Freediving can be a sport in which an athlete descends below the surface of the water and back again on a single breath. Progress is measured in Meters, the deeper you go, the better you are at the sport. Or freediving can be a tool that we can use to learn about ourselves, to test ourselves and become better. Not just better at moving up and down a rope, but better as a person.
We have all heard it said in photo captions on FB and Insta that freediving allows you to look at yourself. But what does that mean? As far as I am aware no one has tried to pursue this logic, this blog is my own attempt at that.
The reality of life in modern western society does not take us out of our comfort zones. In a whole life time, you may never have the opportunity to see what you are really made of, or confront a none imaginary fear.
This is not normal. Throughout human history, the world has been a threatening environment. Death or injury due to other humans, accidents, natural disasters or animals was a reality of life. Fear is the response to those threats. Dealing with that fear, and those situations helped to forge the character of our ancestors.
We can see people of the past understood the importance of facing fears through the traditional rites of passage. Before a boy or girl become a man or woman, he/she would undergo a test of courage. Only upon passing this would the person reach maturity.
It is my belief that facing our fears and learning to control them are vital for building self confidence and living a fulfilling life. Like all human traits, there is a scale, some feel this calling louder than others (hence extreme sports) but everyone would benefit from pushing themselves from time to time.
One possible way to describe the cause of fear would be - fear arises when we find ourselves in a situation that we do not believe we can handle.
So there are 2 variables in each scenario fear arises.
1. The situation we find ourselves in.
2. Our perception of what we can do.
In freediving, the situation is the depth and conditions you are diving in. Playing with our perception of what we can do is where the value of the sport is.
It is worth mentioning that fear doesn't have to equate to screaming and running for your life. It doesn't have to involve a huge adrenaline dump. If this is happening then you are truly in a situation you shouldn't of put yourself in (in terms of freediving). The fear I am talking about in relation to freediving is more subtle. It comes with doing a dive close to or past your PB, it may be a moment of uncertainty during a dive or difficulty staying relaxed, it may manifest in a change of diving style/speed or failure to EQ.
This subtlety of experience makes freediving special. Although you will never feel the nerves of a person with vertigo trying climbing for the first time. The level of control and awareness you must have over your mind is much greater than other sports - where an adrenaline dump are not only a part of the thrill, but a boost to performance. In freediving you must learn to notice the chain of thoughts that may lead to an adrenaline dump and stop it in its tracks.
We have all seen our perception change while freediving. What seemed deep in the beginning becomes comfortable, and there is a new number associated with "deep", which with training eventually becomes comfortable, "deep" becomes deeper and so on.
Each time we do a "deep" dive, we are choosing to enter into a situation we are not fully confident that we can handle - this is why it is deep to us. This takes courage, and each time we succeed, our perception of what is deep is altered, but more importantly - our perception of what we are capable of is altered. We learn to believe in ourselves. This is invaluable in a world that leaves us so few opportunities to feel powerful and explore our capabilities in the physical realm.
Of course Freediving is not the only sport that builds self confidence. But what does make it interesting is the relationship between perceived level of risk and the actual risk. We can put ourselves into these stressful situations with no chance of breaking bones, tearing ligaments or becoming concussed.
I have been around the best freedivers in the world. I watched them train and tried to draw some parallels in order to learn from them. What shocked me was how few there are, some warm up - some don't, some are tall - some are short, some lift weights - others do yoga. What each and every one of them did have, is a confidence in what they were doing. They believed in themselves and knew they could handle the situation they were entering into.
You can build your confidence in freediving by letting go of the idea that only the dives that feel good have value. OK, yes, they are amazing and are a big part of why we dive, but we can get even more out of bad dives when it comes to changing our perception of what we can do...
Each time we cannot relax during our breathe up or have a uncomfortable moment during a dive, there will be a cause for doubt. What you do in this moment is very important. Are you going to react to every negative thought that pops into your mind? or do you have the strength or character to think, fuck that bullshit, I got this.
Each less than perfect dive that I complete gives me confidence in that depth. If I can do that depth despite whatever the issue may well have been... then I am capable of much more.
So yes, strive for perfection of technique and feeling, but understand that in order to progress - sometimes we have to be brave, to take a step into the unknown, to commit to a dive and see it through.
Now as a disclaimer, I have to assume there is some idiot out there that will take what I am saying and interpret it as - "set the line super deep and fight my way down - Harry said it was character building" - you're obviously new to the sport. What I'm talking about are the subtle differences between a totally peaceful dive and some stress creeping in for a mere moment.
Self confidence is something that is earned. You have to do scary shit, put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Each time you survive or succeed, you are rewarded with a deeper belief in yourself, not a cockiness, but a tried and tested knowledge that you got this!