I spent last month learning the scariest, most enchanting sport I’ve ever tried: freediving.
Freediving (also called Apnea) is where you go as deep as you can in the water on a single breath. There’s no air tank or special breathing equipment: just a person (usually in a wetsuit, sometimes with goggles, flippers, and a weight belt) swimming vertically toward the bottom of the ocean.
I was scared. People have died doing this. I have a fear of the ocean (my closest near-death experiences have been in water). I have no long-term goals associated with freediving. There’s no real reason for me to do this. I wanted a good excuse not to freedive.
But I was going to Dahab, Egypt—a diving mecca—for a month with a group of friends and most of them were taking the course. We had a group discount. It was now or never. But most importantly, I had just finished reading The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman where I learned about the growth mindset.
The Growth Mindset, as coined by Carol Dweck, describes a refreshing, confronting, and—most importantly—useful attitude for conquering self-limitation. Here’s a snippet from a great overview on brainpickings. (I recommend you click that link and read the whole thing):
“At the heart of what makes the growth mindset so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations—they see themselves as learning…”
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
After reading The Confidence Code I saw that in some areas of my life, I had a fixed mindset—not a growth mindset, and I was interested to see if I could change that.
Since I discovered this distinction I’ve been able to trace most of my suffering back to having a fixed mindset. Whether I feel anxious or embarrassed or jealous or judgmental or confused—I can reliably identify a conclusion I made somewhere along the way that says: “I don’t have what it takes to deal with this.” Or “I’m never going to get this.” Or “There’s something wrong with me.”
Fortunately, switching mindsets is always available and it works immediately—that’s what I love about it most—it just takes remembering to apply it when you feel resistance; it just takes practice.
I would not have tried freediving if I hadn’t yet learned about the growth mindset—and there’s no chance in hell I would have stuck with it.
I consciously switched over to the growth mindset dozens of times while practicing freediving. But this moment stands out:
It was the end of AIDA 2, the second level of training. Out of our group of around 15 people who started training together, Keilan and I were the only two left. Everyone else either had trouble equalizing (popping) their ears or lost interest or didn’t reach the depth required to move on to the next level.
We were at the Blue Hole (a 400+ foot hole in the ocean right outside of Dahab) and Keilan and I were gearing up to finish the course with Lily—the most hardcore of the instructors, a record-holder, and the manager of the center. This meant we had to complete specific safety dives, prove that we could dive to 16 meters easily (though we were aiming for 20), and not make any big mistakes.
Everyone else was snorkeling, doing chill practice dives or sipping mango juice at the overlooking restaurant. I had anxiety. I was looking for any excuse not to get into the water.
Then Lily pulled me, Keilan and Bentinho aside and asked me what was up. “Do I intimidate you?” I told her yes, she intimidates me. She laughed and reassured me there was no pressure—and told me I didn’t have to complete the course today if I didn’t want to.
Then Keilan made me laugh by calling me a pussy. Then Bentinho said “remember that you’re doing this for yourself.”
Oh right. I’m doing this for myself. The reason I was doing this sport in the first place was to practice the growth mindset; to create a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval; a passion for stretching myself and sticking to it even (or especially) when it’s not going well. This exact moment—the moment where it gets hard and I want to quit—this is the moment to shift my mindset.
I geared up and got in the water, repeating to myself “I don’t want to and I’m going to.”
And then we finished the course.
And then I went on to finish the next level of training, and Keilan quit.
… pussy 😉