Fear of drowning – and the power of trust
We went kayaking the other day. I was rather reluctant. I’d booked a day out on the river Dart as a Christmas present. Back in December when I emailed the kayaking instructor, it had seemed a romantic notion. Me, Stu and the river Dart – what more could we want?
However now, as I was gently pushed off the quay by the instructor, dread kicked in. I breathed deeply trying to quash the primal fear that engulfed my brain. The kayak seemed to be wobbling uncontrollably. Sickness arose in my stomach, as a swirl of thoughts filled my head about capsizing and breathing the murky black water into my lungs.
The kayak instructor, who was helping Stu into his kayak at the time, cheerfully called over to me,
‘Do you feel wobbly?’
“Yes.” I stuttered, “It feels really unstable.”
“It’s ok,” his voice was grounded with reassurance. “That’s perfectly normal”
“Normal?” His voice echoed in my head. A shaft of hope flickered to life inside me. “What do you mean, normal?” I asked
“It just takes a while for your brain to adjust. Soon you’ll feel completely stable.”
The certainty of his explanation immediately seemed to settle the fearful feelings that were flitting like startled fish in my stomach. He spoke with real authority. Not only had he identified the horrible uncertainty I was feeling, he had normalised it. As the thoughts of drowning subsided I concentrated on paddling.
The river Dart is beautiful, it winds its way from Dartmoor to Dartmouth and as the river widens towards the estuary a sense of timelessness kicks in. The trees on the bank lean over so that their branches nearly touch the water at high tide.
The meandering shoreline looks the same at it would have 100 or 500 years ago. Kayaking is such a peaceful experience. Without the whir of a motor the lapping sound of the water and the call of the birds are amplified.
As I admired the ageless beauty I suddenly realised I no longer felt unstable in the kayak. I noticed an absence of fear in my head. The scurrying, anxious thoughts had gone. I was free to enjoy the kayaking trip.
When I reflected on my kayaking trip some days later I realised that it had many parallels with my coaching.
Years ago, when I coached in a more traditional way, I would have listened to my client’s fears and wobbles and tried to help ‘fix’ them. We would have both got to work on trying to feel more positive and more confident.
Nowadays I realise there is a normal rhythm of being human, which involves ups and downs. Rather than trying to use willpower or commitment to change things, I’m more like the kayak instructor, I just explain to clients how the mind actually works.
There were three specific areas (that resonated from the kayak trip) that relate to my coaching. They are this:
When I first got into the kayak I felt unstable. That’s very like being human. We will feel wobbly from time to time (that’s natural and normal)
My fear of drowning was stoked up when imagination kicked in. That’s also what happens to us if we’re not wise to what’s going on. Our imagination will amplify fear until we are subsumed by it. When we realise that distress, and feeling ‘wobbly’ is normal then we don’t add more fear, worry and anxiety to the mix.
There is an in-built self-correcting mechanism. We are designed to self-correct. If we leave the human mind alone it will adjust on its own. We don’t need to ‘fix’ anything.
As my clients start to realise these things for themselves then they experience less stressed. There are still the lumps and bumps of life and as my clients start to trust their inbuilt design of resilience they start to relax and enjoy the journey. My job is just to point out how the psychological system actually works.
About Liz Scott & Stuart Newberry
Liz Scott & Stu Newberry are Coaching Skills trainers and 3P practitioners. They help develop coaching cultures within schools and organisations. Liz & Stu use their understanding of the 3Ps within their training and are experiencing great successes and results in the organisations they are working in. Download an Introduction to the Three Principles here.
Want to de-stress in just 28 days? Recharge on the Run is a FREE audio series (delivered to your inbox daily) that will help you discover your inner peace of mind. Find out more about Liz & Stu at Liz Scott Coaching and Training