Lean Downstream – Lessons From The C4 Ranch
By Dr. Glenn Fox, C4 Foundation Chief Science Officer
One of the hardest lessons I had to face when I was learning to kayak was to “lean downstream”. What this means is that for any given rock, ripple, or rapid, the safest thing to do is actually to lean toward it, to put your shoulder into the boulder and paddle downriver, no matter how daunting it looks. As I learned the hard way, leaning upriver will lead to water coming over the rail of the boat and flipping everything over at the worst possible time. As it is in life, research shows that people who focus more on what can be done to solve problems, and look forward to a better future, indeed have better outcomes — this is the basis of all optimism. Just like in the river, the more we focus on the upriver problems and avoid what we’re up against, the more likely we are to run into problems.
These are stressful days indeed, and it certainly feels like we are going through a churning whitewater rapid as a community. SEALs in our community are still being deployed to dangerous and hostile places; their spouses and families are left stateside to face turmoil and quarantine in isolation. So, what does leaning downstream look like in these times? First, we need to name our stress, anxiety and grief (and whatever tough emotions we may face) for what they are: rocks in the rapid. Research shows that simply naming emotions allows us to get a handle on them, and begin to tame them accordingly. Leaning downstream means accepting that these are tough times, and that it is normal to feel such stressors, and that we need to take action to bind our communities together stronger than ever.
We can take these simple steps to help. We encourage everyone to contribute to the mission of the C4 Foundation as we help Navy SEAL and Naval Special Warfare families “lean downstream”:
  1. Call a friend, any friend. Social support is the number one predictor of mental health. Simply sending a text, a photo, or saying thanks to an old teacher, mentor, or long lost friend can create a strong mood boost.
  2. Create Something. Find an old box of paints, a random piece of wood, or a pen and a pencil and take 15 minutes to make something. Do not judge or edit yourself as you go; this is not the time to create a masterpiece. Acts of creating and taking a few moments to do something creative can take us out of our heads a little bit to gather some clarity in a productive manner.
  3. Help someone. The fastest route to feeling good is to reach out to help others. There are many ways to help people in need right now, and ways to show support to those who need it. Studies have shown that the same brain regions are active both when we receive and when we give gifts. There are lots of ways to help, including joining the C4 Chuck Heavy movement (okay, we are biased). We can do a lot to relieve stress and focus on the good things.
In life, like in whitewater, the rapids are what often give us the most meaning and deepest personal lessons. Though we often wish for calmer waters, tough times are always an opportunity to learn, grow, and lean downstream.
Thank you for supporting the C4 Foundation.
-Glenn R. Fox, PhD
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