Somewhere way back in your training, you were probably introduced to the Incident Pit. It’s a fairly dramatic diagram with the words “fatal” and “death” appearing at the bottom. The concept was meant to inspire you to deal with problems early, keep control and stay safe, with the tag line “Don’t fall in.” This always seemed to be a slightly strange thing to say to divers, who are destined to fall in (to a body of water) quite deliberately. Other than encouraging you to run through your own personal risk assessment for a dive, that’s about all the standard training material has to say about pre-dive thinking.
In many sports the technique of visualisation is used to help elite athletes achieve their potential, and there’s good evidence that it works at lower levels too. Visualisation is the process of creating a mental image of what you want to happen or feel in reality. An athlete could use this technique to picture crossing the finishing line first. For a diver there is clear potential to visualise a relaxed, in control dive and achieve a state of calm and well-being before a dive. In fact, most people naturally tend to think through and rehearse what’s about to happen to them. So quite possibly you have started to think this way already.
Sometimes these preparatory thoughts can be plagued with recurring images of past mistakes or near misses, and that’s not conducive to ensuring the success of the upcoming dive. It can be more helpful to actively direct your pre-dive thoughts and control those images in your head. And the visualisation probably needs to be more than just a visual experience. To really be successful, you would need to focus on all the senses; the rush of cold water, the smell of the sea, the feeling of pressure on your legs as you enter the water, the sound of your bubbles.
When you visualise the successful dive, you are stimulating the same regions of your brain as you do when you physically perform the same action. So, thinking the dive through, with all it’s stages, is a way of conditioning your brain for a successful outcome. Perhaps the visualisation starts before the dive, right back to the preparing your equipment. And the beauty of this preparation is that you could be doing it anywhere. Picture being on the bus thinking about packing your kit for the weekend.
What if we extend this to thinking through the different situations that may arise underwater? Rather than the scary prospect of the Incident Pit, why not challenge divers to visualise their response to common problems? What would they do if their torch fails on a night dive? It’s too easy to just say “I’d get my back up torch out”. In order to visualise it you would have to work through being able to open your BCD pocket (feel the zipper in your hand, hear the zip and feel as it bumps along the teeth), feel through the gloves for the piston clip, unclip the torch lanyard from the D ring, feel the lanyard in your hand etc. Which pocket? What else in in there to avoid dislodging? How will the torch feel in my hand? This is a far more powerful psychological technique than a glib “Get my back up” response.
For divers just starting out on their diving journey, visualisation can be an excellent way to deal with the nervous trainee. Try to remember the first time you put all your dive kit on. How tight did your neck seal feel? How restricted was your movement? These are things we all take for granted now. We have done it often enough that we barely register the sensation. I think there is a real value in talking through that first dive. This is not part of your SEEDS brief, this is so much more. Find a quiet space, sit down and step your way through the dive, start building the neuronal connections in a positive way and help boost performance.
Michelle has been scuba diving for nearly 30 years. Drawing on her science background she tackles some bits of marine science. and sometimes has a sideways glance at the people and events that she encounters in the diving world.