Facing fear through courageous action

Sign on tree pointing to the water.

As sea kayakers, we face fear a lot. Whether it’s flipping upside down for that first wet exit, setting out on that first big open-water crossing, or making that first foray onto the standing wave at Surge Narrows, we all know what it’s like to have the weight of fear with us in the boat.

How can we throw that fear overboard and get on with all the fun that kayaking has to offer?

Former professional freestyle kayaker turned performance coach Anna Levesque has some answers. Last week, Anna presented an online coaching session called “How to Face and Transform Your Fear” to an audience of whitewater kayakers in the California Women’s Watersport Collective, and I was fortunate enough to attended the session. Anna’s five-step fear-conquering process is based on common sense, but it’s a process we all need to be reminded of from time to time. I’ve summarized Anna’s five steps below, with examples provided from a sea kayaking perspective.

Five steps to face and transform your fear

(courtesy of Anna Levesque of Mind Body Paddle)

  1. Accept the fear. Know that fear will always be with you at some level, because your brain is wired to assess threats and vulnerabilities in order to keep you alive. Accepting fear as a normal body response to stressful situations gives you the space you need to identify and implement strategies for addressing that fear.
  2. Breathe, or speak a gratitude. Ground yourself through breath, or with spoken words of gratitude for something you appreciate right now. Maybe you’re grateful that the sun is out, that you’re in your boat, or that you just saw a seal! Your mind can’t focus on fear and gratitude at the same time.
  3. Separate fact from story. Anna defines fear as “false evidence appearing real.” We all create stories about the situations we encounter, and often those stories aren’t based in reality — for example, “If I do a wet exit, I might get stuck in my boat and drown!” Or, “If I commit to this crossing, the ferry might arrive early and hit me!” The key is to dig through these stories and find the actual facts of the situation. For example, “I’m practicing this wet exit in waist-deep water with a qualified instructor standing right beside me. That person will not let me drown.” Or, “This crossing is 1.5 nautical miles, the ferry is scheduled to arrive in 45 minutes, and my normal, relaxed paddling rate is 2.0 knots. If I paddle at my normal rate, I will be in the middle of the channel, where the ferry runs, in about 23 minutes.”
  4.  Determine what action is needed in this moment. Based on the facts you identified in the previous step, what actions can you take to respond to the reality of your situation? For example, “I can try this wet exit because the instructor is standing right beside me to help.” Or, “I can cross now, paddle a little faster than my normal rate, and pass the middle of the channel in about 20 minutes. Then I can relax back into my normal rate and continue to the other side with the ferry channel behind me.”
  5. Take courageous action. Based on the facts and actions you identified above, stand powerful in your fear and act anyway. “I’m going to try this wet exit because the instructor is right here beside me!” Or, “I’m going to try my first wet exit without my spray skirt, so I can see what it’s like to be underwater in my kayak.” Or “I’m going to paddle up the shoreline a bit until I see the ferry pass, then cross.” Remember that courageous action doesn’t always mean pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, and it never means taking unnecessary risks. Your goal is simply to step outside your fear and to act — within the facts, from a position of clarity, in a manner that serves you best in that moment.

Happy fear-conquering!!

Read more of Anna’s tips for working through fear.

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