Kayaking Backwards: When We Want More than Our Limiting Beliefs

We were drifting slowly and steadily down the Shenandoah River in Virginia. The banks were thickly framed by fragrant phlox and bubbling with bird songs. Rimmed by the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was entirely mesmerizing.

So tranquil, in fact, that my niece nearly napped, leaning back against the seat of her kayak and going with the flow. 

 At one point, I watched her drift (backward) through a small set of rips, avoiding the rocks as she cheerfully called into the wind: Somehow, I always manage to find the way through when I go backward!

Damn. I thought. I’m not sure I could do that. Long ago, I was a whitewater canoeist. Today, I still know how to read the water and to backpaddle to align the bow into the V pattern of water and avoid the rocks.

 But intentionally backward? Even if in nearly still water?

Why not, I thought as I released control and my kayak took a lazy turn to the left. Then suddenly shot with adrenaline, I decided: Yeah, no, as I reacted to an insistent (and mostly unconscious) voice that said: You DO NOT go backward in a boat. Next thing I knew, I had grasped my paddle to energetically join my cousin crisscrossing the river banks.

 Do Your Limiting Beliefs Still Serve You?

So kayaking backward is not a top priority for me. But what about the other voices that keep me stuck in my limiting beliefs? And what about those voices in you? Or the ones you hear in your staff?

What feels backward is often the way forward.

We all have limiting beliefs that likely once served a purpose but are no longer relevant. Some would call them our saboteurs – blocking our progress forward. I recognize them as parts of myself that developed when my brain was young and lacked all the facts. I thank them for their thoughts and then tell them to take a long jog so I can explore new things.

Recognizing these ancient, irritating and limiting voices is actually how we move forward, and become the artist of our lives. Yet it can initially feel so very wrong.  

Fake It Till You Make It? 

Fake it till you make works as a short-term strategy. But like grit, it’s not meant for the long haul. Burnout, anxiety, even depression, will likely be a consequence. (The latter two are well served in therapy.)  

What’s needed instead is the emotional self-awareness to acknowledge the unpleasant emotion for what it is – unpleasant – and that it will not kill us. In this marvelous article, Leverage Your Fear of Failure for Success the author notes:

You may think that if you keep faking it, you can never fail…..Rather than holding more tightly to the reins, you need to allow space for trying out new things, for failure and feedback. This approach will offer greater insight into the areas where you are in consonance, so you can focus on what really matters and gain traction over those things.

It Begins with a Pause

Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, reminds us that the most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you have with yourself. She councils to have them with compassion, have them with courage, and have them with an appreciation for our inner wisdom. 

When we seize up with an unpleasant emotion, pause and ask: Do I want something more than what this restriction is offering me? Limiting beliefs are loaded with unpleasant emotions; yet, those very emotions have essential data on what you, in fact, DO want. No guarantees, but always a pathway to greater good and fulfillment. 

Make Space: Ask a Powerful Question

Whether you are self-coaching or coaching others (for example when a staff member says I can’t manage this job), ask a simple yet powerful question to help reframe:  

  • What’s worked well in the past when you faced similar situations?
  • What were the strengths you engaged? 
  • How could you use them now?
  • What would it look/feel to be on the other side of this?

These questions will help to loosen and untangle the internal knots to make space for more possibilities and options. You are already naturally creative, resourceful and whole.

So where would you like to kayak backward? 

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