How to Build Emotional Resilience on the Water


According to the dictionary, resilience is defined as, ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.’ A second definition is: ‘the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.’

When you experience a difficult, disappointing or scary situation on the water how quickly do you recover? Are you able to let it roll off your back and feel empowered to paddle on? No matter your answer, know that you can increase your resilience with practice.

In the past, when I performed poorly in a competition or got trashed on a river and swam out of my kayak I would be upset for days! It wasn’t pleasant for me or the people around me. I made my husband’s life miserable when I didn’t meet the paddling expectations and goals that I set for myself. Instead of enjoying the adventures we were on together, I would wallow in shame, being hard on myself and being upset. Sounds fun, huh!?

Difficult situations are part of life, no one is immune, and we can’t alway control what happens to us. What we do have control over is our ability to bounce back and avoid spending a lot of time in negative emotions and suffering. It’s completely normal to feel shame, to get emotional and to feel upset. Emotions are healthy!

What I’m saying is that we have a choice as to how long we spend in that space. Here’s the deal though, it takes practice and the strategies I’m about to outline can be confronting. What I’ve experienced is that the freedom is worth the practice. If you’re up for the challenge then read on!

Here are my top three resilience building strategies (and they work on and off the water)!

Separate Fact from Story

Consider that we live most of our lives from the stories we tell ourselves about what happened in the past or what is happening now. Our suffering may not actually have anything to do with the actual event, but instead, has everything to do with what we’re telling ourselves about the event. Many times I’ve taken a swim or messed up a line or not been able to paddle out past the break. That’s what happened. The stories I’ve told myself about those experiences are the following:

  • I suck as a paddler.
  • Everyone is judging me.
  • I’m suppose to be able to do this.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t be out here.

All of that is story! It has NOTHING to do with what happened. What happened was that I swam, I messed up my line and I didn’t get out past the break. That’s it. I have the power to not make up a story around it, AND even better, I have the power to make up an empowering story around it. Such as:

  • I was really going for it! I’m proud that I went for that rapid/wave and now I have experience to build on for next time.
  • It takes a lot of courage to be out here today.
  • I’m really grateful that I have such a strong group to support and assist me on the water.

I have a good friend who often says, if you’re going to make up a story about what happened, make it an empowering one!

Drop the Significance

Some of our anxiety, fear and general suffering comes from placing a lot of significance on events, people and even ourselves. There is a difference between knowing your value and being significant. When we place great significance on an event we make it more difficult for us to recover if it doesn’t go the way we intended.

As time passes even the most challenging situations loose their significance. A big one for me was going through in vitro fertilization to start a family. It didn’t work and at the time it felt really heavy and really significant. I was challenged with changing the context of how I thought my life would look. Four years later my husband and I have created adventure, joy and love together without having created children of our own. I may feel sad at times or remember a difficult time, but it’s no longer significant for me and that gives me a lot of freedom.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have events and people in our lives that are important to us. It’s fabulous that you have the goal of running that river or rapid or surfing that break! Consider approaching it from nothing instead of from significance. In the end, as time passes, it will lose it’s significance anyway.

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself and stop making yourself wrong. If you’re struggling with your performance on the water or

anna levesque art of self carehave had a bad or scary experience it’s O.K. You’re O.K. There’s nothing wrong with your process. It’s all perfect. There’s always something to learn, something to take away and put in your tool box. Can you see and speak to yourself as you do your closest friends?  Can you be with yourself right where you’re at?

It’s all a journey, just like paddling a river. Sometimes it’s easy to go with the flow and other times you get stuck in an eddy. Sometimes you catch the wave and sometimes you don’t! Notice the story you’re telling yourself about your experience, drop the significance and be kind to yourself wherever you’re at. Putting these strategies into practice can help build your emotional resilience on and off the water.

If you’re interested in experiencing increased stress resilience check out our Art of Self Care Retreats or personal coaching with Anna!