How to Break the Grip of the Rip

Years ago, at a beach resort in Dubai, I ran out into the surf, and was suddenly caught in a rip current. Having been a lifeguard for years back in high school, I told myself, “don’t panic, you’ll figure something out.” After struggling for a number of minutes, with the current sweeping me toward an extremely rocky jetty, I finally panicked.

As it turned out, I wasn’t far from the edge of the current. A nearby swimmer pulled me over a few feet, far enough to escape the most severe current. With help, I escaped the grip of the rip. Just in time, too. Back on the beach, the lifeguard saw what was happening and was ankle-deep in the water, rescue tube in hand. Apparently four other tourists had washed against the jetty the previous day.

The norm in most companies is “when you’re stuck, think harder.” This solitary activity requires a lot of time and energy. Worse, it may not result in a viable solution. This is because we get stuck in a fixed way of viewing the problem. We can’t see our own blind spots.

Since it’s summer here in California, and many of us are at the beach, I thought I’d use the analogy of a rip current to illustrate how to escape a rip mindset. Following are a set of steps to help you “break the grip of the rip.”

Mindset rip currents, like real rip currents, are often hard to spot. Sometimes it takes a co-worker, friend or significant other to point it out. In California, this may sound like: “Dude, what’s up? You’re really triggered!”

Of course the best thing you can do is take precautions. Build relationships and recognize people with complementary skills and opposite blind spots. When one of you has a red flag moment, you’ll already know what kind of assistance to provide.

When you get pulled into an unexpected rip current, the first step is to realize you are in one, and follow these steps:

  • Stay calm, stop fighting it.
  • Explore a different direction by turning the problem sideways for a new view. Take some time to follow that line of thinking for a while. Then, angle back toward the desired outcome.
  • Stay calm.
  • If you still can’t escape, yell for help. It’s no big deal. We all need it sometimes.


At the beach, there is a saying: “Never swim alone.”

No one has all the answers. We all have blind spots. Asking for help expands the solution space. Responding for someone’s occasional call for help enables the rest of us to be of service. It feels good to be helpful, especially when it’s no big deal to you, and of great value to someone else.

The next time you are caught in a rip mindset, ask someone to think, take a walk, make a sketch, or talk through the challenge with you. You’ll be glad you did.

Special thanks to NOAA’s Ocean Today for the inspiration.