Think Yourself Deeper, Calmer, Longer – NLP for Freediving

In a previous article, I introduced some of the basic tenets of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) – a varied collection of beliefs and processes that enable us to control and manage our attitudes, and thus influence our behaviour and enhance performance. This resulted in a fair few emails requesting something more practical, so here we go – three exercises with their roots in NLP, that I reckon can help your freediving.

Exercise One – Anchors

Take a look at your freediving habits for a moment. Do you have a particular soap you always use to put your suit on? A particular snack on the morning of a dive? Or even a really ropey old pair of swim shorts that you don’t want to throw away because they are "lucky"? Most of us would probably admit to something along these lines. I always use the same brand of shampoo on my suit and when I smell it, I know I’m going freediving. A friend always drinks the same flavour tea the morning before a dive. All these habits are important to us and form part of what are known in NLP as Anchors.

An Anchor is a trigger that our minds learn to associate with a particular response or state of mind. When we see a red lights, we know to stop, when we meet our safety diver on the way up we know to slow down. Anchors can come at us through any of our senses but the most easily used are the ones we see, hear or feel. Normally they are feelings, tastes, sounds or sights that we have become accustomed to over time and learned to consistently respond to in the same way.

The really useful Anchors though are not the ones that you have built up over 20 or 30 years of just living your life. After all, if you are panicky deep down in the blue somewhere, it is all very well that the smell of your grandmother’s lavender perfume always calms you down, you are unlikely to have any to hand. What we can do to make use of Anchors in this situation is to set them up for ourselves. This is known in the trade as Resource Anchoring.

The first decision is which state you want your Anchor to put you in.

For example, if you are setting up an Anchor to help you out of a nervous frame of mind during a constant weight dive, you might want it to switch that feeling of nervousness to one of enjoyment and focus. If you are looking for an Anchor to keep you down longer on a static apnea attempt, you may want it to make you feel more relaxed and dreamy.

The next decision is what the actual Anchor will be. This could be a movement, something you know you will see, a feeling or indeed anything that triggers your senses. As examples, my all time favourite Anchor in diving generally is the feel of my finger and thumb making the OK sign. This was a lucky one as many many scuba dives have already set this up for me as a trigger to feeling good and enjoying myself. It does have the down side though that I am sometimes seen signalling to myself that I am OK unprompted which might confuse a static buddy!

Other options, not as easy for an outsider to observe – the feel of your tongue on the back of your teeth, the look of that funny red glow if you stare hard at closed eyelids, the ripples on the bottom of a pool – whatever works for you. It needs to be repeatable and appropriate to the context you wish to use it in. A big exhale might bea good Anchor to release anger on the sports pitch but is not going to help you in freediving! Remember also that if your Anchor is well set up, it is liable to stay with you a long time so think hard about what the trigger will be.

With the decisions made, you are ready to set up your Anchor. What you want to achieve to begin with is to model as closely as you can, the state that you wish the Anchor to put you in. Shut your eyes and imagine yourself back to a time when you felt happy and focussed. This might be in a freediving environment but in no way has to be. Maybe it was the time as a kid that you were learning to ride a bike, enjoying the ride but concentrating intently on what you were doing along the way. For a relaxed, dreamy state, remember a time that you felt totally calm and chilled – I always put myself lying on a beach in the sun with a good day’s diving behind me and a delicious meal to come.

If you can visualise yourself into this state then great, if not then get someone to talk to you gently to help get you there. Or if this embarrasses you, try music. I find my CD collection a perfect way to change my state of mind, even if it does mean listening to the same track over and over. As you do this, remember your facial expressions.

Sometimes just rearranging your features into a smile can be enough to put you where you want to be.

When the state of mind is almost as pure and as strong as you can get it, then fire your anchor – pinch your fingers together, touch your tongue to your teeth, stare at the base of the pool, roll your eyes. Ideally you want to do this just before you reach the peak of your calmness/happiness/whatever. If you fire it too late you risk triggering a decline in the state. Some time after, when you are back in everyday mode, test the anchor. Fire your trigger and see what happens. You will find that you really can change your frame of mind amazingly quickly.

You may need to set your anchor a few times for it to be effective. I tend to fire them up not only at times when I have actually visualised the state but also on the odd occasion that I feel I am in it for real. So when I make a great dive, and don’t really need the anchor because my mind is where I want it to be, I will fire a quick anchor anyway toereinforce it for next time I really do need it. The more you use them,ethe more effective they will be. An average anchor will become reliable when you have used it around 20 times, so don’t forget to put them to work.

I regularly use anchors in all disciplines of freediving to change my emotional state to something more productive than that of worry, stress, fear, hunger, boredom or whatever is taking my mind off the job of staying down for a static or covering the distance on a dive. If they are well established, they work like a shot of morphine, or speed or whatever you are after on the day. Of course, the anchors you set up for freediving can be applied to any other situation where you wish to calm down, cheer up and so on. Recently on a rather scary rough boat trip, a sharp eyed observer could have spotted both my hands in a fixed OK sign under my jacket!

Next Week: Sam has us taking Personal Inventory.

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