Fear vs. Confidence

In the past few weeks fear has come up in the conversations I have with myself quite often. I have started going beyond my comfort zone with some training dives. Of course, our old friend Fear came sticking out his neck.

He’s the guy that questions my abilities.
He says, “Do you really think you can make it?”, “Is your one full breath enough?”, “You know it’s a long way down, is your equalization good enough”, “Did you train enough, maybe you could have done a little more”. He makes me stiff in my neck, I get uncomfortable…. until that last sleepy exhale, when I start filling my lungs.

FEAR is a friend and an enemy!
I see him all too often in my students who move onto advanced freediving. He toys with their minds and tells them they are not good enough. As soon as there is an inkling of doubt, they lose their mental composure and rational thinking goes out the door. Some take weeks to learn to deal with it; others naturally start managing it, often without realising.


Fear balances on a scale with confidence.
The balance is crucial!


If confidence starts outweighing your fear you’ve most likely become cocky. Mother nature has a special way of dealing with the cocky ones, especially if you are playing in her elements. It normally involves a mental and/or physical ass kicking like your mum could only dream of giving you.

If fear outweighs confidence, it can involve anxiety, doubt and would possibly lead to disappointment.

The key is identifying fear, where is it coming from?
The first time I clearly saw myself identifying and managing fear, was 2 years ago in Madagascar on a kayaking trip. We floated up to a massive rapid. Looking at it from the side… it was roaring at me, I was shaking from fear. Fear, was questioning my abilities and the size of my balls. I was having second thoughts. At one stage, I was staring at the different features in the rapid and realized, yes they were all big, but had they stood alone. I would have no problem running all of them. I had identified the root of my fear, my paddling abilities were not the source, it was the enormity of the rapid, and the shear size of it was scaring the hell out of me.


The bottom of that roaring rapid. Photo: Shannon Mast

By identifying my fear I had restored confidence in my abilities, I put on my big boy pants and ran that enormous rapid.
Don’t get me wrong; I was still shitting myself. The fear was not gone; I was just able to manage it.

You always need a little bit of fear to keep you alive.
You need balance.



Mother nature head-butted me…



Two weeks  later I became cocky. I lost the balance and Mother Nature gave me an ass kicking I will never forget. Blood, stitches and a bruised ego later I had learnt the lesson.



Don’t lose your balance!

“A change in latitude will do wonders for your attitude”

For some it’s hard to admit that they are scared. They defend it with talking big, giving an impression of fearlessness. Most often the size of their bark does not match their actions. It’s only fairy tales, which help them sleep at night.

I have only met one fearless person in my life, and I am sad to say that he is no longer with us. Fearlessness and death have afternoon tea together.

Maybe you are scared of something or maybe you are just lazy?

Being scared is easier to deal with then being lazy. Identify your fear: what is scaring you?
90% of the time your fears are completely irrational, they take you out of the moment and you dwell in the future. However if they are rational you can work on those fears and turn them into confidence. It’s like turning a angry barking dog into a puppy, who just wants to lick your toes.

“Fear comes from a lack of confidence…a lack of confidence comes from a lack in ability…if you lack ability you need to train harder, put in more effort and go the extra mile.”

Watch out for the lazy bums. They will resent you, they wonder where your drive comes from. They tend to belittle your goals, your efforts and your accomplishments. Jealousy is a nasty thing.

If you want to get better at anything, stop looking for excuses. Are you scared or are you lazy?
You can go out there with fear pulsing through your veins, or go out there with confidence. You need the fear to keep you alive, just turn it into that puppy and manage it.


Panic on the other hand, that bastard will kill you in a flash!


I live on Gili Air, a tiny island in Indonesia, just short speedboat ride from Bali. About a year ago I came here to do a beginner freediving course. Now I wake up every morning, jump on my bicycle and peddle to Freedive Flow, the school where I teach freediving in 30m of visibility. The area is perfect for freediving, with some of the best conditions in the world.

One day while getting ready for a dive deeper than usual, our old friend fear came along questioning the confidence I have in my abilities. At first it was the usual discomfort and uneasiness. Then, my spearfishing buddy “uncle Shaun” from back home came into my thoughts. He always had this phrase he would utter any chance he got. In Afrikaans it is: “Waar bly jy? … Jy bly stil!”. Translated to English “Where do you stay?… You stay quiet!” Like all things translated, it doesn’t quite role off your tongue in English as it does in Afrikaans.

Uncle aka Shaun Petersen(left) with the usual grin on his face.

Now, when our old friend fear comes along, uncle Shaun is not far, ready to tell it to stay quiet. I can’t help but have a little smile sneak into the corner of my mouth, as a Thank You before I head off into the blue.


Written by: MJ Kühn
Date: 21 Nov 2016

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