It has almost become a cliche to say freediving is (insert the percentage) mental. But that doesn't make it less true.
A beginner may not notice this because they are overwhelmed by the experience as a whole. But once EQ and technique has been mastered and automated, there is space to notice what's happening within your mind - and these subtle differences from dive to dive are what separate average dives from amazing ones.
Until you are asked to take control of your thoughts, or direct them to something specific - you may never notice how little control you have over your own mind. For example I have helped people who have never actually noticed their internal chatter, only realising after some guidance and meditation.
This self talk is known as the monkey mind, because like a monkey - the mind does not like to be settled.
Over time, noticing the patterns of the mind will allow you to recognise negotiate thought cycles and become less reactive. This has positive implications to both diving and life.
Freediving is special because being under water on breath hold is an amplifier of thoughts and emotions. Your internal world becomes louder - inescapable. For those who are not used to self inquiry, it can become a highly emotional experience. Other such as myself use freediving specifically as a tool of self inquiry.
The obviousness of the minds effect on your diving makes mental training a necessity of progression. Whatever tool you choose to use, whether it be meditation, positive solution focused thought or visualisation - there will be ramifications beyond your diving.
Let me give you some examples of thought processes that are common distractions for freedivers. Underneath will be further discussion on the topic.
1. Lost in thought - During your dive your mind is bouncing all over the place, you become distracted and EQ, technique and pleasure suffer.
The beauty of freediving is found in the moment of the dive, to absorb and experience this beauty, you cannot be distracted by the none present. This is true of life as well as diving.
2. Projection - During your breathe up for a near max dive, you are constantly thinking about the dive, causing stress and preventing you from enjoying your preparation.
If you have committed to a dive, then it is because you have trained in a way that makes you certain you can complete it. Second guessing yourself will waste energy, raise your metabolism and make relaxation very hard. I am sure you have your own examples from life where the anticipation of something was much worse than the reality (the dentist?).
3. Inability to let go - Your duck dive is sloppy, wasting some energy, you continue the dive but obsess on the mistake made during the duck dive, because of this you make other mistakes and there is a snowball effect - ruining your dive.
Things happen during a dive and in life. This is mostly out of our control. The only thing we can control is our own reaction - the amount of importance we give to these happenings. Own your reactions and nothing can psyche you out.
The positive effects of self awareness and self inquiry are proven both empirically and scientifically. Freediving can be both the inspiration to begin and a method of gauging progression.
Owning your own mind and thought processes is a commitment to a long and tough journey. But a commendable one in a world full of quick fixes and self delusion.