“If I panic, it’s over.”

Have you ever felt like you’re drowning? I mean the kind of drowning where you’re sinking under the weight of your aspirations and all that you have to do to realize them.

Perhaps you’ve had a glimpse of what your future could be like, but as tantalizing as that glimpse is, it’s so far out of reach that you can’t imagine you’ll ever get there. Perhaps you can list 100 reasons why you’ll never make it, and 100 mistakes you’ve made, and 100 other people who are better, luckier, and more deserving than you.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard is, fittingly, from a free diver who sinks to depths of over 400 feet with nothing but his own breath, and then has to make it back to the surface.

From the depths

The diver’s name is Guillaume Néry, and he describes what he goes through as he sinks. Forty meters. Fifty meters. Eighty meters. The deeper he goes, the darker it gets and the greater the suffocating compression of his lungs. At 123 meters, the pressure is 13 times greater than on the surface.

Then, after already being underwater for so long, with nitrogen dissolving in his blood causing confusion, with it being twice as hard to ascend than to sink, he must return.

“A flurry of thoughts goes spinning through your head…around 60, 70 meters, you start to feel the need to breathe. And with everything else that's going on, you can very easily lose your ground and start to panic. When that happens, you think, "Where's the surface? I want to go up. I want to breathe now." You should not do that. Never look up to the surface -- not with your eyes, or your mind. You should never picture yourself up there. You have to stay in the present. I look at the rope right in front of me, leading me back to the surface. And I focus on that, on the present moment. Because if I think about the surface, I panic. And if I panic, it's over.”

Free diving

When you want to do something big

Of course he planned and trained, and he emphasized that, though alone for most of the dive,“without all the people around me, the adventure into the deep would be impossible. A journey into the deep is above all a group effort.”

But there often comes a time when the goal seems so big or out of reach, that you naturally become afraid. Those are the moments when your brain, in an effort to protect you, makes you think of giving up rather than fail.

It’s at those times when, like a diver at 60 meters underwater, the thinking doesn’t help you. Instead, to reach your goal you have to calmly focus on the present moment, let go of the fear and the innate need for control, and keep moving. Inch by inch, meter by meter.

“That dive is a journey to the very limits of human possibility, a journey into the unknown. But it's also, and above all, an inner journey, where a number of things happen, physiologically as well as mentally.”