The Science of Anchors, and What It Teaches Us About Confidence

I used to think I would escape the trials and tragedies that older generations warned me about. Ha! When it comes to swells and storms, life is an ‘equal opportunity’ discourager.

Nobody escapes it – not the rich, not the famous, not the privileged. When the wind blows, we all strain against our moorings.

As storms strengthen we can lose our confidence, and there’s a good reason: a weak anchor.


The Science of Anchors

Keen boaters would know that when wind speed doubles, the force acting on an anchor quadruples. Strong anchors are critical.

Anchor technology has come a long way. We once believed that the heavier the anchor, the better, and that steel was the best material to use.  ‘Just make something as heavy as possible and toss it overboard’ right? No.

We have since discovered that high-tensile aluminium magnesium alloys are far stronger and lighter than steel, that the lightest anchors are the best (U.S. Navy), and that the strength of an anchor lies not in the anchor itself, but in how and where it is set.

So as the wind speed doubles and the anchor requirement quadruples, you don’t quadruple the weight of your anchor, you quadruple your anchor setting technique.

More important than weight is the type of bottom (sand, mud, rock, clay, grass, coral), scope (the angle and length of chain you let out), and power setting (using the engines to drive the anchor in). All of this relates to confidence, but first let’s talk about bottoms.


Rocks provide a secure anchoring bottom with many crevices to latch onto. They are the strongest bottom. Clay and sand are less secure and require extra effort. Soft mud provides almost no grab at all, and to lay anchor without realising the bottom is soft mud would be disastrous. That’s why so many nautical charts depict bottom type in harbour areas.

Knowing the type of bottom you are anchoring into is vital. When conditions are rough we grab onto the strongest things around us. What a tragedy then to find our confidence is anchored in nothing but soft mud!

Flaky friends, shifting economic conditions and fancy clothes are no help in times of crisis when confidence falters. These ‘soft-mud’ bottoms don’t hold well under tension. We need something more solid to anchor our confidence to.


Scope is the length of anchor line relative to the depth of the water.


It’s a pain to reach so far back and take up so much space when anchoring, but the larger the scope, the more secure the hold. The long reach is worth it. As it is with our confidence – the greater the scope, the greater the strength.

[Tiny Scope] A baby anchors its confidence in the parent it can only see or feel right now.

[Small Scope] A child anchors their confidence to what they heard thirty minutes ago or to the trip to the zoo tomorrow.

[Medium Scope] An adult anchors their confidence to the career they’ve had for ten years, or the friends they’ve had for fifteen.

[Large Scope] A wiser person anchors their confidence in something beyond themselves, something that has lasted longer than their lifetime. It could be their country, their familial lineage, the rule of law, the momentum of democracy or something else.

[Huge Scope] The wisest person anchors their confidence in timeless, eternal metanarratives like love, hope, and faith (whether faith in God or faith in evolution and the progress of mankind).

Keeping a large perspective (scope) will strengthen confidence during storms.

Power Setting

Most anchors are set by letting them out and then allowing the current to drift your boat (and your anchor along the bottom) until it grabs (sets).

Power setting means waiting for an initial grab and then reversing the engines to drive (set) the anchor deeper and deeper into the bottom. Power setting combined with a good bottom and a large scope is a recipe for a very secure anchor.

Once you find your source of confidence, drive deep! It’s not enough to drift idly by and allow your confidence to grab by accident. Embrace, explore, learn, read, and ask questions about whatever you place your confidence in.

Anchoring is Internal

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Unlike a boat, anchoring our confidence happens internally. ‘Letting out our anchor’ is an action of the mind and heart – both hidden from view.

Confidence may be seen externally but it is forged internally. The danger is when this is reversed and we forge our confidence on our external circumstances. Circumstances are guaranteed to change, so don’t throw away your confidence on these shifting sands.

Instead, forge a deep and lasting confidence on the inside. It will exude publicly, and be a reward to both you and the people around you.

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