You might not believe me but you are, right now as you read this, already physically capable of holding your breath for 3 minutes. This is true even if you smoke.
What’s holding you back is your mind.
Don’t believe me? Try holding your breath right now.
Soon after you start holding your breath, your heart beats faster, you feel physically uncomfortable, and your chest starts heaving.
These signals tell your mind to panic and indicate you’re in danger. The signals become louder and L O U D E R, until you give in and start breathing again.
All of this probably started happening in about 20 seconds.
Now, let’s think about it for a moment. You might have felt you were in danger but rationally, you know you were completely safe. Especially if you just held your breath for a mere 20 seconds!
If your body was the limiting factor, you would’ve passed out. But instead, you gave up because your mind held you back.
It’s unlikely you’re going to keep trying till you get to 3 minutes, so you’re just going to have to trust me that your mind remains the limiting factor.
Sidenote: For those of you who don’t know, I spent the better part of 2015 freediving in Honduras. During that time, I also became an instructor and taught people to freedive. I am not gifted in the sport but can hold my breath for 4:45 and have dived to a maximum depth of 50m. Any professional/competitive freediver will tell you these numbers are not impressive, and I’m not sharing them to boast. I share them because I genuinely believe anyone can achieve similar numbers with some practice, whether you believe it or not.
When I say that you can hold your breath for 3 minutes, I’m not saying this theoretically. I’ve coached multiple people to do this in one session. The only difference between the start and the end of the session is information. No one breathed oxygen or did anything special.
One of the best things about freediving is how mind blowing it is.
An introductory freediving course is about 3 days long, and people often go through the same transformation during this time. Myself included.
It goes something like this:
Day 0: “If I can get to 10m by the end of the course, that would be awesome!”
Day 1: Goes to 12m with little effort.
Day 2 and 3: Ok, let’s just see what I can do.
Students often go from fearful to fearful and willing to try.
You see, the fear never actually goes away. Your body evolved to give you those signals to keep you safe. What your body lacks, however, is an in depth manual on how to read those signals. Which means we sometimes read them wrongly. In addition, your body isn’t perfect and doesn’t always accurately judge danger. It evolved to be overly protective, after all, that’s how we survived!
Through freediving, you learn that fear is just a physiological reaction, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in danger. You realise that it’s okay to feel fear and to detach yourself from the emotion. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you completely disregard it (foolhardiness and bravado is how accidents happen). Instead, you learn to respect its presence, read the signs better and choose your reaction to it.
And once you do, you realise everything you thought you knew about your body and its limits were wrong. Having pushed past your fear-created limits, it occurs to you that you have no idea where your actual limits lie.
And because of this, you become more open, and willing to try.
Beyond freediving: What you think you’re capable of doesn’t matter.
Through freediving, I learnt that what I think I’m capable of has no bearing on what I’m actually capable of.
And this feeling is incredibly empowering. Fact: I did something I didn’t think was possible. Not only that, I did it without any additional training; proving that I was capable of it all this while.
Once I realised this, it was only a short step to applying this concept to the rest of my life.
Where else have I invented imaginary barriers? Where else can I acknowledge my fear and decide to keep going anyway?
Obviously, I don’t do a perfect job at this. And my life remains riddled with imaginary fear-based barriers. But, whenever I can, I try to check my expectations at the door and remain open to possibility. Because, in all likelihood, I’m capable of so much more than I think.
Now, I don’t expect you to hold your breath right now and hit 3 minutes. Although, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you how you can do that.
Instead, I wrote this to say that you’re capable of so much more than you think. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not. You are. And I hope you feel just a tiny bit empowered by this thought.
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