Today is the day you’re running a new river for the first time! You’re excited and nervous, knowing you’ve prepared for this day. On the ride to the put-in everyone in your shuttle vehicle is re-telling their most harrowing experiences on the river, and/or telling scary stories they’ve heard about the river.
Your excitement turns to fear and self-doubt. You start thinking that maybe you’re not ready, and what big hole are they talking about anyway?!
I’ve experienced this scenario many times in my 30 year paddling career, and my clients have countless stories about how they’ve lost their confidence after listening to scary stories told by others.
If you’ve experienced this and want to stop getting disempowered by others, here are 4 strategies that can help – ps – they help off the water too:
Today is a new day
I’m going to talk real straight on this one – The first time I paddled the Cheoah River after my friend Maria passed, I had to remind myself that today is today. It’s not the day that Maria drowned. The only thing I can control is myself, and today is a new day with different circumstances, different people and a different journey.
The unpleasant truth is that scary and even tragic events do happen in whitewater kayaking.
For many of us, there’s something special (joy, excitement, passion, challenge, accomplishment) that keeps calling us back even after we’ve lost a friend or have a scary experience.
When thoughts or stories of past tragedies come up, and you’re clear that you still want to get out on the river, remind yourself that today is a new day. Just because you or someone else had a scary experience in the past, does not mean it will happen again, or to you. Pay attention, and trust yourself to respond to what THIS moment calls for.
As I mentioned above, the only thing you can control is you.
Whoever is telling the story has their own doubts, fears and ego going on. They have a certain lens through which they’re viewing the experience, and the world. Stand strong in who YOU are and the preparation you’ve gone through.
When you get on the water, pause and express gratitude for your experience, your mentors and for the water. When others express their opinions to me or tell scary stories, my strategy is to go within and ask myself: ‘Do I trust myself?’ If the answer is yes I go with that.
Another phrase I like to repeat silently to myself when I’m surrounded by scary storytellers is: ‘That’s not true for me.’
When you trust yourself, the opinion or stories of others won’t shake you. The way you build trust in yourself is to work on building your skills, building your mindset and building your relationship with the river.
And, remember that you don’t have to take on other people’s fear.
Choose your crew wisely
All of this leads us to a very important strategy: your crew.
Who you choose to paddle with can make or break your experience and your love of the sport. I know this because several of my clients come to me to recoup their confidence after it’s been shattered by negative experiences on the water.
I also came up in the late 90s and early 2000s when the attitude of the whitewater community was harsh and unforgiving. I’m glad to have seen the culture of the sport become more inclusive and supportive in the past few decades, but there are still some old school attitudes lurking around.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around who you paddle with and who you’ll take instruction or tips from. You don’t have to listen to or paddle with someone you don’t feel comfortable with just because they asked you, or they’re in your club or they’re leading the pool session.
Advocate for yourself and choose your crew wisely.
Remember, the script can be flipped
So far we’ve talked about strategies to stay empowered in the face of folks telling scary stories and giving unrequested advice. It’s also important to recognize when you’re the one telling scary stories or building up a rapid.
Notice what your intentions are with what you’re saying. Does it come from fear, ego or a desire to be helpful?
Unless you’re in a learning situation where the story is relevant, you may notice that the deeper intent is rooted in fear. It could be your own fear and self-doubt that you’re projecting onto other people unnecessarily. The uglier aspect is that it could come from your fear of being one-upped by another paddler. And even worse, a newer paddler!
Your ego encourages you to buy into a scarcity mentality where if someone runs something that you’re scared to run that means you’re less than. Don’t buy into it! It’s OK that you don’t want to run something, even if you have the skill, and it’s OK for someone else to want to run it when they’ve prepared for it and trust themselves.
Learn to be an advocate for yourself and others.
I’m passionate about helping women cultivate mental agility in the face of challenge both on and off the water. If you want to learn more strategies for mastering your whitewater mindset, stay tuned or my upcoming free Master your Whitewater Mindset webinar happening July 28th, and if you’re looking to expand your positive crew I’ll be announcing details for my Mind Body Paddle Community soon! Fun stuff is on the way!