From Fear to Flow
The interesting thing about this video is the contrast in reactions between the professional and the brave new comer. What can this tell us about fear? They are both in the same situation, with the same level of risk and the same severity of consequence should something go wrong (from an analytical perspective). Yet the reactions are worlds apart.
In reality, our reactions are based more on perception than statistics. The newbie skydiver has a much higher perception of danger than the pro. You can see this in all areas of life, just bring to mind phobias of harmless things, on a logical level the person knows there is no threat, but somewhere deep down a strong fear response is triggered.
A second important difference between the two is the element of control. Our ability to meet the challenge of the situation is the bridge between fear and flow. The pro skydiver is familiar with the environment (how it feels to freefall), he keeps track of the altitude, he knows how to manoeuvre through the air, he knows what to do if a problem arises and he knows when to pull the shoot. He has a high level of control over the outcome of the situation. The newbie on the other hand is out of control in a completely new environment.
Being in control is one of the 8 elements of a flow state, while being out of control/overwhelmed in a high stakes environment is a cause of fear. So we can say that it is not the situation that causes fear/anxiety, it is our perceived level of control over the situation which decides whether we have a peak experience or a fearful one.
How does this relate to freediving?
Firstly we have to be honest with ourselves. A big problem I have when giving mental coaching in freediving is the propaganda that every dive should be relaxing and put you in a state of peace. People interpret this to mean they are less of a freediver if they experience anything other than this, which usually translates to individuals being so in denial about their true subjective experience that they will even lie to themselves about how a dive felt.
3 concepts I like people to consider are:-
There is a whole spectrum of experience between fear and flow. Fear on a dive won't look like the fear of the newbie sky diver, it will be more subtle.
The divers experience during a dive can fluctuate up and down this fear-flow spectrum at any moment.
Flow/relaxation/peace are subjective and based on your past experience of these states. We must be open to the possibility that there are higher levels of these states which you have not yet experienced, and therefor cannot imagine.
A dive cannot be summed up in a word. "Good", "nice", "easy" cannot do a dive justice. Flow is not something that just happens in freediving, it is earned. Until you reach the point where flow is the norm, a dive is more of a journey with "ups and downs" (no pun intended). We can use the ups to enhance positive states and build confidence. But it is the downs that give us the best feedback. The downs of our dive are the clues that lead us to most specific and fruitful training for you at that moment in your progression. To deny the "downs" is to turn your back on the most useful information your dive has given you.
The nature of expanding and leaving our comfort zone makes the chances of experiencing something on the spectrum between fear and flow quite likely. The reality of a dive being more like a journey than a moment, means that just because you felt something on this spectrum - does not mean it will be the overall feeling of the dive. It is easy to forget about these fluctuations in experience or even not be aware enough to acknowledge them.
Working to bring about a flow state, automatically leads us away from a fearful state. Although the two will always form a sort of dance together. Because in order for flow to be achieved, we must be doing a dive with the correct balance between skill and challenge. Add depth to quickly and you will experience fear, go too slowly and you will become bored.
So the key is to build skills proportionate to the depth you are asking yourself to dive to. I have spoken about this hundreds of times on videos, blogs and podcasts - and it is my job to create these skills in my freedivers.
The combination of building skills with steady progression once those skills are formed ticks off 5 of the 8 elements of Flow. The other 3 fall into place as a result.
The 8 Elements of Flow :-
Clarity of goals and immediate feedback.
A high level of concentration on a limited field.
Balance between skills and challenge.
The feeling of control.
An altered perception of time.
The melting together of action and consciousness.
The autotelic quality of flow-experiences
Flow is not a given, enjoyable dives don't come automatically. We train to enhance our experience, we train to gain the ability to enter into flow on command. We have to put in hard work, but we also have to be honest enough with ourselves to admit there is work to be done in the first place.
And let me assure you, there is always work to be done.