kottke.org posts about Alec Wilkinson

Attention deconcentrationAug 24 2009

It's a bummer that Alec Wilkinson's article on free diving isn't available online (except for NYer subscribers)...it's fascinating and right up the alley of the relaxed concentration/deliberate practice enthusiast. One of the two divers profiled uses a technique called attention deconcentration to govern her body and mind as she dives.

To still the unbidden apprehensions that might interfere with her dive -- what she describes as "the subjective feeling of empty lungs at the deep" -- Molchanova uses a technique that she refers to as "attention deconcentration." ("They get it from the military," Ericson said.) Molchanova told me, "It means distribution of the whole field of attention -- you try to feel everything simultaneously. This condition creates an empty consciousness, so the bad thoughts don't exist."

"Is it difficult to learn?"

"Yes, it's difficult. I teach it in my university. It's a technique from ancient warriors -- it was used by samurai -- but it was developed by a Russian scientist, Oleg Bakhtiyarov, as a psychological-state-management technique for people sho do very monotonous jobs."

I asked if it was like meditation.

"To some degree, except meditation means you're completely free, but if you're in the sea at depth you will have to be focussed, or it will get bad. What you do to start learning is you focus on the edges, not the center of things, as if you were looking at a screen. Basically, all the time I am diving, I have an empty consciousness. I have a kind of melody going through my mind that keeps me going, but otherwise I am completely not in my mind."

I found only one other reference online to attention deconcentration, an article on free diving written by Natalia Molchanova herself. In it, she talks about the three types of attention deconcentration: visual, aural, and tactile.

Rising from the depth, it is important to constantly scan your condition to prevent shallow water black-out, which can occur without any discomfort sensations. Somatic attention deconcentration appears to be extremely useful in this situation. Somatic AD implies attention distribution on the whole volume of the body and allows noticing tiny changes of organism state.

There is one more kind of AD -- aural attention deconcentration. It is not so effective in the water, but it helps preparing to the dive and not to be distracted by judge's countdown.

It's interesting that both the attention deconcentration and flow techniques are designed to get the practitioner to basically the same place (i.e. ready to perform difficult tasks) from opposite directions.

Somewhat related, a reader (thx, martin) recently sent in a link to The Game, a mind game with an unusual objective:

The Game is an ongoing mind game, the objective of which is to avoid thinking about The Game itself. Thinking about The Game constitutes a loss, which, according to the rules of The Game, must then be announced. How to win The Game is not defined in the rules; players can only attempt to avoid losing for as long as possible. The Game has been described alternately as pointless and infuriating, or as a challenging game that is fun to play.

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