lacking confidence and clarity. We connect and collaborate with organizations that support career change across different industries. I believe that thinking to have only one job or career in our life is a limiting belief unless the job or that career make us happy. Life is a journey and, with one third of our lives spent working, it would be unimaginable to not have a desire to explore new avenues. Welcome to the Career Changers podcast. Hello and welcome to a new episode of the Career Changers. Our guest today is Dr Wallace J Nichols, a marine biologist with over 30 years of experience in marine science, conservation and education, also a author of the best-seller BlueMine how Water Makes you Happier, more Connected and Better at what to Do. He's also the founder of the BlueMine movement, which explores the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits of water. On the top of that is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, a senior fellow at the Center for the Blue Economy and a co-founder of several non-profit organizations that promote ocean health, well-being and stewardship. Today it is here to inspire us with this career journey and to explain why we are happier when we are surrounded by water. Welcome, dr Nichols. Thank you so much for joining us.Speaker 2:
Thank you for inviting me, my pleasure.Speaker 1:
So let's start with your background. How did you start your professional life or better, what was your first job?Speaker 2:
Well, you know, I loved the water ever since I was a little kid and I wanted to align my work and my career with my love of water, and so I decided to become a marine biologist. One of my first jobs was on a sea turtle beach in Costa Rica and the job was essentially to walk the beaches all night looking for turtles and then making sure the eggs were protected, and measuring the turtles and tagging them, and I loved it. I loved the despite the mosquitoes and the humidity and the lightning. I loved the work. I loved being by the ocean. I loved being out there with the animals, jumping in the ocean in the middle of the night when it was hot, and working to protect endangered species. So I signed up for that career and it's had many twists and turns, but I really enjoyed it.Speaker 1:
So I guess you are one of the few people that managed to realize their dream job of when they were a child. Did you have any other thoughts, or were always focused on something related to the ocean and the sea?Speaker 2:
You know, even when I think back as a kid and as a young person I was really interested in healing people and healing nature, and at the time I was told that you need to choose. You can't be a doctor, a medical doctor, and heal people and then also be a doctor, a PhD, and heal the planet. Those are two different things. So I had to make a decision, but it turns out that at this point in my career those two desires have merged both the human health but the health of nature and so I feel very fortunate that my passions, my lifelong passions, line up with my career. I think that feels good.Speaker 1:
And I think this is what everyone is aiming for, and especially our listeners. So it sounds great to know that you managed to fulfill your potential and also your vision for your life. So what is your educational background? What did you do to become the expert you've become in your field?Speaker 2:
Well, I think language is important. I studied abroad in Spain when I was in high school as an exchange student, so I started learning Spanish. As an undergraduate I studied biology in Spanish and I went on to graduate school and studied economics and public policy. And then I went on to more graduate school and got my PhD in evolutionary biology and wildlife ecology. So I went to school for 24 years, which makes my kids' heads explode when I tell them how many years of education I've received. But I think when I look back on it, it was all about becoming a good problem solver and acquiring the tools and the knowledge, the depth of knowledge needed to help solve big problems, and from the economics and the language and the ecology and behavior, human behavior aspects. So it looks like a bunch of different things, but when you put it all together, it's a good kit for doing this work.Speaker 1:
It may really sense to me and also I think that initially, when we are younger, we start with our first choice at university or whatever else we choose, but then later on is more of a more meaningful way of studying because we follow our passion, our interest. So I guess that learning is part of our lives and is an ongoing process. So let's go back to your career, because it's been a long journey since when you started. So how did you progress after the beginning? After going and looking for Tartarus night on the beach?Speaker 2:
Well, you know, I noticed in myself my entire life, and I've noticed in the people around me my colleagues and family members and friends that when I'm near the water, or when I'm with people near the water, they get calmer and they get more compassionate, you might say, or more open, and the quality of our conversations shifts. We become more open to each other, maybe even more creative. And I started paying more attention to that and wondering about it and I thought, wow, there's got to be a book out there about this emotional response to water and nature. And so I wanted to read that book and then apply it to my professional work, because I thought it would be very useful to add that to our, to the way we communicate about nature and about the ocean. And so when I went looking for this book I really wanted to read, I couldn't find it and because I hadn't been written, and so then I tried to get other people to write the book that I wanted to read, and I was not successful. And then it finally just landed in my lap to write, to write this book that I didn't set out to write. I set out to find it and read it. I pitched the idea to a man named Dr Oliver Sacks who's a great neurologist and a great writer and a lifelong water lover, and I just dreamed of him writing this book that I could read. But he said it's a fine idea, you do it. And so that set me off on a different direction, away from sea turtles and towards neuropsychology and human behavior and well-being. It took me five years to research and write this book, blue Mind, and it's kind of had a life of its own. It's sort of taken my career over in a way. I still work with sea turtles and ocean conservation, but now I'm applying blue mind science and the blue mind theory to our work to protect nature, species and restore lakes and rivers and oceans and encourage people to spend more time in the water. So that's kind of how that went. It was kind of my career studying sea turtles was going just fine, having any problems. It was a solid academic and nonprofit career. And then I had this idea about a book I wanted to read which took my career in a different direction because I had to write it first and then represent the ideas in the world. So that was not expected. I didn't set out to write a bestseller or work in the wellness space. But here we are.Speaker 1:
Well, and it seems that with your book, you have inspired so many people around the world and probably giving the words to express their way they feel. Because I personally, well, I have a story that my mom, when she was expecting me, she was on the beach, and so there's this story that I really, really love the sea, and and sometimes we joke and we say, oh, maybe it was because until the day when I was born, I was already there hearing the sounds of the waves, and so I experienced that feeling of regeneration and calm, and I always dreamed to live by the sea, but I haven't found my place yet. I love many places. So, going back to your career, before reaching the point of writing the book, or maybe even after, for sure, water has been probably something that has inspired you, but did you meet anyone in your life that's been a major source of inspiration during your career journey?Speaker 2:
You know, I've met so many people, both working in ocean conservation and research, as well as people working to heal each other through surf therapy and dive therapy, and just so so many inspiring groups that are putting blue mind science into action and helping the people who need it the most. So, whether they're veterans or first responders or teachers or journalists that are burnout. There are all these programs that are are starting, that have started over the last decade to to help people and connect them with their water. I'm just inspired every day by the people I get to interact with, whether it's somebody reaching out on social media or just an article or having conversations like this one with you and hearing your story and it's interesting, you bring up a point. The number one thing I hear from people is that they felt like their connection with water, this thing I call blue mind, was unique and they didn't know how to explain it. And then they read my book and they go wow, I'm not alone and I have words for this way that I feel, and I hear that a lot. I hear that people have felt intuitively that water calms them and boost their creativity and makes them feel more whole, but didn't have the words to describe it or to justify it, and so it's been wonderful to see how giving something a name allows people to increase its value, and when they increase its value, then they prioritize it and protect it, and so if that leads to people protecting their lakes and their rivers and their oceans because they recognize its full value, I feel like that's a solid contribution to this work that I've made.Speaker 1:
Well, let's talk about the positive impact of water on our lives. You are the expert so you can explain it very well. I read your book Sometimes. I try to explain it to people Some day have this instinctive reaction. They say oh yes, this is true, and I think there are more logical people that you need to have the skills and the knowledge to give the right answer, to explain why. So why are we drawn to the ocean or to the sea each summer as human beings?Speaker 2:
I think the best way to explain Blue Mind is to start with Red Mind, and Red Mind is our new normal. It's our screen-based life, it's our to-do list. We wake up. A lot of people wake up and the first thing they do is look at their phone before they even get out of bed. And that's really new for humanity to be so distracted and so connected and so full of information, good news and bad news all the time, and that will eventually cause anxiety and stress. We are dealing with an epidemic of anxiety on Earth right now for all kinds of reasons. Part of it is our overconnection and overstimulation, whether it's social media and screens of all sorts. So Red Mind is our new normal. When we step away and step back from Red Mind and we don't wanna stay in Red Mind mode for very long it's really useful. That's a very useful mind state. It helps us strive and get things done and compete and fight for what we love, even. But if you stay in Red Mind you will burn out. You will end up in Grey Mind, which is not really useful and that's not good. So Blue Mind is when we step away from the distractions and the screens and the information overload and we stop grinding and competing and we give ourselves a rest. We have our brain, a rest in our body, and water is the shortcut. It just really gets you there quickly. You can close your eyes and think of water. A lot of people who guide meditative practices will use water imaginary water as a tool. You can get in the bathtub, you can get in a pool or a spa. You can step outside on your deck in the rain or look at the clouds or the fog. You can immerse yourself in a pool or a river or a lake or an ocean and walk on the beach. You can paddle a boat all kinds of things. You can do all kinds of things. Water will help you move away from your red mind, calm your stress hormones, boost your feel good neurochemicals and it'll help boost your creativity and help you calm down so that you can come back and work hard again the next day or the next week. And so there's a physiological response that we have to the sound of water, to the sight of water. Of course, when we touch the water, we have a response. When we float in the water, visually, auditorily and somatically, we get a break. A brain takes a break, but it switches into this blue mind state, doesn't turn off, but it switches into a different state which allows us for insight and creativity, calm, compassion all these great qualities that are harder to do when we're in that red mind mode. It's hard to be creative. Sometimes when you're in that anxious red mind mode. You may be able to get things done through brute force or through energy and action, but it's not your most creative or collaborative place. So we kind of need blue mind and red mind in our lives. I'm not just saying you live blue mind all the time. You do need your red mind, and it's good to stay out of gray mind. Although gray mind is your body saying we're shutting down. It's kind of your safety switch. It's not a good place to be, though when you burn out. It's hard to get back from that and it's not good for your career, it's not good for your business or your organization to have a team that's burning out. So blue mind is one tool to help avoid that and stay productive.Speaker 1:
So here are the career changes. We talk a lot about our inspirations, how to make our lives better, to find our purpose in life, and so how can we be near water? I know you say under, in a near close, in any sort of fall. I need to be joking about that. So how can water make us better at what we do?Speaker 2:
Well, you know, we will go through changes in our lives Career changes, relationship changes the world is just always changing, people move to different locations and those are all stressful activities and so if you can use blue mind and your relationship with water to navigate those changes, those changes in your career, in your life, maybe it goes more smoothly. Maybe it's a way for you to step back and think about what you really want to do during those times of change. I have done that myself. I've had, like everybody seems to have had the last several years many changes, some positive, some catastrophic, some medical situations and loss of life and wildfires and the pandemic, and career shifts and uncertainty, and I've needed to read my own book and apply it and reemphasize it for myself. It's really easy, even though I wrote this book called Blue Mind, it's really easy for me to forget to do it because I'm trying to help other people and then burn out myself. So I think that's really the key. If you're feeling that red mind mode and you might be moving into gray mind, just put your head up and look around for the nearest water and it could be a shower or a bathtub, it could be a pool, could be wild water outside and get to it, go spend some time there. It always helps. It never makes your life worse. It always helps, and people always say that was worth doing, it was worth the time, it was worth the effort, and so that would be my advice. If you're in a transition, career-wise or a life transition, put this idea of blue mind in your toolkit and use it every day in some way.Speaker 1:
So there is a lot of talk about environment and oceans and seas are at the center of attention, generally not for good reasons. So it makes me really sad because as a sea lover, of course sometimes I see things I don't want to see. What is the connection between public health and healthy ocean?Speaker 2:
Yeah, you know, we are so connected to the oceans and the waters all around us. Whether we realize it or not, we breathe oxygen that comes from the water, from the ocean. We eat food. The ocean is in charge of our climate and our global ecosystem, and it gives us these massive emotional benefits. And so I think traditionally we have, as humans, we've undervalued the ocean, and when we undervalue anyone or anything, bad things happen. So when we undervalue each other, bad things happen. When we undervalue the ocean, bad things happen to the ocean, and so part of what this conversation is about is fixing the value equation, helping people understand that a healthy ocean is not just good for seafood and sea life. It's also good for your mental health, it's also good for child development, it's also good for stress management. It's medicine for the people who need it the most, the people who serve us every day and stress themselves out to protect us. They need the ocean so that they can calm themselves down, be whole and then come back and serve that capacity again. And so that's a really different way of talking about the ocean and helping build a stronger movement to protect and restore the life that remains in the ocean. Yes, we have some pretty big challenges. We read about them in the news every day and I think the key is to not get overwhelmed and saddened to the point where you can't act. That's more gray mind. You know, eco anxiety is a real thing, even in our children. They are. Our kids are kind of freaking out because of the bad news. That's not healthy. So we need to be able to talk about the problems but also pivot into a place of collaborative, creative, compassionate action. And that's where blue mind comes in. So you jump in the water together and you splash around and you smile and laugh and then you start planning on how to fix that water that you love. And the people who are the best warriors that I've met in my life are the people who are the most in love with what they fight for Not scared, but in love and that's more sustainable and more likely to lead to the place we want to go than fearful warriors swinging around angrily. So that's that's really the message I try to share with my colleagues is make sure you're practicing blue mind while you're working and fighting for the ocean, because you will burn out if you don't, if you don't take care of yourself, take care of your heart, take care of your mind, take care of your soul, take care of each other, because if we burn out, if our ocean warriors burn out, our environmental warriors burn out, we're in big trouble. We can't, we can't afford that. So that's my, my main message. And you know, in these times of change, with you know, we've got wildfires warming like record, water temperatures in the ocean, coral reefs struggling, plastic in the ocean. We have big problems to solve, but we're only going to solve them, I think, from a place of love and compassion and creativity. And we need it, and it's going to take a while. So you need to sign up for the long haul. You know, saving sea turtles takes decades, decades and decades because they're slow, growing late, maturing big animals, and so, if you're signing up for this project, sign up for the next 25 years and dig in. It's not a it's not a one year project. It's a long term commitment.Speaker 1:
So we're reaching the end of this episode, but we have still a few more questions, and so each of us, with our choices, can have a positive impact in the world. I'm clear that you're doing an amazing job, but how do you feel you're making the world a better place?Speaker 2:
You know, I I don't. Sometimes I don't know. You know, I sit in my home and I think I might. You know, it doesn't matter, you know, and then I'll get an email from someone who said, oh, blue Mind changed my life and they'd saved my life. And that, just that one message from that one person, make my heart get really big and I will recognize that. Okay, that's the one person I heard from, and maybe there are 10 others that I didn't hear from today. But what, I guess, if I reflect on my work with Blue Mind at least? Well, with sea turtles we saved the species from the brink of extinction, so that's a real accomplishment. But with Blue Mind, I think my contribution is to give a name to something that's been part of ancient tradition for millennia. But I named it so that we can value it and that we can use it more. And it's been wonderful to see all the creative people put Blue Mind into action. There's Blue Mind surf therapy and there was a Blue Mind dive resort, and there's a Blue Mind art gallery in Nova Scotia, and there are Blue Mind coaches, and the list goes on and on, as a Blue Mind coffee roaster in Indiana, and just seeing all of these different businesses and nonprofits and leaders take the concept and creatively run with. It has been really wonderful and I think my job is basically to stay out of their way most of the time and then, if needed, answer questions as they come up. So my job is more of a background role at this point in the movement.Speaker 1:
So really the last question now. If you could give yourself a piece of advice, what would you say to your younger self?Speaker 2:
I think I would remind myself to get into water more. Even though I've been in the water a lot, I can look back on moments where I think it would have been helpful if I practiced what I preach a little bit more. Put a sign on the wall, get in the water. And yeah, I mean if that resonates with people. It's never time. It's always time well spent at the ocean or in the water, especially with the people you love. So spending time in the water with the people you love while they're around whether it's my parents have passed, my kids have grown and left for college, so you lose opportunities to spend time in the water with the people you love, both through death or through just life circumstances, and so that would be my advice to myself spend more time in the water with the people you love.Speaker 1:
Oh, that's beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your inspirational story with our listeners my pleasure, thank you for inviting me. Thanks, and the last message for our listeners, don't forget to subscribe to our channel and tune in next week for a new inspirational episode of the Career Changers. Thank you,