Salesmen use it to help clinch deals, managers use it to motivate their teams, Olympic athletes reckon it helps them to the gold — but just what can NLP do for you and your freediving?
About a year ago now, I was introduced to the basic concepts of Neuro Linguistic Programming by Ed Hines, a licensed NLP practitioner working in Paris. In the last twelve months and specifically in the run up to Hawaii, I have used it a lot and thought maybe it would be a good idea to share it with Deeper Blue folk who – at times, go on admit it – seem so obsessed about what their O2 count/spleen/lungs/mammalian reflex and tearducts are doing to focus on what has to be one of the major freediving factors — the mind game!
NLP has been defined as "the psychology of excellence" and is based on the belief that if one person can be outstanding then we can all learn to be. It looks at the links between thoughts and physiology, between our beliefs and our actions and how the mind and body interact upon each other. In summary — we are looking at a loosely structured set of processes that, with practice, enable us to use and manage our attitudes, resulting in fewer off-days and a faster recovery from set backs.
How many times have you felt that your mind has talked your body out of a good dive? You forgot your mask and had to borrow one, your usual buddy isn’t around and you’re not sure about the new guy (even though he’s Kirk Krack), there are kids throwing a ball around in the pool…. You know in your heart that all these things are not REAL reasons why your dive was pathetic but yet you still blamed them. NLP can help you override these stressors, ensuring that your mind supports your body in your attempts and both are synchronised to deliver optimum performance as you require it.
Sounds good — but how do we do it? Well it’s kind of open ended really. There are almost countless principles and ideas within NLP so I will get you started by introducing you to those which I have so far found to be useful for my freediving.
The first is the notion of Rapport. This is easiest to think about if you consider your relationship with a good friend. To have Rapport with your friend means you have a mutual trust and responsiveness with each other. Your beliefs, values and actions are in line. Once you have got your head around that then apply it internally. Rapport within yourself is known as Congruence. To be Congruent you need to establish Rapport with yourself in three major areas — Physical Rapport, Mental Rapport and Spiritual Rapport. Freedivers are familiar with the first, generally we are healthy but do we have that sense of well being that comes from eating right, sleeping right, training right — or at least how we personally feel is "right". Mental Rapport may be a new concept, is your head in the right place? Do you feel at peace with yourself? You try and do a great dive after having a screaming row with your partner and tell me Mental Rapport is not important! Finally take a look at your Spiritual Rapport. This may be religious or not but generally you are aiming for feeling comfortable with your place in the world, why you are here and what you are up to. Of course, it seems more relevant if you break this down a little further, to a competition dive for example.
Am I feeling good today? — do I need food, water, sunscreen? Is my head in the right place? — have I left "I don’t like the colour of that rope?", "how the hell am I going to pay for the flight to Hawaii?", and all those little worries back at the apartment. And spiritually — well I would hope most freedivers would have got over "Do I really belong this deep in the ocean?" by now but I do admit to the odd mild panic at the thought of the water column above me when attempting a new Constant PB. Get these in line and you are on the way….
Reaching new bests are clearly important to most freedivers. NLP talks about these in terms of Goals and Outcomes. Goals are what we want, Outcomes are what we create. We are asked not to spend too much time considering what is currently possible when we are setting our Outcomes — after all, look at what you could do 5 years ago and what you can do now. How much of that would you have thought possible? Once you have decided on your Outcome (depth, static time, dynamic distance, big fish) then make sure you will recognise it when you get it — not normally a problem with dives!
Next determine what you have to do to achieve your Outcome. How much of this achievement is dependent on you and how much on other factors — does it require that your buddy gets up early to train with you?, do you need good weather?, will you have to get time off work? Try and bring as many of these factors as possible under your own control. If you must rely on a buddy, and for freediving you definitely will have to, try and establish a win-win situation for you and your buddy. My regular training buddy and I have a great routine where we take turns to persuade each other that – yes the pool is a better idea than a pizza, and both take the time to watch the other do static tables, dives or whatever. It helps that we both have similar Outcomes in mind, not necessary similar depths or times but on our own personal scales we are facing the same kind of challenge.
As you go along, pay attention to whether or not you are on course. Use your senses to feel what is actually happening to you and change what you are doing as necessary. If you are getting bored of hypercapnic tables try hypoxic ones. Are you really making that new depth comfortably or are you quietly self-denying that ringing in theears that means you are close to samba even though your mates can’t see it? Listen to your body and don’t let your mind tell lies back!
Be aware of the reasons people don’t achieve their Outcomes. Maybe they are not realistically achievable, maybe you are not sufficiently motivated to achieve them, or maybe although on the surface (no pun intended) you want to achieve them, underneath there is a doubt about the desirability of the achievement. For a long time I dived with a buddy who was having a hard time getting below 10m. In lots of ways I wanted to keep pushing my PB (about 25m at the time) but in others I didn’t want to get too far ahead in case she got put off, gave up and I had no one to train with. Luckily she got the hang of her ears and then we both took off for the bottom. Think about the consequences and by products of the Outcome, if it and all it brings you is what you really want, you will have an easier time getting to it.
NLP covers pretty much all of life, and if you try hard enough you can apply it to virtually all of freediving. In a future article, I will take a look at mastering new skills using the principles of NLP and how to talk yourself into a great monofin style, Anchoring and how merely lifting a finger can take you out of that need-to-breath panic phase and back to a happy place and see if I can really define "the zone" and give you an idea of how to believe yourselves into it. Most importantly, NLP believes that "if you want to understand — act" so I will come up with some exercises to help you get your head around it. Think Deeper! Longer! More Stylish….