15 May 2008 – Dealing with Fear


I was inspired by the story of a kayak friend of mine, he had been struggling with confidence and even though a capable boater, he was about to give it up. It just wasn’t fun anymore, the fear had become too uncomfortable.

I was guiding him for a few days on the Nile. He had done the easier rapids and had done well but did take one swim and it bothered him, he didn’t trust his roll and therefore being upside down was no fun.

We were heading down the Silverback section of the Nile (a section where some of the bigger rapids are) for his first time and I could tell he was nervous; half way down the first flat pool he was ready to pull out. I knew he really needed to do this. If he pulled out now his kayaking would be over, the consequences of giving in to the fear would have been far more unpleasant to face than anything downstream, and he knew it. It only took a few words to remind him of that, rationally he knew it, but fear was working on the unconscious level.

I respect courage and there is no courage greater than when it is in the face of a full on irrational fear assault. It is easy for the 18 year old to huck his kayak off a 20m waterfall, if he had little fear to begin with.

The greater the fear the greater the courage needed to overcome it.

He went over in the first rapid and hit rock; I thought he would bail out, but he didn’t. He made it through the next one upright and let out a rebel yell of delight.

He proceeded to take a swim in the next rapid. He got himself in his boat and kept going. In the last rapid he did several combat rolls and finally made it up.

He had battled and had won. It wasn’t pretty but he had survived. For some people this might have been enough. However he still didn’t know for sure that he could. If we had stopped there, doubt would have been able to remain and he knew it. So he came back in the afternoon and did it all again. This time he was more relaxed and paddled more to his capabilities and styled it.

I have seen few things make a person as happy as when they have fought their demons and beaten them, it is an inner satisfaction that suddenly makes everything seem better and more hopeful. It leaves you feeling more powerful and makes the other challenges in your life seem smaller.

It was inspirational; he had turned fear into courage, and potential defeat into victory. It all could have been so different if he had pulled out on that flat stretch.

In my lifestyle I have had to deal with fear often, my own and other’s.
Here are some of my thoughts on the demon.


Fear has many forms, and some of them are very healthy, with a life preservation function. There is however a few forms that are nothing but bad news and non more so than irrational fear.

Overcoming irrational fear is not an easy path but as the Buddhist say, its only when you realize that life is hard that life becomes easy.

Sport psychology has infiltrated everyday culture and we have all heard the world’s top athletes and coaches say it time and again. “Winning is a habit.” And so is giving up, and so is giving in to your fear. Every time your irrational fear gets the better of you, you become weaker, with every victory you have over your fear, you become stronger.

Fear will stop you from becoming all you can be, whether its fear of failure or fear of the unknown. Fear will ruin your life if you let it, it can be debilitating and, without you knowing it, it will spread into other areas of your life, polluting your dreams and hopes.

It’s a battle that you will never win completely, irrational fear will keep popping its ugly head up. But if you keep knocking it down it will never grow strong enough to threaten you. You will end up fighting the battles in your conscious mind on the plains of actual risk where they should be fought, not in the shadows of your subconscious mind were irrational fear rules. Fear is not fought once and beaten, it is fought everyday and weakened.

Fear should be looked at as your tennis partner, you will play your weekly games, some you will win, some you will loose. You will know her by her real name and will see her for what she really is. Good and bad. Nothing but an instinctual, mental reaction to a situation.

Realizing that fear is by it self just an emotion and nothing more is the first step in gaining control over it.

Irrational fear disguises itself so that you will not recognize it. It’s favorite disguise is that of a warning system, it makes you think that it is acting in your own best interest. It knows that this is a system that you will not easily override.

How do you distinguish between irrational and rational fear? Here are a few of my own give always. You might have your own disguises for irrational fear.

Irrational fear
1: The aversion is immediate and does not want any discussion. If it rational it will not mind being examined.
2: An emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the situation.
3: The best excuse you can come up with is “I just don’t want to”.


Desensitization is one theory for overcoming your fears. Simply put, it means losing your fear by slowly, over a period of time, being in contact with the object or activity and so slowly realizing that it is actually not so bad.

By ingesting small amounts at a time your system gradually becomes accustomed to it. Nothing new here, but lets look at the underlying mechanism in this theory.

I believe that by fighting the battle against your fear in small battles you actually become better at battling your fear. It’s not the object you become accustomed to; it is the fear you become accustomed to. You start to realize that the feeling cannot kill you, cannot hurt you and can be overridden. It is just a feeling after all.

The exposing of fear might not be everyone’s life goal, but we can all profit from not being slaves to our unconscious and what better place to start battling the demon than in your kayaking?

Kayaking is one of the great head games. When things go wrong you have to deal with oxygen starvation, the brains most precious resource, and boy, the brain gets worried when it’s not getting it. And it will let you know about it through the panic response.

Fear leads to panic, and panic kills. When boating at the edge of your ability, you will be scared, no way around that, it’s the way it should be. The trick is to keep that fear from becoming panic. And to be able to control fear, you have to practice being scared. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

No one likes to be scared. So what I propose is to be just a little scared everyday of something. Identify some irrational fears in your life and start to terrorize yourself about it. You will become stronger and happier for it.

If you are uncomfortable under water, then spend more time underwater, see how long you can hold out before rolling up and try to extend this period.

The alarm bell start to go off as soon as you go over in the early stages, then after a bit of practice and a couple of hundred rolls to show the brain that there is hope it will give you more and more time before it demands to breath. The more confidence you have in your roll the more time you can spend upside down.

Even the best kayakers go upside down, there is no avoiding it, so if you are scared of being upside down, don’t try to stay upright, try to stay upside down as much as possible. You will enjoy your kayaking more.

Find a feature that isn’t lethal but that scares you a little and paddle into it on purpose. Have your safety setup and just go in there and try to relax. Take the beat down, or the swim and you will see that it isn’t so bad, more importantly you would have faced that fear.

You will come out stronger, be able to enjoy more, do more and be fear-less.


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