Imagine youre....superdiver
Some non-divers fear the very idea of diving, some divers suffer from nerves or panic attacks. Its all in the mind, says Brendan OBrien, who reckons we can all benefit from the sort of mental rehearsal, anchoring and other techniques which technical divers have already discovered

We all have friends or relatives who have chosen not to learn to dive. Some tell you they are fascinated by the idea but its just that Im terrified of putting my head under water, I get nervous at the thought, Im afraid of the animals down there or Isnt it very claustrophobic The idea of diving generates a series of unwanted emotional responses in them.
ÂÂÂÂ Ask how they know when to become terrified, nervous, afraid or claustrophobic, and their responses are generally unenlightening: I dont know, I just do, All I have to do is think of it or It just comes naturally.
ÂÂÂÂ Many of us have experienced similar emotional responses to varying degrees when learning to dive - what did you do to overcome them, I asked several divers. I decided that if others could do it, so could I, I just got on with it, I decided it was all in the mind, plucked up courage and just did it.
ÂÂÂÂ Again, the answers were vague. No one had employed a specific strategy to cope with unwanted pre-dive emotions. I discovered that many divers experience such emotions before they start a dive, sometimes up to a day or two beforehand.
ÂÂÂÂ Others would have these feelings during a dive, normally because of an unexpected incident. A small group admitted that such incidents, although initially minor, had led to a sense of panic that affected their ability to think straight - a cause of diving-related incidents
ÂÂÂÂ When we stop thinking logically, we start being ruled by our emotions, but how can the anxiety caused by the thought of learning to dive be overcome And how can we avoid pre-dive nerves or mid-dive panic attacks
ÂÂÂÂ At the pool recently I watched a swimming class for toddlers. Though unable to swim, they were throwing themselves off the side into relatively deep water. They didnt appear terrified or even nervous about launching themselves into an alien environment.
ÂÂÂÂ Its possible that none of us is born with these emotions; we simply learn later to be scared, anxious, afraid or nervous. A young child paddles in the sea for the first time, fascinated by the pleasant feeling of the water. Suddenly a piece of slimy seaweed wraps itself around his leg. Startled, he runs back to land for comfort.
ÂÂÂÂ The child has learnt that the sea is a place where strange things touch you, and that he needs to protect himself in future from such events. In some cases he has learnt so well that the thought of going into the sea will later cause him as a grown-up to feel anxious, even afraid. Such defining moments, usually long-forgotten, provide our life-long phobias.
ÂÂÂÂ This process - the minds ability to associate certain stimuli with specific feelings - is described in a science called NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) as anchoring. NLP has been described as an explicit and powerful model of human experience, allowing us to make deep and lasting changes in our lives. Anchoring is just one technique which, when used in a deliberate way, can alter how we react to situations.

NLP practitioners suggest that anyone can go at least some way towards removing their fears, phobias and lack of confidence and replacing these feelings with more empowering thoughts. After all, putting your head under water or seeing a shark isnt something that would make you feel anxious or afraid unless you chose to give it that meaning.
ÂÂÂÂ All the unwelcome feelings produced by your mind are simply your perception of how you should react. NLP can be used to calm nerves, conquer fear and help divers feel confident of their ability to deal with the unexpected.
ÂÂÂÂ But first, what do standard sports psychology books suggest Affirmation is a basic technique in which you simply repeat to yourself power phrases such as: I am a confident diver! or I can do it! If this works for anyone, it is probably those who believe anything they read.
ÂÂÂÂ Similarly, relaxation techniques might have a place in preparing to dive, but if relaxation is natures way of recharging mind and body by allowing the muscles and senses to rest rather than be alert, I want that after a dive, not before. And deep-breathing techniques, coupled with relaxing specific areas of the body one after the other, are popular approaches which might help prevent an attack of nerves or anxiety by diverting the mind.
ÂÂÂÂ How familiar is this reassuring line: Dont worry, theres nothing to be afraid of, the water isnt that deep and theres nothing down there that can hurt you.
ÂÂÂÂ If you dont believe the power of such negative statements, try this: Dont think of what a pink dolphin would look like, and dont imagine what it would be like if it made sounds like a kitten.
ÂÂÂÂ The unconscious mind, which provides all those unwelcome emotional responses, cannot think about not doing something without first thinking about what it shouldnt think of first!
ÂÂÂÂ So what it hears is: Be afraid of the deep water, theres something down there that can hurt you!
ÂÂÂÂ The diver dwells on that thought and goes on to imagine everything that could go wrong, becoming increasingly nervous. When things do go wrong, he comes back and says: I knew that would happen! He had programmed himself to the point where it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
ÂÂÂÂ Autosuggestion, on the other hand, relies on the premise that all our thoughts become the reality that is our future. Whether you think you can do something or you think you cant, youre absolutely right!
ÂÂÂÂ So if you think you can dive confidently, you can. If you think you will become anxious, you will. People even verbalise these thoughts to share with others. Listen to whats said next time youre on a dive boat with novices.

One of the greatest proponents of autosuggestion recommended the mantra: Every day in every way I am getting better and better. Dont say this in the company of other divers. You might find yourself getting better and better at being left behind!
ÂÂÂÂ Its enough simply to notice your thoughts as you prepare to dive. What exactly are you telling yourself Could it be more productive and positive
ÂÂÂÂ Many sportspeople prepare for a forthcoming event by using the power of imagination. This is also recommended by some as a way of dealing with past events that caused unwelcome emotional responses. The idea is to visualise yourself at that event until you feel those emotions again, then change them to more productive ones.
ÂÂÂÂ But few sports psychology texts suggest how you might achieve such an outcome, and this is where NLP comes in. Close your eyes and re-immerse yourself in the same situation. Does it make you feel bad again
ÂÂÂÂ Imagine you are floating out of your body to see yourself as an observer. Instead of seeing the images in colour, see them in black and white. If any sounds make you feel bad, change them, make them quieter. If there are voices, make them ridiculous cartoon ones, like Homer Simpsons or Donald Ducks!
ÂÂÂÂ Imagine you are moving away from the moment until the image dissolves completely. After this, it might be difficult ever to feel bad about that situation again.
ÂÂÂÂ Anchoring, that other NLP technique, allows us to use moments from our past as empowering resources for our present and future. First think of some action or phrase that will act as the stimulus or anchor, such as making the OK sign.
ÂÂÂÂ Sit back, relax, close your eyes and recall a time when you felt inspired, confident, capable - whatever will help you become the diver you want to be.
ÂÂÂÂ Relive the memory through your own eyes, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Make the images brighter, closer and the sounds louder. Notice where the feelings are coming from and focus on how good it is to experience that feeling again.
ÂÂÂÂ Now give that feeling a colour and allow it to spread throughout your body, immersing yourself in the moment. At the precise point when the feelings are at their strongest, fire the anchor and relax. Change your perspective for a moment, then repeat the exercise. Do this several times and test the anchor by firing it without thinking of anything. You should have the same feelings you had during the original experience.
ÂÂÂÂ If they are not as strong, repeat the process and do that every day until all you have to do before or during any dive to recall those empowering feelings is to fire the anchor.

src= Many technical divers do their dive in advance without leaving the sofa. They use mental rehearsal to experience everything they can anticipate happening, deal with each planned step of the dive and rehearse emergency procedures.
ÂÂÂÂ In this way the skills become programmed responses. They also use anchoring techniques to provide reinforcement from their past. The images, sounds and feelings are so vivid that the mind cant distinguish between reality and imagination.
ÂÂÂÂ Impossible Remember the last time you had a dream so powerful that you woke up with your heart pounding. Your mind can produce experiences vivid enough to cause a physiological reaction. Mental rehearsal allows you to do this consciously, knowing that it will affect your unconscious mind.
ÂÂÂÂ Relax, and remember when you saw some diving role model or hero in reality, on screen or even in a magazine. Picture them conducting the perfect dive, create an image that is bright, colourful, focused and moving. Add sounds and imagine how it would feel to be there watching them.
ÂÂÂÂ Now fin over and slip inside their body so that you see what they can see as if through their eyes. Hear, feel, move and think as they would. Notice how that affects the way you feel. Once you have immersed yourself in their world, float back out and allow your mind to discover what it has learnt.
ÂÂÂÂ NLP offers many tools to enhance the way in which you deal with situations you might come across while diving or getting ready to dive, and these techniques might also come in useful elsewhere in your life.
ÂÂÂÂ If we allow the feelings we experience to just happen, we can never be truly in control.



I know that with many divers youll do everything you can to prepare for your performance on the day in respect of practical skills. You just hope youll feel good on the day, says Paul McKenna, one of the UKs most famous stage and TV hypnotists.
ÂÂÂÂ What is less well-known is that McKenna has used hypnosis to help many famous athletes and sportspeople to achieve more by empowering them through NeuroLinguistic Programming techniques. He is an established NLP trainer in the field, working alongside the co-originator of the science, Richard Bandler.
ÂÂÂÂ Look at the top athletes in sports like basketball, says McKenna. The Michael Jordans are hard-wired to succeed. Theyve practised so much in their imagination that they find it hard to miss.
ÂÂÂÂ Diving is no different. With something like that Id prefer not to leave my feelings to chance. Id rehearse both the mind and the body to get into really great condition.
ÂÂÂÂ Many of the techniques described in the accompanying article rely on divers going into a mild state of hypnosis, a trance-like condition which allows them to make changes within themselves.
ÂÂÂÂ The critical part of the brain, often called the unconscious mind, the part which questions, judges and compares, is partially or completely suspended because of its focus on just one thing, says McKenna. Its a time when we can communicate with our unconscious mind, the part which holds all our deepest beliefs about ourselves. Its during this time that we can find more empowering beliefs.
ÂÂÂÂ McKenna believes not only that we are all capable of achieving this state, but that many of us do so on a daily basis. Have you ever driven for several miles, and when you arrive at your destination, wondered how you got there Or looked for your keys, only to find that they were in front of you all the time These are all natural trances. Hypnosis is just deliberately induced trance.
ÂÂÂÂ So how can divers benefit from such techniques While its important to consider what can go wrong, its also good to prepare and avoid those things, says McKenna. People should focus on what can go right.
ÂÂÂÂ Focusing on all the things that can go wrong only produces unnecessary fears and anxiety. This then leads to an inability to respond to dangerous situations.

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