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Technique Tips

Focusing the Fear Positively

You are approaching The Rapid. A familiar feeling arises...it makes your muscles tight, your balance spastic and it messes with your head. You label it FEAR. Here are some ways to focus your mind positively and deal with irrational fear.

One: identify the fear.

  • Once identified, this "feeling" can be assessed in terms of whether the danger is real or perceived. For example, when evaluating A. "I'm afraid I'll swim and be embarrassed" and B. "I'm afraid I'll swim and drown", the former is more likely to be real and the latter perceived.

Two: reality check. Putting things in perspective...

  • Is your rapid half full of things to avoid or half full of opportunities to get you to your destination? Rocks, holes, waves, eddylines, and pillows are also components of tongues and eddies. Used appropriately, all of these features can help propel you toward your destination.
  • From this new perspective, how likely is the outcome of those two fears to occur? "Well, there's a 50% chance I'd flip on that pillow and a 25% chance I'd miss my roll and swim the bottom of this Class III rapid. There's a good chance I'd feel embarrassed, but the likelihood of drowning is virtually impossible."
  • What is the worst real outcome if this happens? "I'd probably have a bruised ego, and maybe feel a little shook up.
  • Can you survive the outcome emotionally and physically? "Yes, I might bump my butt on that rock, but I'd be OK." "No, I'm terrified of swimming Class III and doing so would set me back or make me quit altogether."
  • Are you willing to experience that outcome? "Yes, I've got lots of natural padding anyway!" "No, I want to continue this sport at my slow pace because that's fun for me."

Three: I can do this. Here are some self-assessment questions.

  • "Am I boating in control up to this point? Have I practiced similar or harder moves in the easier rapids? Can I put the individual moves together for this rapid? "
  • "How is my psyche? Am I feeling secure about myself and those with whom I am boating?" Psyche can be affected by the weather and by personal events. Perhaps you'd run a particular rapid on a sunny day but are unable to summon the focus in the rain. Or perhaps you're feeling vulnerable because you've recently had a falling out with your partner.
  • If your answers are positive, start to de-sensitize yourself to your fear and ensure success by visualizing or feeling your run through the rapid to your destination eddy. Identify landmarks and crux strokes along the way. "Start on the left side of the tongue and paddle hard angling right. Edge left into the pillow and place two consecutive left-hand strokes on it to drive me into the river right current. From there the rest of the rapid is Class II". This dialogue may occur verbally, visually or kinesthetically - depending on your learning style.
  • Once committed, it's time to get centered. Get in your boat, shake out your muscles, close your eyes and start taking deep, relaxed breaths. Big breaths that fill even your abdomen. Relax! Imagine yourself as strong and as graceful as your paddling hero. Sit erect in a forward, anticipatory posture and start paddling aggressively around the pool above the drop. Focus on how well you move the boat and even whoop it up to get rid of any extra adrenaline.

Four: you are what you replay.

  • What's going on in your head is practice, and only perfect practice makes perfect. If your run wasn't as successful as you wanted, make changes in your mind so that when you replay it you've nailed the move and are upright and smiling at the bottom. If you are able to get centered and have the energy, run it again to further desensitize yourself to that particular drop. *At the end of the day, notice how you describe your skill and runs to others. Keep it positive! Even if you had a "bad" run, DON'T describe it! Instead, say how you would make changes to have a successful run next time.
  • Pre-trip head centering sets the tone for the day. Don't let your fear take you downstream during the shuttle. When you're miles above The Rapid in playful Class II, keep your mind focused. Remind yourself where you are and that you will only boat what's in front of you.
  • Mantras are a great way to positively focus the fear-seeking mind. Feeling nervous? Weak and imprecise? The moment you notice these negative thoughts coach yourself by choosing opposite words. With every stroke of the paddle repeat "I'm strong and precise. Paddling is fun!".

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