The Genuine Benefits of Dreaming About Diving
Back when the coronavirus lockdown was first announced, we posted an article with some things to do while you quarantined. One of them was 'dreaming about diving' - the process of visualisation. But does it really work? Former instructor Mark 'Crowley' Russell tells us why it does
The only way to get better at anything is to practice. Whatever the activity, repeating the same actions time after time means they become subconscious reactions, rather than conscious decisions. Take driving a car, for example - the first time you get behind the wheel you are presented with an overwhelming array of knobs and dials and levers and pedals and strange glowing hieroglyphs, but after you've been driving for a few months you'll probably have stopped hitting the windscreen washer every time you tried to use the indicators.
The same is true of scuba diving. After a few hundred dives, most divers don't need to think about inflating and deflating their BCD. It's a natural reaction, just the same as shifting gears in a car after you've been out driving a few hundred times. Which is, of course, the problem. Most people with cars end up driving pretty regularly. Most people who certify as divers don't. The vast majority of recreational divers probably average around 25 dives spread over two diving holidays per year, with very little in between.
Visualisation, however, is a process that serves almost as well as practice, without ever having to actually do anything. It's a tried-and-tested method of performance enhancement, used across a range of disciplines where performing a series of actions in the correct order within a given context is essential to success – tennis players practising the perfect serve; racing drivers practising the perfect approach to a corner; musicians practising the correct sequence of notes.
In scuba diving, visualisation of different key procedures can make a huge difference in terms of both underwater performance and safety. Thinking your way through a pre-dive safety check will mean there is less chance of forgetting an important step in real life; remembering the steps to a successful weight check will improve a diver's ability to correctly weight themselves and thus improve their buoyancy control and air consumption. Even imagining the sensations of becoming positive and negatively buoyant while breathing can have a major impact on a diver's ability to control their position in the water.
Visualisation worked well for me when I was a novice diver, even though I didn't really realise it at the time. After I completed my Open Water course there was an 18-month gap before I was able to take a holiday and head back to Sharm for my Advanced Open Water course. I was so full of anticipation in the run-up to that holiday that I found myself practising fin-pivots in the bathtub – don't laugh! Clearly I wasn't actually doing fin-pivots in the bathtub, but imagining that I was, coupled with that sense of becoming lighter as I inhaled, and heavier as I exhaled, plus – most importantly – the delay between inhaling and becoming positively buoyant, and then exhaling and becoming negatively buoyant, was firmly implanted in my brain. During the refresher I took prior to starting my AOW course, my fin-pivots were perfect.
Visualisation is not simply a process for beginners, however. It was something I relied upon throughout my career as a dive professional. Even familiar and regularly visited dive sites could throw up unexpected challenges and so a little forward-thinking was essential. It is important to remember that not only is visualisation a good technique for learning skills, it is also an extremely valuable technique for learning how to deal with things that may never happen.
Suggestions For Things to Dream About
Technical divers learn visualisation as a matter of course, and included within that training are procedures that need to be followed in the event of an emergency that could never actually be practised in real life – because doing so would create an actual emergency. Visualisation can be applied to all aspects of a dive, from how to work the equipment, how to control your buoyancy, and what to do in an emergency. What happens if the current picks up unexpectedly? What do I do if I get separated from my buddy? What if I'm confronted by a maniacal titan triggerfish bent on destroying my fins?
Spend some time and think your way through a dive. You can invent the dive site because although the seascape may change, basic diving techniques remain the same. Starting on the boat - thinking your way through each step of the pre-dive safety check; setting your computer, strapping on your gear, getting in the water - then dumping air from your BCD; exhaling deeply while remaining motionless to descend the first few metres. Equalising your ears, checking on your buddy, checking your dive computer, adding a little air as you descend, equalising again, checking your buddy is still okay, another short puff of air, computer check, preparing to hover over the bottom. Big round of Okays for the dive team, away we go...
While many of us really are dreaming about diving right now – it's worth sliding a few extra pointers into your underwater headspace to help improve your diving for when the lockdowns are lifted and you can finally embark on that rescheduled dive trip. Visualisation is not, however, a technique with the sole purpose of relieving boredom during coronavirus pandemics. It should be part of your dive training, part of your continuing education and part of your entire diving life.