Befriend Your Fear in 5 Steps


What does it take to get to this point of dropping a small waterfall with confidence when you know that 4 accomplished paddlers, including a friend, have passed on this same river?

Maybe for you it’s not dropping a waterfall. It could be making a big change in your life, facing a hard truth, setting boundaries for your self care, or finding courage in the face of a difficult situation.

The lead up to this rapid was a struggle for me.

It was the first time I paddled this river since my friend Maria passed away over 2 years ago, and the night before I found out another paddler had lost his life on a rapid below.

Life is full of difficult truths that we do our best to ignore and resist. The biggest of them all being our own mortality.

When I was newer to the sport and starting to compete and paddle more difficult runs, the elders with more experience would say that the longer you’re in this sport the more people you’ll know who pass.

So why on Earth would I continue in a sport like that?!

It’s a good question. Part of me wanted to walk away and paddle something easier or do a different sport altogether. Another part of me, a stronger voice, was asking me to find my courage, remember the joy of that river, and trust myself.

Here are 5 steps I took to do that and what I can offer that may help you as well:

1. Talk with People Who Have Earned Your Trust

When I started questioning how committed I was  to whitewater kayaking, and especially to running this particular river, I turned to people I trust.

People who listen powerfully.

What does that mean? It means they listen for possibility and empowerment. They don’t try to fix me or the situation, and they don’t tell me what to do.

They hold a powerful space for my own wisdom to express itself.

Powerful listeners can hear what’s important to you and support that.

2. Give Yourself Permission

I gave myself permission to run the top section of the river only, and take out if I wasn’t feeling up to the bottom section.

Commitment and follow-through are important to me AND it’s also OK to take on a challenge step by step, section by section, moment by moment.

Break up the challenge and take it on piece by piece. That way it doesn’t feel like one unsurmountable problem to solve.

The first step is giving yourself permission to get started and go at your own pace.

My nerves were in overdrive in the top section and a few times I thought to myself – no way am I paddling the bottom section.

Then we stopped at the bridge, got out, stretched and talked about the lead in to Bear Creek Falls (pictured) and what was below it and so on…

When I checked in with myself I got a strong ‘yes.’ So I put on and decided to get out front.

Giver yourself permission to change your mind.

3. Take Time to Be  Curious

At the put-in I stayed with the gear while shuttle was being run. It was super helpful to give myself time to tune into the qualities of the present moment and to connect with the river.

That peaceful time by the river gave me the opportunity to keep checking in with myself. I got curious about how I was feeling and what the qualities of the present moment and the river were telling me.

Your body, inner wisdom and nature are always speaking to you. Get quiet, listen and be curious.

I felt a sense that I was where I needed/wanted to be and I felt supported.

As I paddled and maneuvered with ease without relying on someone else for the line, I was able to fully remember that I could do this, and do it well.

Stay curious and continue to check in with yourself.

4. Use Your Tools

And if you don’t have tools yet, learn to cultivate them.

Once we put on the river I continuously reminded myself that what happened in the past is in the past. This moment is not those moments. Keep looking where you want to go, breathe and focus.

Above the falls I decided to get out and take a look. Always a good idea if that’s what you feel you need to do, regardless of how often you’ve paddled it.

Getting clear again on the line boosted my confidence and made it fun.

I’ve cultivated these tools and strategies off the water through meditation, mindset training, yoga training and Ayurveda training. Tools that help you strengthen your self-awareness, accept what is and powerfully choose who you want to be in any given moment, will help you face challenge with courage.

You must practice them often and in situations that are calm.

Tools like scouting and looking ahead I’ve practiced on hundreds, if not thousands of rivers over the last 27 years pf paddling.

Practice hard moves in easy water. That applies to your kayaking skills, and also to your mindset skills. Don’t expect to be able to calm yourself in a very stressful situation if you’ve never practiced calming yourself in a quiet space.

5. Acknowledge Your Fear

My mental game has never come easy to me which is one of the reasons I love kayaking. It challenges me to face my fears and find courage over and over again. In other words, it pushes me to feel alive and to live fully. That’s why I keep doing it.

Your brain keeps you safe by sounding alarm bells. That’s never going to change. Cultivating tools to choose powerfully in the face of fear, that’s courage.

Take it a step deeper, and you discover that the fear of your own mortality will never go away. It’s always there whether you choose to pay attention or not.

Acknowledge your fear and make friends with it. One of my teachers would tell me to invite my fear to my kitchen table to drink tea.  Learn to live and work with your fear, and let it inspire your to live your life fully.

For me, in this moment, it meant running a river that brought up a lot of fear and emotion. At a different time it means allowing myself to be vulnerable in front of others, taking on a hard line on my bike or skis, or committing to learning something new or acknowledging my shortcomings.

What does working with your fear look like for you?  Are you easily courageous and confident or do you work at it? Send me an email and let me know how you find your courage and if this blog was helpful.

Photo by Rob Giersch