Finding Confidence On The River
Ever since it first happened to me I found the “under the tree moment” one of the most profoundly life changing experiences of my life. The best way to sum up the experience is this: Imagine that you are a first year guide and you chose to join a trip on an unfamiliar river. There is a large and intimidating rapid full of churning whitewater consisting of 3 drops with no slack water. In each drop there are several large boulder obstacles and 8 foot waves deflecting off of the walls. Now imagine that you just got thrown out in the top of the rapid, bashed around the rocks only to be worked in the massive hole at the bottom. You drag your half drowned self out of the river and don’t stop crawling until you reach a tree well out of the water then contemplate your life choices. If this sounds familiar you have definitely had the under the tree moment.
In this moment you may experience a whole slew of emotions and thoughts, however many guides may find that their confidence is completely shot. I always reference this event because it represents the lowest point a guide’s confidence can reach. Buried in this experience are the wisdom and the groundwork of improving your confidence as a boater. The beauty of the experience is that it opens your mind to new perspectives. Suddenly all the scary class III you have been running doesn’t look so big compared to what you just swam. More importantly the message in that experience is that you must take a good hard look at yourself. Do you truly understand what the lessons are that the river is trying to teach you?
Take time to know yourself
Know where you are and where you want to go. Do you want to be a Grand Canyon guide, but you don’t know how to row big water? Do you want to be an expert creek boater, but you only run Class III commercially guided trips? Take time to really evaluate where you are then set a goal for where you would like to be if nothing was standing in your way.
Many times setting a lofty goal becomes a daunting task with a seemingly limitless amount problems and trials to face. One of my mentors once told me: “Kayakers break rapids down by moving from one eddy to another. They break down a large daunting rapid into smaller more manageable parts.” Seeing the goal of completing the rapid is the first step in a chain of events. This philosophy requires you to break down the most daunting tasks into smaller parts designed to take control of your fears, emotions, the tempo and direction of your life.
Rafting is not a spectator sport everyone is involved. If you want to be truly successful you must take control of your career. You have to choose to make time to practice and master your skills. You must dictate the course of your life. Seek out opportunities for improvement and bettering your skills. Anxiety and fear are key components in creating stressful situations. The path of stress quickly leads to a rapid destruction of your confidence. The root cause of anxiety and fear are feeling like you are not in control. In boating many situations can feel like they are out of your control, however the reality is far from it. Professional climbers don’t look at anchor points and say well I guess we will just see what happens. Pilots don’t assume their aircraft is working the double and triple check to make sure everything is working. As a boater you can’t afford to just say “That rigging should be alright.”, it needs to be right. You cannot change the flow of a river, but you can decide the flow is too low and chose to boat somewhere else. The critical question is: What is within your ability to take control of on your next trip? Also, how can you gain control over issues that you feel are out of your control?
Given the choice of being a professional athlete or a dirtbag what would you choose?
Language sets the tone for how we think of ourselves. Linguistically speaking, being a dirtbag means that you are literally a sack of dirt. It also carries a negative connotation that you roll in filth and are part of the lowest levels of society. For some strange reason outdoor industries have taken this word and tried to change the meaning to be something to aspire to.
An athlete by contrast is held as a paragon of adventure and ability. Athletes have long been held in high esteem as heroes and are expected to serve as people who lead by example based on the highest virtues. To build your confidence you must choose the path of excellence. You must choose to live your life and engage in your boating career as the best possible example of a boater. The commitment to live as a hero is an aspiration to which anyone can strive for regardless of who they are and how good they are. Ask yourself if you have made the choice to be excellent in all aspects of your boating?
Find a solid reference group
The reference group is a psychological concept relating to the people with whom you spend the most amount of your time. Your reference group can help build you up and create a strong sense of confidence in your life. Be sure to connect with boaters who are not only good, but they want to see you succeed. These people can help elevate your skills, take the time to train with you, and really try to understand how you feel. Always ask yourself are you building others up? Are you seeking out those who would build you up?
Never underestimate your ability to succeed
Human potential is only limited by our beliefs. Humans have climbed the tallest peaks, traveled in space and explored the deepest ocean. We have created energy from the sun and cured diseases which plagued humanity since the dawn of time. You are no exception to this pattern. Your ability to achieve success in your boating career is only limited by your belief that you will or will not succeed. What river would you run if you had no fears of failure? What would you run if you knew that you would not have any carnage on that trip? If you knew you could pull off a flawless trip what would that look like?