Why Paddling Outside of My Comfort Zone is Good for Me!



Each of us is unique and has unique life experiences that have led us to this moment and our sense of confidence or lack of confidence.  My sense of worthiness and confidence has often been derived from how other people respond to me.  Throughout my life I’ve looked for approval from other people as affirmation of my worthiness.  When I feel accepted, appreciated and loved it’s easy for me to feel good and to feel confident.  When I feel that I am being judged or disapproved of my confidence wanes. I struggled with freestyle competition for many years focusing more on how my peers and the crowd perceived me than what I needed to do to paddle well.  When I looked up into the crowd I would see judgmental faces instead of supportive faces.  I would tell myself that people were judging me and my performance would suffer.  When I didn’t perform to my expectations I would feel bad.  That bad feeling was rooted in a belief that if I didn’t kayak well I was unlovable.  Talk about a vicious cycle and downward spiral!

The truth about those faces in the crowd is that they were probably not judging at all.  I was the one feeling insecure, afraid of being unloved and being judgmental of myself.   Those attitudes were reflected back to me in the people around me.  If I had remembered that I am lovable (as we all are) no matter how other people respond to me or how well I perform then the faces in the crowd probably would have appeared supportive.  At that time I didn’t realize that my inner state defines and conditions my outer experience.  Instead of looking to other people for acceptance and support I know now that my worthiness has nothing to do with how other people perceive or respond to me and everything to do with how I feel about myself.  And how I perform on the river does not define my self-worth.  It is only a part of who I am.

Considering that I know all of this and that I have a lot of river experience under my belt I would think that I would be immune to insecurity about what other people think or about how I perform.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  I also know that our old habit and belief patterns don’t usually disappear with one, two or even multiple realizations.  It’s all about the practice over and over again, and life has a way of testing us over and over again just to make sure that we’re paying attention!

This winter I was invited on a classic Class IV-V self-support river trip in Costa Rica on the Chirripo Atlantico.  I was nervous about paddling a class IV-V river that I’m not familiar with and paddling with people that I don’t usually paddle with.  The type of beta I was getting ranged from classic class V to (insert exclamatory kayak dude voice) 30 class V + rapids taking 8 to 12 hours of solid paddling on the second day!  Awesome.  I wavered back and forth about going for an entire day.  I finally decided that it was too good of an opportunity to miss and that my experience would help me out with my mental game.

The group was made up of an Argentinian, a Canadian, three Americans and three Costa Ricans.  It was sweet that we were getting to paddle with local boaters who had lots of experience and had run the river several times.  Even though they were all good boaters,  I hadn’t spent a lot of time with them on the water.  When I paddle the Green Narrows at home I know the river really well and I paddle with good friends who I know love and support me.  Even though it’s Class IV-V, it’s within my comfort zone where I feel good and confident.  On the Chirripo trip I found myself out of my comfort zone, my confidence was being tested and all of those old habit patterns of seeking affirmation from others, being afraid of not paddling well and therefore not being accepted started bubbling up.

Add to this the fact that I put pressure on myself to perform at a certain level because of my experience in the industry, it’s my first self-support where I have to carry weight in my boat and I’m using an older boat that is not my first choice for challenging creeking.  Yikes!  Can you feel the downward spiral already?  Even with all of this stuff going on in my head I’m able to feel that desire inside to challenge myself and a knowing, although veiled, that I’m o.k.

We drove through the mountains to the river on narrow, super steep, twisty Class V roads.  The first day was short and sweet starting out in Class II and getting into some nice Class IV.  I was able to relax, some.  We camped at the mouth of the canyon in a beautiful, remote spot surrounded by lush jungle.  It’s always lovely to sleep by the river, watching the stars until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.  On the morning of the second day we entered the Class V section, guarded by two waterfalls cascading down either side of  of the canyon walls.  It was an epic 6 hour section of classic Class IV-V rapids, some sweet and some manky. All of it awesome!

I struggled with my old habit patterns and beliefs throughout the day experiencing a wide range of emotions, sometimes feeling confident and other times feeling shaky and insecure. At times I was frustrated with my inability to control my mind, my desire for the others on the trip to tell me that I was good enough and how all of that negatively affected my paddling.  At least I was able to remind myself that there is no magical remedy for the mind game. The key is to keep doing self-inquiry to discover the root of the insecurity, to recognize when the negativity starts creeping in and to practice ways to override those reactions.

What I did on this trip was take lots of deep breaths, trust my intuition and tell myself you’re here and you’ve got to get down the river so keep doing your best no matter what happens.  When I was hard on myself I would look around and be grateful for the amazing opportunity that I had to be on that river with such awesome paddlers.  I almost bailed on the trip because of my nerves and insecurities and looking back I realized that would have only strengthened the old habit patterns.  Instead I chose to step up and was given the opportunity to remember that I am a good paddler, that I am graced with loving, supportive relationships and that paddling out of my comfort zone is good for me!

My friend Julian made an awesome video of the trip that I hope you’ll enjoy.  I’m the one in the green colored boat.