The sea holds many new experiences; these can be both wonderful and terrifying. Even more daunting can be the fears we face within ourselves in learning to dive: failure and rejection are always close when we challenge ourselves.
But we know a lot about fear and how to face it!
“Feeling the fear and doing it anyway”
Fear is powerful, but it is transient. It appears from nowhere and disappears when exposed. Fear feeds on doubt and uncertainty. It creates an illusion that it is bigger than it really is. For these reasons, the core principle in overcoming any fear is to face it. But be aware, sometimes fear is a justified warning bell that needs to be heeded. It may be advising you of a real threat. Or perhaps reminding you that you are not prepared, or fit, for the dive.
Change what you do
Psychological research shows that overcoming fear is not simply about exposing yourself to the source. Getting close to fear is important. Putting yourself in the situation is essential if you want to break the grip of fear. However, to truly go beyond fear, you must change what you do when it shows up. Instead of avoiding the fear through distraction, numbing or worry, your effort can be used to take actions that make a difference.
Remove your fears by building scuba skills
If fear thrives on uncertainty, it withers in competence. Competence comes from learning and practicing skills. If you know you are capable of responding the potential challenges of diving, then there is less reason to fear. If you fear a leaking mask, the answer is not to dive deeper, blindly fighting fear. Instead the solution would be to seek professional support and work on your mask clearing skills.
So, be brave, but don’t tough it out when learning
Draw on your courage in facing fears and you will see the benefits. But remember, the thinking parts of our brain go offline when we are excessively stressed. To learn skills effectively, we need to stay connected.
If you find yourself overly stressed in training, take a break, ask for more support and additional time. Skills can be broken down into smaller steps. You can always go back to the swimming pool for practice, to develop confidence and competence. The PADI system of education is built to aid you in this development.
Feel the fear. Change what you do. But most of all, learn the skills you need to rise to challenges in your diving and face your fears with confidence. Again, and again, and again.
Dr Laura Walton is a Clinical Psychologist and PADI IDC Staff Instructor with a fascination for the psychology of diving. Visit scubapsyche to learn more about our behaviour as divers.