The Big Idea
You are stronger than whatever is in your way.
Questions I Answer
- How can I achieve my goals if I have things that hold me back?
- How can I be more fearless?
- What can I do to figure out what to do next when I have a big goal?
Actions to Take
- After listening to this episode, take time to see where you can implement little acts of courage in your life. Through practice of being brave and jumping back in, you’ll be able to rework your process and feeling empowered to accomplish your goals and dreams, too.
- What are your invisible barriers? Write them down, talk about them with friends or family.
Key Topics in the Show
Erik’s advice for jumping back in after a setback or when you feel like you’ve failed.
Why being brave is stronger and better than being fearless.
Stories of Erik’s expeditions and teammates of overcoming traumas to achieve big dreams.
How sometimes you have to go back to the beginning to retrain our brains and rework our processes in order to move forward.
What ‘invisible barriers’ are, who has the obstacles and how to use that in that a positive way.
Resources and Links
- Visit the No Barrier’s website to learn more about Erik, his mission, and the No Barriers Summit.
- Listen to Episode 041: How is Fear Holding You Back?
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. A podcast focused on finding true fulfillment, and happiness through the power of productivity. To get your free checklist, five minutes to beat productivity, simply sign up at inkwellpress.com/ podcast. Now, here’s your host Tanya Dalton.
Tanya Dalton: Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host Tanya Dalton owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode
- Today we are continuing my interview with Erik Weihenmayer that we started last week.
This weeks episode is brought to you by FreshBooks. A cloud based accounting software designed with productivity in mind.
It’s the easiest way to get paid quickly, and easily if you’re a
freelancer, or entrepreneur, and they’re giving away a free trial. I’ll be sharing more about that later in the episode.
Okay. As I mentioned earlier I am so thrilled that we are
continuing the interview with Erik Weihenmayer that … Just to
remind you Erik is a true adventurer. He’s climbed Mount Everest, conquered the seven summits, and Kayaked the Grand Canyon.
Did I mention? He’s completely blind.
Not only is Erik an inspiration in his lifestyle, and in the way he approaches challenges, he’s also the founder of No Barriers. Last week we talked about why it’s important to strengthen our
muscle of suffering. Why it’s important to give, and receive help
on our path to greatness, and the importance of moving forward even when things feel incredibly difficult. I’m excited to continue our talk by exploring the topic of fear, and failure, and why
practicing insignificant acts of courage is important. Ready? Erik I want take a minute to talk to you about failure, because while
you’ve had a lot of successes, we’re all going to have failures in
our lives whether it’s climbing a mountain, going after a big goal, or just honestly living our every day lives. I know in the prologue of your book you talked about your first pass at Lava Falls which is one of the most intimidating rapids in the Grand Canyon.
Your first attempt didn’t quite go as planned, but you got back in the kayak, and you, and your guide Harlan approached it in a
different way. This time a much more successful way. How
important is it to get right back in there after you experience a
set back, or a failure? And if it’s been too long does that detract
from your possibilities?
Erik Weihenmayer: It’s hard to even know where to start with that question because it took me 400 pages to get from the first run of Lava to the
©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 8
second run of Lava. It’s not as simple as just I’m going to go, and go do it better this time. It goes back to this idea of suffering.
After that first run I sat there with my face in my hands. I was
nothing but devastated, and a rapid has a map like life. Like we
talk about it no barriers, you’re trying to build that map, and it’s
the messy map, and it’s easy to go off the path, but if you can
stay on it, or close to it, your chances are much higher. My first
run through Lava was just terrible. I was too far to the right, I was probably sluggish. I was nervous. I hit these boils, they flipped
- I was upside down going into Lava. I rolled up, but I hit the B wave cockeyed, and went into a massive cartwheel.
I went into the next series of rapids. The Big Kahuna waves backwards. I was just getting knocked over. I think I got knocked over twice, and rolled up in the midst of all that. Even Harlan who was an amazing guide, put his paddle up, and this wave busted
his carbon fiber paddle in half so he was upside down. His nose
pouring blood, and thinking how do I roll up, and communicate
with Erik, and I wound up swimming. Pulling my skirt, and
swimming through Lava. You’re just crushed, and it’s not so
simple. When I wrote my second book with Paul Stoltz we would get into these arm wrestling matches, because I was coming at
adversity from the experiential side, and he was coming at it from the more scientific side. I would say to Paul, it’s not like you’re
walking in your sandals, and then you stub your toe on
something, and blood is just gushing out of your toe, and you’re
looking down at like blood spewing everywhere, and you’re like
what a great opportunity for growth, you know?
It doesn’t work like that. You pound your head against the wall. You rail against the unfairness of life. What Paul taught me, and
what the message of that book was, was the quicker you pick
yourself up, and respond optimally to that adversity, the healthier you will be, the more successful. Quote on quote successful you’ll be, even your health, and longevity, your life span is longer. What he was saying was right, but you do have to go through sort of an arduous process to not just sort of survive adversity, but I think
what we call harness it. Really take the energy of that, and use it to propel you forward. Lava falls I was confronted with this
dilemma that we’re all confronted with. I was through it. I lived,
and do I just keep going down the river, and put it behind me, or do I circle back, and confront it again. There are things that you
can influence in your life, and you work like hell to do that, and
there are things you can’t.
The things you can’t you got to let go, but it’s a tricky, tricky equation of what you can influence, and what you can’t. I had to
wrestle with that, and I really only had one night to do it.
Ultimately I decided to go back, and try Lava again.
©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 8
Tanya Dalton: Well trying it was obviously a good decision, because you were able to walk out the other side having conquered it.
Erik Weihenmayer: I’m here. I lived.
Tanya Dalton: That’s right. I like the fact though that you talked about how you were nervous. Earlier this season in a mini-episode I talked about the difference between being brave, and being fearless. Being
able to do these things that you do doesn’t mean that you are
fearless. It doesn’t mean you have an absence of fear. You’re
actually being brave, which is stronger because you’re
overcoming your fears, and I want to talk to you about something that happened that most likely contributed to this feeling of
nervousness. I know that when you were training to kayak the
Grand Canyon you experienced a scare where you were caught in a whirlpool, and after that you said when you thought about
getting back in your kayak, it felt like a physical wall lowering
down on you. You were bathed in a wash of fear that made you
feel frozen, and stuck in place. Then your friend Rob Raker gave
you the advice.
He said, “If you paddle like you’re expecting to flip all the time, it make you timid. The more defensive you are, the worse you’ll
paddle, and the more likely you’ll flip, but if you paddle
aggressively, you’ll charge through the waves.” How do we build
up the courage to paddle aggressively in life?
Erik Weihenmayer: Okay. I’ll address the courage thing. That’s a really interesting question, and it’s not at all simple I guess, but before that I’ll
address that swim. Like getting stuck in that whirlpool. This
massive vortex. It was like eight feet long. It flipped me, and
grabbed my feet, and pulled me down like it would suck my
shoes off my feet, and held me down for a long time, and I was … It was trauma. It was the beginnings of … I’m not trying to be
pretentious, or anything but trauma is trauma. I related a lot to
the vets with PTSD that I lead on these expeditions. I thought
before that, that’s like a veterans thing, and I realize no, that’s a
life thing, trauma, and then trauma sometimes gets stuck as my
friend Ryan Kelly described it like a vibration in your soul, and you can’t get through it. You get stuck on it every time like a record
that’s been scratched, and honestly that’s the way I felt after that swim.
Hard to get back in my kayak, and some of the book, and some of my stuff I wrote about is this idea of no plasticity. It comes
through the message of the book in all kinds of ways, and in my
story in all kinds of ways, but I realize from Rob that sometimes
there’s no way to go forward. That trauma’s going to stop you,
and so what I realized I had to do is to go back, and reprogram
my brain. You’re constantly kind of reprogramming, and
©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 8
strengthening the neurons, and the pathways in your brain, and if some get stuck, if there’s a break, how do you rebuild them? I
don’t think people take the time, and commit to the process
because they get stuck somewhere, and they just go okay, I can’t get through it. What they don’t realize maybe is that you got to
go backwards, and that’s what I did. I went backwards. I went
back to the beginning to the National Whitewater Center, which is this manmade facility, and it’s got actually rapids that are like …
You’re in a concrete channel.
It’s pretty safe, and you can practice your kayaking, you can go back to the very beginning. I worked on my role, and I went
through easy rapids just kind of retraining my brain for months
upon months until finally I had some breakthroughs, and I kind of went past where I was. Anyway, that was a great lesson to me
that to go forward sometimes you got to go back. The courage
thing is like the suffering thing. I think it’s a muscle that you train. Again, that guy Ryan Kelly who’s a vet. He flew helicopters in Iraq. He told me when he got PTSD the thing is that you feel
insignificant. Conquering PTSD is sort of proving to yourself that you are significant, that you can own your life in certain ways, and part of that is by practicing courage. He calls it insignificant acts
Courage is not a state of being. It’s a verb. It’s something you practice every day, and you practice with little habits that you
have in your life. You love that tank top from the 80’s but you
look like a goofball, but you love it so you wear it. Practice
wearing it, or maybe you have a parry a, instead of a beer. Just
these little acts of courage that builds you up to that moment
when you truly need big courage in your life. If you don’t practice it you won’t have sort of the muscle to be able to do it.
Tanya Dalton: I often tell people that you have to go backwards in order to move forward. When you’re talking about what your purpose is,
or what your passions are, or when you’re working to try to
uncover them. I say you have to look backwards if it’s a goal, or a project you’re working on. We’re saying a lot of the same things
in that regard. I love that.
Erik Weihenmayer: Ryan says by the way, he says backwards, sideways, up, down. Whatever it takes, right?
Tanya Dalton: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Looking at things from different angles, it’s kind of that squirrel strategy that you discuss in the book where you’re tackling challenges from different
angles, right? You’re looking at things from different ways, and
that includes looking at where you started, or where you came
from. I think it’s such an important part of our journey. We don’t
©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 8
just keep walking forward. You have to look at the trail you’ve left behind you.
Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. In fact a guy wrote about in the book Kyle Maynard often talks about that. How when he climbed Kilimanjaro. He’s a guy
without arms, and legs. His arms end at the elbows, and his legs
end at the knees, and he developed this amazing technology. We helped him get started at No Barriers. He went off, and climbed
Kilimanjaro. 19,300 feet, the tallest peak in Africa. He’s crabbing
along. His face is like a foot, or maybe six inches off the ground as he’s crabbing along up the trail, and he said you know, a lot of
times you just … When he looks up he’s just looking up the
mountain at this massive, massive mountain that he still has to
climb, and he just gets so discouraged, but he would force
himself to kind of scurry around, and look down the mountain at
the train that he’d already covered, and how big that expanse was behind him.
That gave him a lot of energy, and momentum as he climbed.
Tanya Dalton: Momentum is a word I use all the time so I like that you use that here. We need momentum to push us forward. To get us over
these challenges that keeps moving us forward in the direction
we truly want to go in our lives. I really believe that. Momentum is so important. I want to take a quick break for a word from our
sponsor, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode this has been brought to you by FreshBooks. I’m pretty picky when it comes to sponsors, but I’m happy to sing the praises of
FreshBooks, because I love how their software helps boost your
productivity, making it easier to focus on what you really love
about your business. Not chasing down invoices from clients.
With the simple interface it’s almost like having a personal finance assistant to help you know where to start, and you know I love
that. Just a few clicks, and you keep your finances in check. Fresh Books has generously offered a free unrestricted trial for my
listeners. Just go to freshbooks.com/paradox, and in that
section that says how did you find us, type in Productivity
We were just talking about momentum, and I have to say I love
the momentum that you’ve built in your own life. What you just
said there a few minutes ago about owning your life really
resonated with me. You’re a shining example of that. I know that
No Barriers was started because you wanted to be a part of this
change in people to help others with their perceptions of what’s
possible. Not necessarily in a gentle way. By really showing them what they can accomplish. You wanted to help people come
together to blast through one barrier after the next until as you
say there are none left.
©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 8
Do you think you’ve accomplished this?
Erik Weihenmayer: No. We’re a work in process. As we all are, right? Tanya Dalton: I was getting ready to say the same thing.
Erik Weihenmayer: No. I think it’s a endless process. When Mark, and Hugh, mark was a paraplegic who I talked about earlier, and Hugh Herr who’s a
double leg amputee, we climbed this big rock face together. We
were just kind of … Mark likes to use this word gimp. I never even heard that word until he started using it, but it’s a politically
incorrect expression for a disabled person. I’m writing this off on Mark, but Mark called us an all gimp team, and that made me
laugh. It is true. We’re kind of a broken team. One guy who didn’t have legs, one guy who couldn’t use his legs, one guy couldn’t
see, and we worked together, and we climbed this rock face
together, and for me that was the beginning of No Barriers. There were a couple of things. I look at people in the beginning of their journey, or somewhere along the middle of their journey, or
wherever they wind up.
Not just physically disabled people, but all of us. Because we’re all kind of going through this process of growth, and it is so tenuous, it is so easy to get stuck along the way, and then you get side
lined, and you wind up sometimes in a place you don’t want to
- I think what Paul, and I discovered was that’s the majority of
the world. How do you continue to keep moving towards that
process of growth, and it is just so hard. It’s going blind for me
taught me kind of an extra empathy for all of us who face barriers in our lives. A lot of the people we work with at no barriers are
folks with invisible barriers. They’re barriers in the mind, and our
emotions. And our self doubt, and our fears, or just being lost.
But anyways, point being that you look at people who are stuck,
and you say what does that map look like that we can build that
can bring us to where we want to go?
That can make us the best version of ourselves. It doesn’t make a person like me see. It’s not magical, but it does bring you to
becoming the best version of yourself. I wanted to understand
that map better, and so we founded No Barriers, and then I
started studying real people. Honestly, real honest people. Not
celebrities, or fictional characters in books, but real people who
sort of flailed, and bled their way towards transformation. I
thought that’s where the secrets lie, and that’s why I wrote No
Tanya Dalton: It really is a testament to your story, and the impact you’re making not just through No Barriers, but by the way you live your life as a leader for others to look up to. I know for you as a young man going blind, Terry Fox was your inspiration. What I think is so
©Productivity Paradox Page 6 of 8
amazing is that he inspired you. You have in turn, turned that
inspiration into who you are, and now you are inspiring others.
You’re leading so many others to find their possibilities, and that is a never ending chain because those people that you are
inspiring, inspire others, and it continues to grow, and evolve. The No Barriers program is such an amazing program. I’d love for you to tell us a little bit more about the No Barriers summit that I
know is happening in New York City in 2018.
Erik Weihenmayer: Well first you’re totally right. Terry was a huge hero of mine watching him run across Canada. He actually was diagnosed with cancer, and this was in the early 80’s, and he got diagnosed with cancer, and he lost his leg, and it was above the knee, and there
were really bad prosthetics back then, and he committed to
running across Canada. A marathon a day, thousands of miles
across a nation, and nobody cared, but by the end of his run,
there were thousands of people showing up in these villages, and these provinces, and he raised a dollar per Canadian citizen. I
think his name, his legacy at this date has raised probably almost a billion dollars of cancer research. He wound up dying of cancer. Came back, and killed him, but his life was bigger than his death.
He had a massive legacy, and he’s a full on No Barriers hero. A pioneer of mine, and I think that I got a whole thing in my mind
began with Terry. We’ve grown our organization since we
founded it. We have 30 staff members. We have 50 something
guides. We do these transformative experiences for people with
challenges as I said that expansive definition of the word
challenge. Not just people with physical disabilities. Youth, and
veterans, and people who have had trauma, and death. First
generation Americans. Kids in the foster care system. All kinds of challenges. We have a big extravaganza which we call our
summit, and we have it every year. Next October we’re going to
have it in New York City. The biggest stage in the world. We’re
going to have concerts in central park. We’re going to have
We’re going to have amazing innovations there helping people to break through barriers. People will come from all around the
world to take part in this two day experience celebrating our
motto of no barriers, which is what’s within us is stronger than
what’s in our way. I think it’s a message we need right now
Tanya Dalton: I absolutely agree, and I think the fact that you say we all have challenges, some of them are just invisible is such a powerful, and true statement. It applies to so many of us, and all of our different walks of life that we’re in. I’m really excited for my listeners to
hear you speak, to hear your story, and to feel the impact you’ve ©Productivity Paradox Page 7 of 8
been able to put forth. Thank you so much Erik for being a part of the show.
Erik Weihenmayer: My pleasure. Really fun to talk to you.
Tanya Dalton: Didn’t I tell you Erik Weihenmayer would be an inspiration? I will have links in my show notes to the No Barrier site, and to Erik’s
newest book titled No Barriers. Just go to inkwellpress.com/
podcast, and look under episode 47. I want to encourage you
that if you feel you’re struggling to find your way over obstacles
that are in your path, listen to the No Barriers motto of what is
within us is stronger than what’s in our way. I feel like that’s such a powerful statement, and it’s so true. This week, in my mini
episode I’ll be sharing some wise words from another
inspirational person, Nora Ephron. That episode will be launching on Friday. Next week we’ll continue to explore the path to chasing your big dreams, and goals when we’ll be talking about fighting
In the meantime, I want to encourage you to be productive this holiday season. If you’re looking for a little help, or if you want to give a productivity gift to your friends, and family I’ve got you
covered. Over at inkwellpress.com. We have daily, and weekly
planners, productivity notepads, and more. All right, until next
time. Happy planning.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To get free access to Tanya’s checklist, five minutes to peak productivity, simply register at inkwellpress.com/podcast.