How to lead yourself through rough waters

Join me on a thrilling journey to the Coral Sea, where a scuba diving experience reinforced several key principles of effective self-leadership. Discover a step-by-step approach to navigating uncertainty and empowering yourself in the face of fear.

Read time: 4.6 min.

👋🏽 Welcome to Inner Frontiers for Outer Impact, a weekly newsletter that provides self-leadership insights that help you develop your Mindset, Courage, Resilience, & Innovation

In today's email:

  • Diving into self-leadership in the Coral Sea: The art (& definitely science) of leading self while diving the Great Barrier Reef

  • Leading yourself through uncertainty: Your guide to self-leadership in challenging times

  • Quote: Rumi's insight on the power of embracing quietness

Diving Into Self-Leadership in the Coral Sea

Photo credit: Pauline Yin, a fellow diver, kindly shared this photo she took on Day 2

Placing my scuba fins at the edge of the dive deck, I lightly gripped my regulator and mask with my left hand as I executed a stride entry into the Coral Sea. As I resurfaced, I swam over to the rope line to prepare to descend with the group.

My scuba certification had prepared me to dive, but as multiple waves repeatedly crashed over me, I started to feel unprepared. My previous open water dives had been in the calm waters of a quarry 45 minutes from where I live. Now, I was dealing with rough currents.

As I waited for the dive instructor to hand signal for us to descend, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the uncertainty that can come with new experiences. My heart was racing and my mouth was dry.

I started questioning why I like throwing myself into these types of adventures. What was wrong with me? 🤔

For a few seconds, I contemplated backing out of the dive and returning to the boat. That idea was short-lived though because I don’t believe in quitting something I have made a commitment to do.

This core belief (mindset) shapes all of my decisions.

So, how did I lead myself in this moment of uncertainty?

Here is what I did and why:

🫁 The Power of the Breath 
I directed my attention to my breath. I was breathing rapidly. This was amplifying the activation of my sympathetic nervous system (SNS). My SNS was already activated by the stress of my first real open water dive. Rapid, shallow breathing was just making things worse.

I focused on slowing it. Since we were still on the surface of the water, I started a breathing exercise using a 4:4:6:2 ratio. This is where you breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6, and then hold for a count of 2. Then, you repeat the cycle.

Normally, you breathe in and out of your nose for this exercise. Since I was wearing a snorkel mask 🤿 and breathing through a regulator, I did it breathing in and out of my mouth.

Quick (BUT IMPORTANT) note: I did NOT continue this breathing exercise underwater. As you descend, your body experiences increased pressure from the weight of the water above you. Thus, it is important to breathe normally and not hold your breath to avoid lung overexpansion, an air embolism, CO2 buildup, etc.).

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled program. 😊

🧩 The Autonomic Nervous System
Why did I start with a breathing exercise? Breathing exercises help shift your autonomic nervous system from a sympathetic state (the state that prepares the body for stress-related activities) into a parasympathetic state (the state that returns the body to routine, day-to-day operations).

As I started to return my body to a parasympathetic state, I was able to observe my thoughts more objectively.

👁️ The Power of the Present Moment
As I observed my thoughts, the first thing I noticed was that they didn’t reflect reality. What do I mean?

➡️ My thoughts reflected the grim reality of a lone swimmer abandoned in this spot. They ignored that I was a scuba diver with a total diving system (regulator, air tank, stinger suit, wetsuit, snorkel mask, BCD, etc.) on a rope line connected to the boat. Support was close.

➡️ So, I started to examine each thought based on the following criteria:

Does data exist to empirically support what I am thinking

👉🏽 For example, when I thought, “What if I can’t do this?” I looked for empirical data to either support or disprove the thought. My record of previous dives and conscientious preparation for the additional dive certifications I would be completing over the next few days disproved my thinking. 💡Note: Examining a fleeting thought surfaced data that strengthened my belief in my abilities (which was momentarily shaky).

👉🏽 I then went a layer deeper and asked myself, “What is this? What is the this I think I can’t do?” I realized that this was initially just me staying on the rope line while being buffeted by the waves. I was already doing that.

Momentarily, this would be me descending roughly 35 ft below the surface for the dive. I had done that plenty of times in the past. I could do that.

➡️ As I defined my fears further, I realized how much they were grounded in a future that preferred to remain nebulous. When I brought them closer into the light, into the present moment, their power dissipated.

Bringing my focus to the present helped me navigate the uncertainty of my new adventure. It changed how I related to uncertainty.

In the present moment, my mindset was grounded in my competence as a scuba diver. That belief in my abilities gave me courage to move past my fear. I just had to stay on the rope line and prepare to descend.

Within 2 minutes of me emotionally self-regulating, the dive instructor gave the hand signal for us to descend.

I could easily do that, and I did. ✅😊


Emotional self-regulation is the starting point for effective self-leadership.

Effective self-leadership is the foundation for leading others well. Seeing and meeting the needs of others as their leader relies on your ability to objectively see and meet your own needs. Your capacity for self-leadership shows up in your leadership of your organization and your team.

2 questions I have for you:

How can you apply insights from my experience to lead yourself skillfully through uncertainty?

Where might there be an opportunity to immediately implement something from today’s newsletter?

Feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions about today’s topic by replying to this email.

Parting Words of Wisdom

The quieter you become, the more
you are able to hear.


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