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Blue Mind: For The Love Of Water With Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

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The concept of Blue Mind has been around since the beginning of recorded human history. At present, Marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols advocates for this very concept, spreading the positive impact of water on our lives. Joining Corinna Bellizzi, he talks about his book “Blue Mind” and how being in, on, or under water delivers profound transformation deep within yourself. He discusses how spending as little as 23 minutes around water – or just the feeling of it – could elevate your health and bring happiness to your state of mind. He also shares how he uses a small blue marble to spread awareness about his advocacy, educating everyone regarding their important role in saving our beloved water planet.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

Care More Be Better | Dr. Wallace J. Nichols | Blue MindDr. Wallace J. Nichols (J) has been called a water warrior, one who commits to helping others access their “blue mind state.” His visionary ideas related to ocean and aquatic ecosystems, migratory species, marine protected areas, fisheries management and plastic pollution inspire others to find a deeper connection with nature and embrace inventive approaches to issues ranging from protection of ocean life to global water supply to the mental health benefits of a life spent on or near the water.

Formerly a senior scientist at Ocean Conservancy, J holds a M.E.M. degree in Natural Resource Economics and Policy from Duke University and a Ph.D. degree in Wildlife Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. He received a Bradley Fellowship to study the impacts of sea level rise at Duke University Marine Lab, a Marshall Fellowship to study at the University of Arizona, and a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico marine station in Mazatlán. In 2011 he was inducted as a Fellow National member of the Explorers Club. In 2014 he received the University of Arizona’s Global Achievement Award.

J has authored more than 200 publications, lectured in more than 30 countries and nearly all 50 states, and appeared in hundreds of media outlets including NPR, BBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, USA Today, Elle, Vogue, Fast Company, Surfer magazine, Scientific American, and New Scientist. His book Blue Mind, published in summer 2014 by Little, Brown & Company, quickly became a national bestseller. It has been translated into numerous languages, most recently Mandarin, and inspired a wave of media and practical application.

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Show Notes: – Raw Audio

00:00 – Introduction

05:12 – Becoming a marine biologist

08:27 – Blue Mind

16:52 – Lessons from underwater

23:09 – Protecting marine life

27:39 – Living with water

32:58 – 23 minutes

36:43 – paying forward this blue mind with a million blue marbles.

45:19 – Staying motivated and positive

50:06 – Audiobook version

54:29 – Venturing into non-fiction

59:40 – Closing Words

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Blue Mind: For The Love Of Water With Dr. Wallace J. Nichols

Fellow do-gooders and friends, we’re going to go into a deep journey of our blue planet and water world as I open a conversation with one of my newest idols, and I don’t use this term lightly. It’s not often that I come across someone who so closely mirrors my view of the world and who has worked so diligently to bring their perspective into the world through their work, through their life, and the reach of the many individuals they would hope to inspire, myself included.

It’s my honor and privilege to introduce Dr. Wallace J. Nichols. He’s a Blue Mind thinker, a Marine Biologist, and, like me, a turtle nerd. He has been called a water warrior, one who commits to helping others across their Blue Mind state. His visionary ideas related to ocean and aquatic ecosystems, migratory species, marine protected areas, fisheries management, and plastic pollution inspire others to find a deeper connection with nature and embrace inventive approaches to issues that we see. Those range from the protection of ocean life to global water supply issues to the mental health benefits of a life spent on, near, or in the water. Are you beginning to see how we align? Turtle nerd, indeed.

Dr. Nichols was formerly a Senior Scientist at Ocean Conservancy and holds a MEM degree in Natural Resource Economics and Policy from Duke. He also has a PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. From his many research fellowships to the more than 200 publications he has authored to the lectures he has given in all 50 states and 30 countries around the globe to his extensive media tours, he truly is a Blue Mind thinker. He joins me on the show to talk about his work and specifically his book, a national best-seller, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Underwater Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. With that, I’ll invite him to the stage.


Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, I have been a scuba diver for a long time. On my first trip to Hawaii to dive, I was there on business. The sales rep I was working with had gifted me a dive with one of their friends who was a scuba master. We went on this dive. My goal was like, “I want to see a turtle,” and I kept not seeing one. At this moment, I was entranced by one of the coral reefs. I was closely looking at this nudibranch I saw nestled in the rock.

All of a sudden, I feel this tap on my shoulder. I turned to the left and it was a sea turtle. It stayed with me for the entire dive. I was underwater for about 35 minutes, that stretch. It followed me around like it was a friend. I have a series of photos with this sea turtle, the first that I ever really encountered underwater that speaks to me to this day.

I can understand that and have similar stories. I have heard from our fellow turtle lovers of those kinds of encounters and the transformative aspect of that. You have to do it to understand. If the turtle taps you on the shoulder, you answer.

Every dive out to the ocean waters of islands, I tend to see them. It’s almost like they gravitate to me. I’ve also been diving for more than twenty years and have seen some of their health collapse and tumors and things like that coming out of them. It’s been an alarming and giving adventure along the way. I’m sure we’ll dig into that a bit as we connect. I really would love to start this conversation with you by learning how you became a marine biologist of all things. That was my goal in life when I was six years old. That’s what I wanted to do.

It was mine, too, and I stuck with it. Maybe that’s the thing. The doors kept opening. I came to my love of water for slightly different reasons than most marine biologists in that I felt better near the water, in the water, and under the water. Not to say that life on land was terrible, but I was shy and introverted. I stuttered. I’ve gotten over that. I was curious and confused about my place in the universe. Being adopted, I had big questions about where I was from, but when I was in the water, I felt whole. I felt quiet and at peace with myself. People don’t ask you questions underwater that you have to stutter through to answer.

I kept gravitating towards any kind of water, whether it be swimming pools, lakes, rivers, oceans, or bathtubs. That was my happy place. When I learned that you could sign up for this career that was all about water, I was like, “That sounds like a pretty good idea. Turtles don’t ask you questions either.” I started down that path and then kept going. It has led to some of my best friends, beloved experiences, and my life’s purpose.

I don’t think you’d find it entirely surprising that as an ocean lover, too, I ended up going to UC Santa Cruz and staying local to the central coast. I’ve had a couple of moments arrive in my hands like that experience with that turtle that is deeply connected to the ocean that I will forever hold as treasures. When I hear from people who live in the middle of the country and have never been able to get to our shores and experience the ocean firsthand, I often find myself thinking about these moments.

I am wondering what it would be like to have never had the experience of being near the majesty of a coast when there’s a storm coming in and you are expressly shown how out of control you are of this great body of water. Also, you start to learn more that it is the ultimate life giver and what makes our planet so unique. I am completely in awe of your career trajectory and also have empathy for what led you there, too, because I’m of a similar mind. Talk to us about what the Blue Mind is. What is Blue Mind?

It started with that feeling I had when I was a kid. I didn’t have a name for it. I couldn’t explain it to my family and my friends, but I knew that it was important to me. I didn’t know if I was the only one who felt that way, but I knew that I needed to be around water therapeutically. Fast forward, I am a marine biologist doing my thing and it’s going well. I am publishing articles and research papers on turtles. I am being invited to conferences like Bioneers to speak about the ocean. I then started wondering what that pull really was that water has, water in all of its forms. I thought, “If it has pulled me through my life, it’s got to be pretty interesting.” I’ve met lots of other people who felt that way.

I went looking for a book about your brain on water. I looked for other books that are about your brain on music, your brain on happiness, and a whole variety of things. I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read. I tried to get some smart people to write the book and offered my assistance. I’d do anything to help so that I could read that book that I thought would be so useful.

I was not successful in convincing anyone that they should write it until I pitched it to Dr. Oliver Sacks who is one of my intellectual heroes. It turns out he’s a lifelong water lover, music lover, brilliant scientist, communicator, writer, and thinker. He is a poet and scientist. He said at a book event in San Francisco, “It’s a fine idea. You do it.” I was really hoping he would say, “It’s a fine idea. I’ll do it.” At that moment, I remember what I said to him was, “I’ll do it,” but what I thought inside my head was, “Crap.”

It’s because you have your order in a way. You knew you had to.

It did not land as a suggestion. It was a command, not a nudge. Five years later, I brought him a copy, which was a hardcover. It was the 1st printing, 1st edition, and signed copy of Blue Mind to his office in New York. He passed away a few years later. He wrote a lovely book called Gratitude, which is his final contribution. It had lovely meditations on the end of life and his remaining big ideas.

Care More Be Better | Dr. Wallace J. Nichols | Blue Mind
Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do

That’s how I got going. Thanks to Oliver, Dr. Sacks. It took me five years because I was an evolutionary biologist, a wildlife ecologist, and a conservation problem solver. I was not a neuropsychologist. I needed to run around and start attending a different kind of science conference. I then started holding my own meetings called The Blue Mind Summits. The first one was in San Francisco, Cal Academy.

We did our 13th in 2023 in partnership with Columbia University. It is where we are learning, listening, asking these big, juicy questions about what’s going on with water, and inviting the top neuroscientists, psychologists, and water people. That formed the basis and the meat of the writing of Blue Mind. I wove in some poetry, some prose, some history, a few song lyrics, and all these different kinds of references that you come across in life to this idea that water soothes us. It takes care of us emotionally and spiritually. That’s how it came about.

I probably should explain what Blue Mind is. It is not just that it’s a book. It’s a phrase that refers to that feeling you get when you’re near, in, on, or underwater that makes you feel Calm, Compassionate, maybe a little Courageous even, Creative, Connected, Coherent, and all these C words. You can probably add a few C words to the list. It is a neurological response. It’s a mildly meditative response that we have when we want to be there. It’s a very different situation if you’re thrown in a pool, the water is leaking through your roof, or there is flooding into your home. That’s different. That’s Red Mind. That’s the Blue Mind story and a quick ramp-up to where we are.

I heard on another podcast that you said the reason behind the very long subtitle was that even if somebody passed by this book and they picked it up and looked at it for a second. They could have an impact on at least the initial thinking behind it to get people to understand how important it is to our health, happiness, and our state of mind. This really does imply what you’re working to do here.

As somebody who has also felt drawn to water my entire life, I don’t feel I can live far from the ocean. I have family members who have relocated to Colorado, for example. While it’s beautiful there and there are many rivers and things like that, I feel like my body becomes parched when I’m away from the ocean.

I also empathize with your call to action from your mentor saying, “You go out and you write it,” because as I was thinking about developing this show, I got that same match lit under my tush. It was like, “Not only do you need to go do this, but I’m going to pay for the production fee for your intro, outro, and first episode.” It was like, “Here’s your deadline in two months.” What did that do? I got out there and I did it.

Sometimes, along the way, you learn by doing. By attending those medical conferences, I’m sure you learned a lot, not only about yourself and this journey but also about the way that the brain reacts to our environment and water, even in its flowing state. You think about these things with meditation often along a babbling brook, you integrate a fountain into a space, or you’re cautioned to drink more water, be more healthy, and have healthy cells. All these things, like water, are imperative for life. Being around it on the coast, by a riverfront, or by a lake, on or under it, you do get different feelings that happen within.

Personally, as a young kid, I learned to swim underwater first. It was hard for me to stay on top of the water, so I would swim under the water. The thing that I felt most limited by was this thing that I had to come up and breathe and why I couldn’t stay under longer. That is what led me to want to be a scuba diver. I am very comfortable underwater.

I didn’t have the same issues that some scuba divers do when they initially learned of feeling claustrophobic in that space. I was like, “I have this underwater breathing apparatus. I can do this as long as my tank is going to last.” What have you learned along the way underwater that you think can benefit an audience that might first be introduced to this topic?

 There will be people who are reading who will think, “That’s so obvious and intuitive.” I’ve felt that my whole life. There will be people who are reading who will say, “I need to do more water stuff.” There are the people who know it but haven’t gotten wet in a while or haven’t gone to the water in a while who need the nudge. I do, too.

When I wrote this book during the pandemic and the wildfires, I needed to be reminded to take better care of myself and to get out of my Red Mind and Gray Mind, which is burnout, and practice this Blue Mind thing. I wrote a book about it, but I still needed the reminder. I should point out that the concept of Blue Mind has been around since the beginning of recorded human history.  Every culture, every sacred text, and every spiritual tradition talks about water not just for hydration and hygiene but to soothe our souls. Some other words are used across all traditions.

[bctt tweet=”Every culture, sacred text, and spiritual tradition talks about water not just for hydration and hygiene, but also to soothe our souls.” via=”no”]

As intuitive as it may sound and feel, we all need to remember maybe to practice Blue Mind daily, especially in this world that never stops throwing Red Mind at us. That’s with the screens, the information, the traffic, the noise, and the to-do list. If you’re empathetic at all, you’re being pulled in so many ways the second you wake up. I even have dreams about the things I’m concerned about in the world that are beyond my household and community that are out there. That will take its toll, so you really need to remember to practice Blue Mind every day.

Get yourself to your water in whatever form it comes in. It doesn’t have to be a Pacific Ocean, a great lake, or a mountain river. It can be a cold plunge, a float spa, taking a mindful shower in your own home, or putting on a recording of ocean waves, ideally that you made when you were in the ocean. Those are the best recordings, the ones you make yourself. It could be reading some Mary Oliver poetry about water or Pablo Neruda about the ocean. They are two of my favorites. That will all help you get into a Blue Mind state every day. From a simple question that you asked, that’s a long answer.

What I’ve learned is that whether we understand this concept or not, we all need to practice it more. We need reminders and friends who will say, “Let’s go for a dive. Let’s go for a walk to the water. Let’s go for a swim. Let’s go for a soak.” It’s checking in with each other. We all know someone who is stuck. We know their names. We know where they live. We probably know the couch that they’re glued to. It’s a crisis with young people and adults. It is for all ages.

Practice Blue Mind daily. Remind yourself and take somebody with you is the message for 2024. It turns out it does good things for your health. That reconnection to our waters does good things for the waters because that water gives you your life back and renews you. You want to return the favor and take better care of it, which may mean cleaning it up, keeping things out of it, and protecting it in a variety of ways. We need water warriors. We need water protectors. We need a few billion more. This is one way we’re getting there.

It’s unavoidable for me to think about the things that we’re doing wrong as I hear you say these beautiful things, too, to your point, like we need more water warriors. I invited Simen Sætre on this show, who wrote this book called The New Fish, which was originally produced in Norwegian. Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia felt it was so important that he introduced it to Patagonia Press and had it translated into English. It talks about how we are farming salmon and open net pens and the dramatically terrible things that that does to the water and the ecosystems. I know that you’re an advocate for doing these things more smartly and perhaps letting our oceans rest. You are an advocate for these great open spaces and allowing more of our productive oceans to recover.

I was blessed to be able to meet Jean-Michel Cousteau and connect with him in Southern California and Santa Barbara. I was blessed to go out on the ocean and see how beautiful the water is there and how productive it is, but that doesn’t come without some pretty significant protections in place. Without significant protections in place, we have waters that are reducing their productivity, acidity that continues to climb, and things like global warming, which we’re all aware of, becoming worsening issues. For those advocates that are reading, are there any particular things that you think they should be paying attention to or ways that they can support the initiative to protect our ocean and our waterways?

Yeah. If somebody is reading and they are already an ocean advocate, thank you for the work that you’re doing. There are so many issues that are specific to our own backyards that are also global. No one person can do it all. We need everyone working on their thing. I focused on sea turtles a lot and had some great successes. I highly recommend picking a place or a species that needs some help, biting down hard on that issue, and not letting go for the rest of your life, whether it’s as a volunteer, a donor, a docent, a cheerleader, a scientist, or an activist or advocate. The short attention span and jumping around from issue to issue could feel good, but we really need people who don’t give up. Become unstoppable for your animal or your place. That works.

Everything that has a success story behind it, at its core, has the turtle hugger or the tree hugger. It is the person that everybody said, “You’re crazy.” As a result of their over-the-top passion, which I highly recommend, species still exist. Forests remain. Coastlines are protected. Pick your thing and dig into that. You can spread your love here and there, sign petitions, and promote things, but get your hands dirty on the thing that keeps you up at night and lights you up.

Keep falling in love. It is our superpower. Fear isn’t. Being bombarded with facts that confuse us tires us out. Yelling at each other exhausts us. We will burn out. If you are an advocate for water, rivers, lakes, or oceans, the message that I like to share that isn’t heard enough is to please take care of your heart. Please take care of your body. Please take care of your mind, your soul, and those around you because you’re not useful if you burn out. Your creativity goes out the window. Your courage goes away. Your compassion shrinks. You become agro. Your body quits. Your mind quits.

We need creative problem solvers who have compassion, even sometimes, even for our enemies. That’s really hard to do, so you have to stay whole. There’s no better way to do that than jumping in the water as much as you can. If you can go out with Jean-Michel Cousteau on the ocean, that will brighten up your mind. If you can snorkel with turtles, too, that’s a big reset.

It’s a huge reset. There’s a reason that I’m drawn to the Hawaiian islands. It is mostly related to turtles. Here on the central coast of California, Monterey isn’t that far. I’ve never seen a sea turtle underwater there. There are plenty of little sea otters tugging up my fins or getting tangled up and stuff. There are seals and maybe some skates, sharks, and things like that, but I have yet to see a turtle here. One of the things that Jean-Michel Cousteau says that echoes everything that you shared is that he’s often asked, “What is your favorite dive?” or, “What is the best dive you’ve been on?” He says, “The next one.” He often will say that it’s imperative that we never give up. He is like, “I will never stop. I will never give up.”

This event, which occurred in Santa Barbara at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, was 78 years of diving and discovery. He’s like, “It’s 79 now and soon to be 80.” He’s been diving since he was nine years old. I’m looking at my son. Once he’s ten, I can start the process of getting him scuba certified so that we can be on, in, and underwater together for the rest of my life.

I look at that as one of the ways that I can personally impart the importance of our ocean world and these ecosystems to the next generation. Perhaps somebody who will become a scientist himself and follow in your footsteps will always understand and respect the power of water in our lives. I went and experienced a float myself. You mentioned this briefly, so I won’t explain to people what these can be. I personally think if I were landlocked, I would be a weekly frequent tubber, so to speak, with a float. A frequent floater, is that what you’d call it?

I don’t know. I made that up.

These are large tubs that are heated to above your body temperature. They are full of salinated water, so they are super salty. You float super easily. They operate in a deprivation chamber, so your sensations drift away. It helps people who have a hard time meditating to meditate truly. You can float in the dark in this capsule and not really touch anything. It feels like you’re floating on air. When water is so close to your body temperature, you also don’t feel it the same way. It’s such an incredible experience.

Anybody who has yet to experience this, if you have a float in your neighborhood, and in Santa Cruz, we have one called Equilibrium where they do cold plunges as well as these floats, you can get into what I would call an altered mental state that is very peaceful and calming. If you are bombarded by stress, this will help you get to a Blue Mind state, even if it feels like it’s nearly impossible.

Another thing I will state is that spending some time with the sound of water in the background always helps to calm my nerves. In fact, I sleep at night with a sound generator that has recorded rain playing on a loop. It’s rain that fell at my home, so it sounds like it’s here. It really helps me to be calm through the night and go right back to sleep if I wake up. Sound sleep is something that benefits everybody, after all.

That’s right. You answered a question that’s very common. People ask, “What if I don’t live near the water?” We go through this list of categories. I call them forms of water. We have solid, liquid, and gas. We all learned that in grade school. We have wild water, which is the lakes, rivers, and oceans. We have domestic water, which is the tubs, the showers, and the pools. A float spa is in that category, your bathtub or swimming pool. We have urban water, which may be the fountains and the urban waterfronts. We also have virtual water. Those are sound recordings, poetry, art, photography, film, and songs about water. You can utilize all of that.

The last big category is imaginary water. We touched on that. When you talk about mindfulness meditation, it’s very common that you’ll close your eyes. If you’re being led, somebody will guide you to your water to visualize or imagine water. There’s no water in the room, but it’s in your mind. That helps you relax by imagining that you are stepping up to the edge of the water you love. You’re watching and listening to the waves. You’re putting your feet in.

We can practice Blue Mind every day and wherever. Even if you have that feeling of, “I’m not near the ocean. Now, what do I do?” Never fear. We still have a blue scription for you. It can be made out to be very specific to who you are, what you love, and where you are. I love working with people to create a personal blue scription. I say, “Stick it to your refrigerator. Do 23 minutes a day, the research suggests, at least 5 days a week of Blue Mind. Get back to me if it doesn’t work wonders.” It doesn’t solve all your problems and doesn’t cure everything, but it really is transformative in this red-minded world that we’re being bombarded with.

[bctt tweet=”We can practice Blue Mind whenever and wherever we are, even if we are not near the ocean.” via=”no”]

You mentioned 23 minutes a day. Sometimes, people have a hard time finding five. What do you do to help people who are perhaps that ultra busy to help them make time for that 23 minutes?

If you put it together, you’re going to take a shower or a bath maybe a few times a week or more, so utilize that time mindfully. That counts. You may have a water sound that helps you go to sleep. That counts. You may walk to work. Take a little longer, walk by the water, and pause. If you have a meeting, why not hold your meeting by a fountain? There are many ways that we can integrate Blue Mind into our day and get our 23 minutes in by slightly nudging what we already do. The research says 20 minutes, but 23 is a little bit weird.

It helps stick in your mind.

The 23rd letter of the alphabet is W for Water. It makes it a little stickier.

That’s full circle.

You shouldn’t ever feel bad if you don’t reach your 23-minute goal. Twenty-three minutes, 5 days a week for a year, is 100 hours. I tell my kids, “How many minutes a day do you do TikTok, Snapchat, or Instagram? It is sometimes more than 23, so borrow some of those minutes.” I also ask them, “What’s the coolest thing that happened on social media this week?” They don’t remember. That always makes my point pretty clear when I talk to young people. It’s a very shallow and forgettable activity. You will remember that cold plunge, that float, I promise, that turtle swim, or whatever activities you enjoy that are more blue-minded.

I have to say I live in Scotts Valley, not too far from where you are. I take my dogs on my morning walk over some creeks. There are bridges that go over them and such because the water’s almost always flowing a little bit. Even pausing there as I’m crossing the bridge, that’s something. I have what I call my little meditation spot. Every day, I make this loop, which goes up by 1440 Multiversity. You should have one of your Blue Mind summits there, frankly.

I agree.

Selfishly, I want it to be there. They have some beautiful fountains and water features. It’s in the Redwoods. I walk up around this loop and stop by this natural creek that’s almost always flowing. I put my hand on one of the Redwoods there, looked up, and said, “Thank you.” I’m thanking nature around me as part of my practice of daily gratitude because, without all of this, there would be none of that. There would be none of this life. That’s my brief moment among them. I probably hit 23 minutes before 9:00 AM every day. As somebody who’s probably centered around water, it’s like breathing. I can’t not do it, right?

I agree. When you’re out on those walks, pause and use the voice memo app on your smartphone. Record the sound of the water, text it to somebody, and say, “This is for you. I recorded this.”

This feels like a natural moment to mention the blue gift you sent me. It is mentioned towards the end of your book. Let’s talk about paying forward this Blue Mind with a million blue marbles.

This was long ago, prior to the publication of Blue Mind. I was hit really hard with all the bad ocean news. Every ocean lecturer I went to, and even the ones I was giving, seemed so full of fear, guilt, dread, doom, and gloom. At the end of them, even those of us who were signed up to do this for life, we all felt deflated and hopeless. I recognized that among my peers and, certainly, myself.

I was giving a talk at the New England Aquarium in their big IMAX theater and thought, “I can’t do that again. I can’t fill a six-story screen with bad news.” I was thinking about it. My friend went to the local toy store, got all their blue marbles, and brought them back to the aquarium. They’re recycled glass. I gave them out to everybody who was coming into the lecture. I wasn’t sure where this thing was going, but by the end of the lecture, I had formulated a little story in the back of my mind.

Lo and behold, the last slide was that famous Apollo NASA photograph, the first one of Earth from space. It is the most produced photograph of all time called the Blue Marble. I had given out all these blue marbles. I suggested to everyone they hold their blue marble up at arm’s length and consider that it’s what we look like from a million miles away. We’re a small blue marble. It is a Saganesque pale blue dot story that everything we know is a blue dot or blue marble.

Care More Be Better | Dr. Wallace J. Nichols | Blue Mind
Blue Mind: I suggested to everyone to hold their blue marbles up at arm’s length. That’s how our planet looks like from a million miles away.

I then asked people to hold it to their hearts and think of someone they want to say thank you to. The request was, ‘Go out and say thank you to someone who’s doing good things for our blue planet and our water planet. Put the marble in their hand. Tell them your version of this story of what we’ve talked about today, and then ask them to pass it on.” The feedback I got from that lecture was not only positive but resoundingly positive, interesting, buoyant, and optimistic. It was very different from the gloom and doom vibe that a lot of the other experiences were feeling like.

I did it again the next time I spoke until we had given out a million blue marbles. People bought their own blue marbles and gave them out at their weddings, memorial services, Bar Mitzvahs, and other events. It started to go off into its own viral. It’s an analog social media. It’s not a digital app. There’s nothing inside there that tracks you. You don’t have to upload your phone number or your email address. It’s person-to-person.

These are beautiful to look at and to look through. It’s interesting when you look at a light through your marble. It’s a lesson in a marble. I remind people if that were seawater, it would have millions of organisms in it. Virtually every known element in the universe in that much sea water is astounding. That’s mind-blowing when you think of the entire ocean, all the lakes, and the rivers full of that much life reverberating all the time. They are full of life, and that’s the little stuff.

The blue marble has become the iconic symbol of Blue Mind. They get passed from person to person. There’s no way to know how many people have touched a blue marble, but I can say Jane Goodall has received them. Nina Simons has probably received several. Paul Hawkins received blue marbles as well as Sylvia Earle, the Dalai Lama, and even the Pope. James Cameron got one and he took it on his deep ocean dive. All of the Cousteaus are running around with marbles, I’m sure. We put the marble on the spine of the book so that when it’s on the shelf, it’s easy to find if you don’t have your glasses on.

The last chapter of the book explains a longer version of what I said. It’s fun. It’s playful. It’s full of gratitude. It’s a pay-it-forward, heartfelt gesture that sometimes surprises people. If you walk up to someone and give them one of those marbles and they’re not expecting it, you could make their day. You could make their month, or it might be the nicest thing that has happened this year. It does that.

We know how powerful gratitude is. The neuroscience of gratitude is a thing. You can Google that if you haven’t read about it. There is also the neuroscience of happiness and optimism. I don’t bury my head in my hands and hide from the challenges and the bad news, and we’ve discussed some of it, but I do recognize what works for me. Being sad and burnt out is not me at my best. I need to spread optimism, solutions, things that work, playful joy, and the sense of peace and freedom we get from a healthy ocean.

The more we see the healing benefits of healthy waters for our veterans, our first responders, our teachers, the people who go to work on our behalf every day to try to solve problems, fellow environmentalists, and journalists, and we see them healing themselves, that creates a very regenerative feedback loop. They become water and ocean advocates because they’ve felt it. They’ve experienced healing.

People on the edge, for a variety of reasons, get on a surfboard in Santa Cruz with groups like Operation Surf. They get off the surfboard and say, “I want to live. I want to fight for that ocean, and I want to take other people to the ocean with me.” That’s how you build a blue movement, not by scaring people. Fear is a motivator. It’s a really good motivator, but it will burn you out. You can’t run fast very far.

That’s the blue marble story. I always have 1 or 2, sometimes 5, in my pocket so I can pass them on. When I’m walking in the park, at a beach, or even in a grocery store and I see someone bringing their own bag, I’ll say, “Right on. Fist bump. Here’s a blue marble.” Their eyes light up. Sometimes, they say, “Tell me more about this,” and we have a heart-to-heart chat. It’s always good. I’ve never had anybody get mad about giving them a blue marble.

It’s a beautiful story. It’s a great way to get kids involved, too, because what kid doesn’t want some marbles to play with? Propelling that message forward in a fun, thought-provoking, and conversation-starting way is something that’s genius. Thank you for doing that. It is incredibly hard to stay motivated some days when you read the latest report of permafrost melting, damaging a riverbed, or, “We didn’t get to shut down this dam.” Instead, they’re starting a new project around it, or whatever that thing is. It could be the latest report from the IPCC and then seeing ocean acidity climbing. It’s easy to get to a point where it feels like, “What’s the point if you let it?” The only way out of that is by staying a little optimistic and keeping your mind on the solutions, too.

This show is called Care More Be Better. It’s an invitation to care more about an issue so we can create a better world. As I’m reading some of the science, sometimes, I almost want to rename it as a joke to Care Less Do Worse or Care Less Be Worse. I want to do an April Fool’s thing and make an angry episode about how terrible everything is, but then, that’s anathema to the purpose.

I find myself going back and saying, “I am having a bad moment or a bad day. I need to re-center myself. I need to get more optimistic. I need to stop reading all the bad news. Today, I am going to go look for good news.” Sometimes, it can even be surprising where that comes from. I learned that one of my friends was going to a symposium in San Francisco that was all about zebrafish. I’m like, “I didn’t know about this. What can I learn?” It led me down an intriguing, thought-provoking, insightful, and optimistic rabbit hole, so why not?

It’s not over yet. The ocean is amazing. It’s got some problems to solve, big ones. I’ve worked on studying and protecting the black sea turtle for three decades. It is doing better now than it was decades ago. We should celebrate those wins, not lean back and stop, and then study them. What worked? How did it work? Too often, we go right back to everything that’s wrong. We don’t glean the lessons from what worked. That’s a challenge to reconfigure the way we educate people who are going to do this kind of work and how we communicate.

It draws more people in when you start with a success story and then you say, “Now, let’s apply this to this crisis or this extinction challenge. Let’s look at this success story and try to apply it here.” That feels more motivating to me. We do need motivated people who will give nothing short of their entire lives to working to fix what’s broken in ourselves, in each other, and in nature. We want to do that well. We want to attract the best, the brightest, and the most creative and passionate people. Scaring the heck out of them when they’re six years old might not get us there. I say that as a dad. It didn’t work when my kids were six. They stopped wanting to go to the beach with me, so I had to rethink my approach. We started having more fun and more joy.

[bctt tweet=”Draw more people to advocacies by highlighting success stories and how they can be applied to address crises in the world. ” via=”no”]

I started taking my kids on beach cleanups after the 4th of July and things like that. What’s so amazing about our local environment here is there are so many people already doing that that by the time we got there, there’s nothing to pick up. It is fantastic. That’s not the case everywhere. Making it an adventure is important for them when they’re little and scaring the crap out of them, but that only works for a very short moment.

If you do it over and over again, you may be doing some lasting damage to the young minds.

Where do we think eco and anxiety came from as a concept? People get anxious and think about the peril and doom more than they think about the solutions they could create and things they could do to make a difference. I want to mention I got through this book really quickly. Part of the reason I got through it quickly was that I was intrigued. I got the audiobook version from Audible, and you read it.

I didn’t know that when I first listened. I heard the intro by the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau and was like, “This woman is really intriguing. She’s telling a great story,” and then you start the process of reading the book to us. It is one of the best-read audiobooks I have ever encountered. Kudos to you.

I read a ton of audiobooks. I’m a host. I’m an audiophile. There are a few out there that are a joy to get through and you don’t want it to end. That’s how I felt about your book in its audio format. It’s incredible. You deserve a complete round of applause. I’m going to be writing you an extensive review on Amazon for Audible as soon as we conclude this interview. To everybody, if they are somebody who likes to listen but doesn’t have the time to sit down and read, this is an incredible audiobook.

I was holding my breath as you told the story and led up to your glowing review. I remember going into the studio in San Francisco and working with a great team. After the first day, I called the producer that night and said, “That was harder than I ever imagined it would be.” We had five days left.” I said, “Feel free to can me now and replace me with a pro.” She said, “You’re doing well.” As a little side note, she said, “Bring a picture of your daughter and put it on the clipboard on the script. Look at it often so that it makes you smile because you can hear your smile.” I thought, “That is good advice.” I had a little picture of our daughter, Julia, clipped on the top of the script there with this big goofy smile on her face. She was five years old. She was with me through the reading.

This is for anybody out there thinking, “I’m going to go ahead and read an audiobook for somebody.” People who do this professionally are not paid for the hour it takes to record it. They’re paid by the produced hour. I also have done monologue episodes. In the monologue podcast episodes, I edit all those myself. One hour of recorded time ends up being about three and production time because there are little things that happen that you have to adjust for. Maybe you had to restate something or it wasn’t perfect and you go back and re-record that part. It’s all work. It came through as beautifully as it did. You sounded like you’d been doing it your whole life, so great job.

I overcame my stutter. I had a great producer and editor, I have to say, but thank you.

A lot of the work is in the editing, but you can’t fake it. You did a great job. I am honored. I’m going to keep this book on my bookshelf. I intend to do something a little different, too. I’m going to write an inscription in it and put it in my local little free library with a blue marble. That’s a great way to pay it forward and keep talking about this important work. The work that you’re doing to both save the sea turtles and help people understand how they can be a part of the positive change that we need in this world is incredible. I have two more questions, and they’ll be quick. One is, do you ever intend to write a work of fiction?

I’ve thought about how Blue Mind would show up in fiction because that generally reaches more people. I’ve thought about that a bit. It is about the Santa Cruz-based scientist who does her research on neuroscience and water. She finds these things that may be a conflict with the pharmaceutical industry and then it gets nutty there. There’s some kind of love interest. That might be a fun way to weave it in. I have written a couple of kids’ books, but they’re both based on reality. One’s about sea turtles, and one’s about wildfires. I have written poetry. I’ve written a bunch of poems that I hope to put out in a little booklet at some point. I’ll take that challenge as I did from Dr. Sacks and get back to you with a book someday.

Care More Be Better | Dr. Wallace J. Nichols | Blue Mind
For ‘Dear With Child’ book cover: Dear Wild Child: You Carry Your Home Inside You

I’ve been told the same thing several times. To your point, in another interview, you said you might sell 3,000 copies of a nonfiction work. You’ve probably sold more than that, but it’s harder to get the workout via nonfiction. When you are able to encapsulate something in a story, different people read it. It reaches a different audience.

I had a neuroscientist on this show to talk about his work as it relates to the things that he felt he failed at. It was his work as an environmental activist. He felt like he failed at it. The trees that he worked to protect got cut down and things like that. He wrote a work of fiction. It took him 25 years. It’s a really good book. It’s called A River Divided by George Paxinos. He has written something like 60 books in nonfiction in his profession, but this one was in a completely different arena. It was a great read, too.

We’re seeing the Blue Mind concept show up in lots of creative outlets. If you go to Spotify and look up Blue Mind, you’ll find some songs called Blue Mind that are inspired by this book. There’s a Blue Mind coffee roaster in Indianapolis. There’s a Blue Mind Gallery in Nova Scotia. There’s a Blue Mind tattoo parlor somewhere and a Blue Mind dive shop in Europe. People have taken the concept and put it into all kinds of places and contexts. That’s by design.

Our goal is to make Blue Mind common knowledge and common practice for everyone. By everyone, we mean over eight billion people. In order to do that, we have to get out of the nonfiction genre sometimes and have conversations like this on shows. We have to talk to journalists, newspapers, and magazines and work with songwriters and perhaps fiction writers as well. It’s a good point.

I’m clear on what your mission and goal is. It’s ultimately to get this concept in front of more people. Do I have that right?

True. All people. I know that sounds audacious, but we’re on our way, for sure.

Eight billion is only a small number if no one else is talking about it, right?

That’s right. Well said.

Thank you so much for joining me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this. I look forward to the next time we get to connect. Anytime that happens to be, hopefully, one day, we can meet in person for a cup of coffee or a walk by the ocean because we’re too far from one another.

There are leatherback turtles in Monterey Bay. They’re hard to find and hard to see. They’re way out there eating the jellyfish.

The only time I’ve seen a leatherback underwater was in Hawaii, too. I went into an underwater cave and there was this giant leatherback at the bottom of the cave sleeping. I was like, “Oh my God.” It was huge. That’s the only time I’ve seen one underwater. They can hold their breath for a long time.

We’ll have to do another episode that’s all turtles.

At some point soon. Thank you so much for joining me.

It is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.


To learn more about Dr. Wallace J. Nichols and his work, please go to his Patreon page, where you can make a contribution on a monthly basis if you so choose. That is If you enjoyed this episode, I hope that you’ll do two things. One, share it with a friend. Perhaps you’ll get a blue marble and pass it on to them. You can also subscribe, write me a review, and give us a five-star rating. All of that helps this show reach more people. Not only will you be alerted to the next time we release an episode, but you’ll also help us on our mission to bring more great conversations like the one we had to the forefront. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, and we can preserve this great blue marble earth. Thank you.

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