Feel · Freedive

Competitions and Self-Compassion

When I signed up for a second time for the 2019 Singapore Depth Championship, I had in mind that I wanted to update all my AIDA personal records from last year. I wanted to show beginner freedivers like me that if they feel like competing, they can – even if they don’t have the right gear or are still fresh and new to the sports.

But things did not turned out the way I had hoped. I made multiple mistakes that penalised me in the competition. I collected a full set of white (no penalty), yellow (penalty), and red cards (disqualification) this time.

Competitions are more challenging than trainings in that there are more protocols you need to adhere to. So I had made a few mistakes here and there and did not get the maximum score possible.

Being someone who likes to overachieve and aims for perfection, this result is disappointing.

But it showed me that these are exactly the tendencies that I want to shed from my upbringing in Singapore. This fear of failure and not being good enough, working harder than I am capable of and then beating myself up after mistakes are made.

I learned that I can define success on my own terms. We live in a world where many will only celebrate a good performance and where some are quick to question an athlete having a poor season.

To me, meeting someone’s expectations of me is not my definition of success.

Success, to me, is learning how to perform under pressure before judges and an audience, even when I have performance anxiety. It is finding my own way of achieving new depths (e.g., using short fins and using a mask), even when they differ from how most people attain them. It is learning to speak lovingly to myself even when I feel I have let myself down. It is learning to move moment by moment in the water, focused on nothing more than each present moment.

Freediving in competitions, surfaced a part of me that I wished I did not have. It showed me that I can be consumed with my errors.

If you watched the videos of my dives, you will see that I have strange surface protocol when I surface from my dives. It has surprised and amused many people. After removing my facial equipment, signing the ‘ok’ sign, and then saying, ‘I’m okay,’ I declare to the judges the mistakes I made.

Why did I do this?

It was because the moment I made my errors at depth (whether it was pulling above the candy cane or a misplaced mask blocking my nostrils on my descent), it was all that I could think of the whole journey up from the bottom. For the full 1 minute of my ascent, the full 50 strokes more or less, my mind was on nothing but the mistake I made at depth. I was beating myself up the whole journey as I ascend from the depths!

When a freediver surfaces, her first expressions reveal the thoughts and emotions that have been going through her mind while diving. Time is distorted during a dive. Those few minutes of holding your breath are stretched out and time can feel much longer than it usually feels. A mindful diver enjoys each moment of her dive – the joy of freefall, the feel of water as it rushes past you, the delight of buoyancy changes – and surfaces with a big smile on her face.

Conversely, a self-reproachful diver, as I have been, has disdained for herself stretched out as well. I had no heart to enjoy my ascent, usually the favourite part of my dives. Instead, I rapidly surfaced, my mind in a distant place of disappointment, guilt and shame. It was why when I surfaced, I spouted out the regrets of my dives.

regretful smile.jpg

This is the Shuyi I had grown up to be but this is not the Shuyi I want to be.

This is my biggest lesson from this competition. That I need to unlearn many bad habits and thought patterns that have been ingrained in me. And as much as I have been working on being a more self-compassionate person, I still have a long way to go before I become a loving friend to myself and a mindful freediver and competitor.

But I am on my way. 🙂

– – –

Check out this video where you can see me getting my three – white, yellow, and red – cards and see if you can see how I got my red card. 🙂




3 thoughts on “Competitions and Self-Compassion

  1. On the other end maybe telling your imperfections to a judge should be appreciated differently than a yellow or red card. if hiding things are the way people are getting some records should they be more disappointed, guilty or shameful than you? In fact competition is sometime at the opposite of the freediving spirit if we think about it. We tend to improve to do better and not to feel better…


    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Chris. I know many amazing world class athletes who compete not only to do better but also to feel better. I think it is possible. Just that it may take more time, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you (like in my case where I can become obsessive with targets. And then lose sight of my well-being). I think it’s possible to train strategically and smartly and then announce conservatively.


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