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The Explorer’s Mindset: How to Better Navigate Fear with Cave Diver Jill Heinerth

The Explorer’s Mindset: How to Better Navigate Fear with Cave Diver Jill Heinerth

Have you ever been frozen by fear? Jill Heinerth, an esteemed underwater explorer who has set records for the longest and deepest recorded cave dives, is no stranger to this sensation. But, after years of facing her worse fears head-on, she is well-practiced at navigating fear and ensuring that she controls it, instead of the other way around.

Jill has logged over 8000 dives with the longest being 22 hours. She has roamed wartime shipwrecks, mapped Antarctic icebergs the size of Jamaica, and navigated volcanic lava tubes. Jill is the hands and eyes for scientists worldwide, extending their reach in areas they otherwise would never be able to go.

Frequently out of touch for weeks or even months at a time, Jill’s job is to capture images in the claustrophobic blackness of water-filled caves, where an error on the job may determine her chance of survival. To excel in this work, she has had to learn how to master fear like no other.

The Explorer’s Mindset: Navigate Fear with Confidence

Jill calls this mastery the explorer’s mindset — her powerful roadmap for conquering fear, isolation, and change, even in the most impossible situations.

It boils down to three steps: think, breathe, act. It’s the action of prioritizing logic over emotion in the moment so that you can keep moving forward.

When you recognize fear gripping you, take a “deep, cleansing breath,” Jill says, and set aside “that little box of emotions,” so you can focus on formulating a realistic action plan. “Before you know it, those tiny, pragmatic steps have gotten you closer and closer to the ultimate success that you wished for in the first place,” she continued.

Embracing an explorer’s mindset requires a dedication, a willingness, to step into fear. You don’t have to be a daredevil to employ it, Jill says. Pick one fear to face today, and begin building that muscle memory, because when you master fear, that’s when true innovation will follow.

“Fear is the barrier between the status quo and discovery, between status quo and thinking outside the box, and that is where the opportunity lies,” Jill says.

The Explorer’s Mindset in Action

“Well into my career as an underwater explorer, a young scientist reached out to me,” Jill shared in a piece for LinkedIn Catalyst. “She wanted me to take her into a very small cave that could net an important sample. It was very, very small. The equivalent of squeezing underneath a chair, shoulders pinned to the ceiling, belly on the floor.

“Inside the cave, she became entangled in the guideline,” Jill continued. “With just a couple of errant kicks with her fins, suddenly there was no visibility at all. At this point, she became wedged and was starting to panic. I feel her stretching further and further from me into a smaller and smaller place, and I feel the guideline, that safety line of ours getting tighter, tighter, and tighter, before that horrible moment when it snapped.

“So now I’m deep inside this cave. I have the bitter end of a broken guideline in one hand and my panicking partner in the other hand. No visual reference, no tactile reference of how to get us out, then I lost track of her in the silt-out, I could no longer see her.

“That’s when I realized I needed to take that deep breath and go through those processes of fear. I was startled,” Jill said. “I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and give up. But the most important thing in that moment was to set the emotions aside and just do the next best thing — to actually go further into the cave, to go to the point where there was no more disturbed water and the visibility was clear, because then I knew I wasn’t leaving her behind.

“At that point, I could slowly, methodically make a search all the way out of the cave. By the time I got to the daylight, fortunately, she was there, and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – her face.”

Diving into the Darkness

Jill is the subject of a new documentary, Diving into the Darkness. This jaw-dropping yet intimate portrait explores the nail-biting challenges and risks she’s faced to go where no one has gone before.

It premiered in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Feature. A critic from the Santa Barbara Independent wrote:

Diving is an unusually visceral and deep (so to speak) hero’s tale about not only [super cave diver Jill] Heinerth’s remarkable and ongoing career as a cave diving explorer, but also as a filmmaker, author, and general advocate for female empowerment.”

Watch the trailer below:

If you’re interested in empowering your team to reach beyond their limitations, overcome their fear, and embrace change, contact us to learn more about Jill Heinerth and what she can bring to your next event.