How to make a comeback


How good are you at making a comeback when something unexpected happens, or things don’t work out how you thought or hoped they would?

This is an important question and exploration if you want to cultivate resilience and mental agility. In fact, I like to define mental agility as the ability to move quickly and easily from feeling disempowered to feeling empowered. AKA, making a comeback.

If you love whitewater kayaking, then you know that making comebacks is part of the sport. You can’t escape the fact that paddling includes flipping over, being in between swims, and understanding that ultimately, the river is in control. 

We learn how to wet exit, rescue and roll so we are prepared to recover and make comebacks on the daily. The physical part is one aspect of a comeback on the water, and then there is the mental aspect of the recovery.

When my group in Costa Rica recently experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a group member (non-river or paddling related loss), it was one of the most challenging comebacks I’ve ever lived through (and continue to live through). Not only tending to my own mental recovery, but also leading the group through the process of moving from feelings of shock and disempowerment to being empowered to celebrate and honor life, and finish the trip powerfully.

Today I’m sharing with you the questions I use to recover and make comebacks. May they be of service to you when you need them.

1. What are the facts?

This question helps me discern between the story that I’m telling myself about what happened, and what actually happened, or is happening.

If you want to create drama in your life and dive headfirst into a downward spiral of negativity and self-doubt, then keep buying into the story you’re telling yourself about the situation.

For example, if I swim out of my kayak, I could go down the path of telling myself that I suck as a kayaker and that everyone thinks I suck. Or maybe I blame the river or the conditions. That’s all story. What happened is that I swam out of my kayak. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. 

On the Costa Rica trip it was really important for me to stick to the facts of what happened, both for myself and for the group. Going one step further, it was important for me to give permission to group members to respond without me making up stories about how they were responding or what they were thinking. 

Accepting what happens and staying out of the right/wrong and good/bad stories is key to being able to respond effectively. This isn’t an easy task. It takes a lot of self-awareness because, not only do we make up stories about what happened, but even worse, we believe that the stories we tell ourselves are the truth.

If you can separate out the facts from the stories you’re telling yourself about the facts, you’ll be on your way to feeling empowered.

2. Who do you want to become?

When something doesn’t work out the way you want it to, and you’re facing difficult emotions of loss, disappointment and failure, ask yourself the following question:

“Who do I want to become in this moment, both for myself, and for others?”

You can’t control what happens. The only thing you can control is how you respond to what is, or has happened.

Your response is the difference between empowering yourself and others, or increasing the suffering experienced by all. 

It can be really hard to do this on your own because when you feel challenged you can easily default to survival mode. In survival mode you react with old habit patterns instead of responding with thoughtful action and present moment awareness. 

Doing self-awareness and healing work is very important to increasing your ability to respond instead of react. In my Mental Agility Mastery 8 Week Course, we’re currently in the middle of Self-Awareness Week, and I can see how it’s making a difference for participants. Blind spots are difficult to uncover by yourself because you can’t see them.

Having someone in your corner that helps you stay present to these questions and your ability to respond can make the difference between comeback and letdown. In Costa Rica I was very fortunate and grateful to have my husband, an ER doc and very thoughtful co-guides with me. Together, we were able to support each other in thoughtful responses and actions to move the whole group forward.

3. Where are you looking?

Look where you want to go is something I am constantly reminding my kayak students to do on the water. If you look at the big rock in the middle of the rapid then you’ll end up on the rock. If you look at the water flowing around the rock then you’ll end up flowing around the rock.

Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, focus on what you can do to move yourself and others forward and away from the obstacle.  To be clear, I’m not advocating for ignoring the obstacle or the bad thing that is there, right in front you. On the contrary, it’s important to fully acknowledge that it’s there, and in your way. Only when you fully accept what is happening, can you then look toward where you want to go, and navigate through it, or around it.

In Costa Rica I had to repeat to myself often: ‘This is happening.’ Only when I was courageous enough to fully look at the shocking terribleness of the event could I get clear on next steps that would honor her life, allow space for the group to honor her life, and also move forward with living in the moment.

I definitely don’t have all of the answers, and all any of us can do is our best in any given situation. Treating yourself with kindness and compassion when you’re making a comeback or wanting to empower yourself is key. 

If you find yourself in a place where you’re struggling with empowering yourself or making a comeback from a difficult situation, and you’d like some guidance, email me. Let’s start a conversation, and I can share coaching options with you to get you moving forward.