For the basis of discussion here, let us define the Mental as our doing and not doing with the mind so as to set up the most favourable psychological state for approaching a performance.
For the last 12 years we have had a saying on our web site We have long since passed that which is achievable by purely physical excellence and are now into the Tierra incognita of our mental potential.
I know of very few other sports where the mental is as dominant. Perhaps climbing approaches it.
Most of our record holders are mature individuals and some positively ancient in comparison with other sports, this in itself makes the point.
In freediving the body is not a slave to be whipped into submission. In order to achieve results we need stress, but stress does not produce results, only adaptation to stress does. Too much stress and a blockage is created or worse collapse – Entropy.
The most favorable conditions are achieved when there is harmony between the mental, the psychological and the physical .
Let us first look at the beginning of mental training in freediving. It begins with the trainer suggesting to the beginner “Don’t look down the line towards the bottom on descent, nor up towards the surface on ascent.” First, what we are requiring him to do is totally unnatural and in opposition to all his former conditioning. As an infant he was constantly reminded to look where he was going. Worse, we are asking him to prioritise this within a series of actions that have not as yet become automatic: the duck dive, the first equalisations and aligning with the line. This is the beginning of mental training, to memorise a command that you give yourself and execute it during the dive.
The next stage is understanding that the equalisation and the duck dive have to be good enough to be shunted to the automatic pilot, so full concentration can be given to not looking down the line.
The automatic pilot is a very important concept, maybe the best way of explaining it is if we cast our minds back to the first time we sat alone in a car after learning to drive; we had to talk our way through actions we had learned, very often with a prompt from the drive instructor.
First let’s check the mirrors and the seat -now for the seat belt. Check to see if the hand brake is on and whether the car is in gear before switching on the ignition. OK, now depress the clutch, ease off the hand brake give a little acceleration, check the mirror – indicate and ease out into the traffic.
And so the monologue goes on all the way to the office. But a month later, you arrive at the office and realise that your mind was totally occupied with the argument you had with your girlfriend before you left the house. Some part of your mind coped with the driving and all the road situations.
THIS WAS THE AUTOMATIC PILOT!
In freediving the more tasks we can put onto the automatic pilot the more efficiently we will operate. Alignment, head position, equalizing, rhythm, stroke force, kick count – must become automatic, something we don’t think about. Later when we add mouthfill, entry into the glide and total relaxation, we can begin to aspire to empty mind.
What is the automatic pilot and where is it in the brain? Maybe the physiologists can help us out here. The PFC – the prefrontal cortex, seems a likely place to start the hunt; the dorsolateral and orbitomedial areas, particularly the infralimbic area 25 Brodmann; somewhere in the dialogue between the Cognitive executive and the Emotional exequtrix… I am way out of my depth here, but it would be fascinating to know!
But if we don’t know where it is, at least we do know some of the do’s and don’ts. We know that trusting it is very important. We know that the ego and the will are its biggest opponents. We must get to 60mts is a recipe for failure, with this expectation we create anxiety and stress – the very opposite conditions for the AP to operate efficiently. The Buddhist attitude of non attachment non aversion is a far better choice. We do the dive to the best of our ability, but we must not become too involved in the success or failure of the dive. We must accept the fact that some days end in catastrophe and some in success, it’s all part of the game. Failure is part of the picture, the possibility must be admissible. To win is to persevere. It is possible to be totally committed to your dive and still not too involved in the outcome.
Some has already been written on focus. Single point focus or dispersed focus? If one was lucky enough to have had training as an Olympic pistol or rifle shot, then there is an immediate understanding that a clear sight picture is only maintainable for less than 2 seconds. If you focus your eyes on a point not more than 1.5 mts away, don’t blink or move your head the focus will dissolve, disperse, and you become more aware of the entire field of view including the periphery. This is the entry into the state we want (It would be interesting to learn if this was entry into Alpha wave predominate in the brain. Can anybody help out there?). It is the state of the Zen Archer, “if the form is correct – the arrow flies true”.
The ideal mental state is set up in every stage of training, and involves a growing belief in yourself. This is achieved by regular gradual progress in consistent, realisable increments.
Continually changing equipment and training patterns – is not a recipe for success. One day nose clip only, one day mask, and one day liquid goggles and nose clip – make a decision and stick with it!
The next part of this article will examine how the mental relates to the psychological, how they can achieve harmony and how they can talk to the physical.
It will also examine how to set up the most favourable conditions in training, how to avoid common traps and build a mind set of steel.