In all of our careers we can point to occasions that we’d consider defining moments. For me, working with horse sport for instance was certainly not part of the plan but has provided a real insight when looking at other sports.
The biggest defining moment for me was travelling out to Egypt to work with free divers. We’ve all heard of Jacques Cousteau, but that was where my knowledge of this sport ended. I’m known for working across a range of sports, and it is always important to take whatever time is necessary to understand any unique characteristics. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced on that first day stood on a beach surrounded by camels, and it truly blew my mind. If I had to give an example of how our minds are capable of limiting our physical potential, this would be it.
Let’s be clear, if you get it wrong there is no “Playstation” reset button! There is a serious possibility of burst ear drums, passing out or even death in free diving. The sport only occurs in spots where the underwater geography provides shelter from currents and an ambient temperature, but at depth it gets cold and dark and can be very disorientating. Everything is meticulously planned, but when you’re deep underwater there is no opportunity to start again.
The key to the sport is not in holding your breath, but in convincing your brain to allow the use of up to 95% of the oxygen in your body. Training typically consists of taking small steps, nudging the boundaries and practicing the techniques required to deal with the underwater environment. It’s the classic “frog in boiling water”: gently introducing the body to the next level of performance rather than harsh exposure. Crucially, the brain has to be completely free of potential anxiety otherwise it will prevent the performance required as a defense mechanism.
I was blown away by the power of the mind over body and ultimately this experience led me to studying neuroscience so I could understand more fully the brain & how its power impacts us physically.
So what can we, as mere mortals, learn from pushing the ultimate boundaries?
There are no shortcuts to confidence. Confidence [It] is built over time, nudging boundaries rather than pushing them. Be aware of what’s a big step: pushing too far and causing a negative experience will end up costing more time in the long run.
When progressing training, don’t move on to the next level without being satisfied that the current level is bullet proof. We’re in such a hurry to progress that we don’t show the correct diligence and it’s the basics that go wrong under pressure. Think about it: would you risk your life on rushed preparations? Knowing you have everything you need is different to thinking you have.
Never underestimate how important relaxation and recovery is to your body. There are [so] many hidden factors such as fatigue or minor bugs that can, and will, affect your physical and cognitive performance well before you’re aware of it. In extreme sports (and indeed business) the effect of these hidden factors means no performance. Look out for any hidden “taxes” that might be affecting your performance.
Ultimately though, extreme sports show us that with the right pathway, guidance and motivation, performance well beyond what you perceive your limit to be IS possible. How open is your mind to what is possible?