When I was 20, I spent one glorious summer in Hawaii eating papayas the size of melons and learning how to boogie board. In the salty air, with my belly on my board, I would wait for a wave big enough to ride. Glassy wave after wave would lift me up and set me back down until finally, the right wave came in. I would paddle like a shark was chasing me, catch a wave, and ride what sounded like thunder to the shore.

Having a mind is just like this. We receive so many waves in a single day, let alone an hour. Let’s say you have a disagreement about the division of housework with your partner. The first wave might be the thought, “He doesn’t care about me and what I want.” Wave two is a feeling of rejection. Then another wave comes as anger. After that, a memory of last week when he told you he was feeling stressed and preoccupied with a deadline at work. Then a wave of compassion.

Mindfulness is surfing your mind. It’s sitting with each of these waves and letting them pass by until you see the one you want to ride. It’s choosing rather than being chosen. It’s knowing that you have the choice in the first place.

But which wave is the right one? That’s up to you. You can start by clarifying what energy is embodied in a wave and whether acting on that energy will benefit anyone. It might be that you are working on being more assertive, and you decide to use the energy of anger to assert yourself skillfully. You say, “I notice you’ve left the dishes to me every night this week, and it makes me feel like you don’t care about my time.” Or you may ride the wave of compassion, remembering the time when you were sick, and he stepped up to the plate at home. You might decide just to cut him some slack.

To turn this metaphor into action, see yourself as a surfer. Remind yourself that many waves will pass underneath you over the course of the day. There will be thoughts, emotions, sensations, images, memories, and so on. But remember, you are not the waves. You are the surfer. You choose which waves you act on and which you let pass by you. Think about the energy of the wave that’s here now and ask yourself, do I want more of this in my life? Ask yourself, will this wave help me get where I want to go? If not, maybe you should pass.

If you want the best results, then establish a small mindfulness practice. Just 10 minutes of daily mindfulness practice significantly impacts our ability to surf. The more you practice, the easier it will be to choose, especially when the bigger waves arrive. You can find an app like Headspace, join a local mindfulness course, or find an online class to get you going. Don’t forget that nobody can choose the right wave every time, and sometimes a wave will carry us away despite our best efforts. Some waves are just too big. But the more you practice, the more you will find yourself letting what doesn’t serve you pass by, and the more you’ll end up standing on the shore, right where you wanted to be.