By Anja FuechtbauerOriginally published at https://vsco.co/anjafuechtbauer/journal/confidence-fun-and-beer
“I don’t want to fall.” – Climber.
“I don’t want to swim.” – Paddler.
“I don’t want to cry.” – Woman.
Maybe you have had those thoughts before? On the odd occasion when you make that desperate move well above your last piece of gear. Or that time when you are in a whirlwind of white-water and not sure if you’ll make it down in one piece.
We probably all had those thoughts. But what if those thoughts start to appear every single time you go outdoors? What if they define your whole experience? They make you clench your teeth and swallow hard? When you are driving out on a Friday night and instead of looking forward to your adventure you just wonder if you will fall, if you will swim and if you end up crying? Out of disappointment in yourself. In your own skills and abilities and in your lack of believing in yourself?
The above is the start to an article I wrote about four weeks ago. When my confidence in skills was basically non-existent. When I was desperate to understand why I turned from absolutely loving going outdoors and challenging myself to almost being afraid to go. I had very high expectations of myself.
Let me explain a bit more. Two years ago I was a confident lead-climber. Nudging on 20s on sport lead outdoors, competing in bouldering and generally being strong and fit. Then I injured my wrist and it’s been average ever since. Climbing was completely off limits, bike riding was gone too and I couldn’t even open a door knob without being in pain. Stand still.
Kayaking: somehow I could still do, so I threw myself into it. I went to NZ Kayak School in that year and again early this year. After returning from NZ in February I had an awesome day at the whitewater stadium in Penrith. I was stoked. I took so many rolls and did so much “cool” stuff. I taught others.
After that, no more kayaking really. A trip to Peru where I rafted the Marañon and beat myself up on the inside for not being a good enough kayaker for this trip of a lifetime.
Upon return to Australia in August I tried to go surf kayaking. It was small surf. I didn’t even get out to the waves, just got stuck in the whitewash. I tumbled. I got dragged around and I swam. And then walked along the beach crying. I had taught others how to roll a kayak – successfully. I went to kayak school – twice! What the hell was going on? I was so disappointed in myself.
On a trip to Penrith (the only other whitewater running this part of town this time of year) I tried to roll in the outwash of the last rapid before heading up to the top of the course. I swam again. And I beat myself up so much – mentally not physically. Tears coming down my cheeks and I paddled over to the lake to grimly practise my roll.
At the same time, I started to go back to climbing. On a trip to the Blue Mountains, I worked up the courage to say yes to an ‘easy’ lead climb. I made it to the last clip and then bailed before the anchor. And instead of being totally happy to have pushed for the last clip so much when I felt so awfully terrified, I felt like I had failed. I mean – it wouldn’t have been a ‘hard’ climb for two-years-ago-climber-me, a grade 16. But now I felt shattered. The things I used to be so proud of all seemed to have gone.
So, self-analysis here we go. Sitting down to ask ‘why’ and to get the fun back into the outdoors. Because instead of properly enjoying the beautiful afternoon on the rock with my friends, my brain and emotions just swirled out of control.
There was a rational reason for all the things that were going on. Namely, I haven’t climbed in two years – which means no physical strength training, no exposure to leading and particularly no training for my head game. And all climbers know that if you lose your head game you should probably call it a day and just go to the pub for a beer and come back another day. We all have those days when we are just not up for it. And that’s ok!
And kayaking is very similar. It’s mighty helpful to be confident. Daan from kayak school used to say “either you own your kayak or it owns you”. You need to actively drive your boat to get where you want. Confidently. The crux in kayaking, in my opinion, is a bomber roll. If you can roll up anytime then your kayaking improves by roughly a gazillion percent.
Surrounding yourself with super awesomely talented friends who make everything look easy and are more ballsy than you can be great. But it can also trigger feelings of inadequacy and make you feel like you are the one that holds others back. Or you head out with people who have started at the same time as you but they are further ‘ahead’ (hint: there’s no ‘ahead’ in having a good time or fun) because they kept at the sport or maybe didn’t get injured. The truth is though that these friends are actually just super stoked you go out with them after a time away and give it a go. And half the time they might just fake their braveness anyway.
And despite it all, you see, somehow, last weekend, I competed, well participated, in a whitewater kayaking race. On a grade III section of icy icy icy cold river. Happily. And I swam. And I had a fantastic time. Like – super-duper-awesome-making-me-smile-right-now time. And the weekend before the race I climbed in the Blue Mountains and lead two pitches on a climb called Sweet Dreams – a 10 and a 13. And it was great.
So why all this rambling? Injury, parenthood, change of interest or moving city / town and travelling can all be factors that get you away from your training routine. Maybe for quite a while. When you get lucky and re-discover your love for your sport again and go back, and you are on the competitive spectrum of personalities, something like this might happen. And hopefully you don’t beat yourself up on it.
So how did I get back to actually being a noob at things, ‘failing’ and having fun while doing so?
One – an article I read that said asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ is a way more positive way to look at things. “Why am I bad at kayaking?” Because I lack confidence and I haven’t paddled etc. You end up feeling like a failure. Rather ask: “What do I not like about my kayaking?” That I can’t roll. So fix that!
Two – back to basics. Step back and start easy. Do a multi-pitch but maybe let your partner lead the harder pitches. You still get to do the whole thing and can relax seconding the hard moves. And do ‘pretend-lead’ and/or lead in the gym. In kayaking, go back to video analysis of rolling in flat water. Get those chicken-wings sorted. Get your friends to push you over. Hold your breath for 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds before you roll. Take your goggles with you and your nose plug. You know, pretend you’re back at kayak school. And allow yourself to fail.
Three – choose things you are good at. For me this meant to go on a multi pitch climb in which I swapped the ‘hard’ pitches with someone else. And we took out someone who was completely new to outdoor climbing. I know how to setup systems safely and I got to explain a whole lot of (basic) outdoor climbing knowledge. It made me feel really confident and competent about an important aspect of climbing.
Four – take those friends on outings that are emotionally on the same wavelength. We all know people that are awesome at the sport they do but they might not be quite emotionally tuned in with you or just not a good teacher. Maybe go with them next time and choose someone that you can just ease in with and don’t feel like you need to proof anything. If you are a woman, an all-girls trip can be a good idea too. Sorry lads.
Five – all you need is 20 seconds courage. I read about a female adventurer who uses this method and I really like it. When you are at the crux, at the rapid or whatever it is – ask yourself – “Can I be brave for the next 20 seconds?” And be! 20 seconds is long enough to get you through whatever scares you. No need to be tough all the time. Just 20 seconds a time.
Six – line up those bootie beers. I mean it! When Anna and me had to join the line up at the Snowy River Extreme Race to please the river gods after our swim during the race, I was laughing seeing how many people had to get up there. All those good and not so good paddlers seemed to have been pummelled out of their boats throughout the day. We might have been ten or 15 people. It’s always nice to know we are all between swims (or falls).
And seriously, if the day just isn’t going well take your friends and have a beer. And come back next time. We all have those days, weeks or sometimes months. But hopefully you will be able to come back to whatever you want to do and have fun! See you out there!
You can find more of Anja’s writing and photography here.