So I almost drowned. It didn’t happen anywhere dramatic like swimming against rushing tides while competing at a triathlon., it was just me being ballsy at the deep-end of the pool.
If it wasn’t clear already, I can’t swim. I wanted to learn how, though I wasn’t willing to pay for a class. I thought I got the hang of it as I paddled my way from one end of the pool to the other, but at about three feet away from the finish line, I felt myself sinking. Next thing I know, I’m gasping for air and realizing that water’s filling my lungs.
I remembered thinking “Is this what it’s like to die?”, obviously panicking and being dramatic. Just as I was about to run out of what energy I had left trying to push my body upwards towards the surface that felt so far above me, there was calm.
Just silence in my thoughts. I then felt my head empty and my body moving as if it were in a trance and paddling itself back to safety. I wasn’t ever able to break through the surface of the water through all this but I knew I was paddling in the right direction. Once I finally reached the edge of the pool I managed to pull myself up and coughed violently.
I thought this experience would haunt me but as the days passed, I felt more curiosity than fear from what I experienced. I was curious about the silence that greeted me as I was running out of breath underwater.
I kind of knew it was my survival instincts but I was more curious about where it came from and how it improved. I genuinely think I would have drowned if it were the me from two years ago who was in that situation. It was in this reflection that I realized that I knew I could attribute that improvement in instincts to my experiments on improving my confidence in my own physical ability.
It was good to find another positive result from my self-improvement experiments so I then started to wonder if I could do something more intentional about my flight-or-flight response. What can I add to my day-to-day routine that helps me stay calm in life-or-death situations? And to take it a step further, how can I sharpen my decision-making skills so that if I were in a life-or-death situation and required to make a split-second decision, I would be able to have the clarity of mind to choose the best option?
All this without , of course, going through hours of marine corps-like training. Again, I don’t want to have to add something complex into my daily schedule. Just something small I can work on that helps me take tiny steps towards this level of mental clarity.
At first I thought I should just jump into the deep-end of the pool once a month and hope for the best, but as my boyfriend aptly put, “That’s a bad idea.” So I took to the internet to find some answers.
Unsurprisingly, the actionable tips that I found were all still tied to the practice of mindfulness and making it a point of being in the present. Drawing from your subconscious means taking something that you’ve learned or experienced in the past, applying that learning in the moment and using your intuition and common sense to help you act on your best judgement. Unless I was willing to go through countless hours of fire drills and flight simulations, making “learning from my day-to-day experiences” part of my lifestyle was the only way I could feasibly hone my subconscious’ decision-making and execution skills.
Another practice that I’ve already been doing that helps control our fight or flight response is doing a short round of pranayama breathing when I wake up on days that I feel like I need it. It’s essentially breathing in slowly while expanding the belly, letting the air fill your chest, and then breathing out slowly while contracting the belly, squeezing all the air out. I do this for two to five rounds. Related to breathing, I also found this short but sweet Medium post by Niklas Göke on learning how to pause when you are hit by certain stressors.
I go down many rabbit holes born from my thoughts and experiences but I thought to share this particular one because when I’m thrown into a high-stress situation, I tend to short-circuit and “empty my head” in the worst way possible leading to mistakes, or worse, inaction. I think I default to this because there is insecurity in my own abilities and intelligence and fear of the consequences.
In identifying my own patterns of thinking, I’m able to start doing something about them. Not fixing all of them because god do I have a lot to fix, but taking enough steps that help me be better now compared to the me a few hours ago. I feel that I can’t share this mindset often enough.
Take the time to introspect and see what your subconscious’ response is in certain situations. If it isn’t favorable to you, note it down and slowly work on it. You never know when “working on it” might just save your life.