The Psychology of Pushing the Limits

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r4e

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As divers, most of us respect the current or earlier pioneers or record holders. They took many risks and most of them survived. However, many of us technical divers are today routinely performing dives that would have been record breaking a decade or two ago. Does this make the dive less challenging or less dangerous?

Like previously noted, the record breaking group is a small tip of the iceberg. Of course it would be rewarding to belong to this elite group. But that is a priviledge for very few.

I think more relevant are the personal records and pushing of limits and gradually extending the comfort zone. You extend the comfort zone and repeat similar dives until you once again are tempted to push the limits a bit further. Part of the stimulus of technical diving is this. But how far can you go? When should you stop? It is like tightening a screw: the optimum is a quarter turn before it snaps apart. How many "Jesus" moments do you need to understand your own limits?

Personally, I am trudging far behind the leaders. But simultaneously, many of my former diving pals have given up technical diving due to their own evaluation of the risks involved. And some of my friends have paid the ultimate price. Many of them have died in conditions that would have been considered "normal" in our diving community.
 

jadairiii

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.....How many know world record holders well enough to discuss their psychology? .....

Actually I dive with 2 guys that both did hold or currently hold "world records" (actually a couple more guys but not enough dives with them to really count in my book) . One I dive with on a regular basis and the other occasionally. I can tell you their records were not some BS deep air on a AIR2 record, or deepest solo dive record, or "personal best BS" or some other nonsense.

But all of these guys were part of bigger projects and at the end of the day the dives just happened to be records. The goal was not the record.
 

kensuf

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How many people on here have set world records? How many know world record holders well enough to discuss their psychology? Seems like a pretty narrow focus group.

I've been a support/setup diver on world record dives that have since been broken (longest cave penetration, longest traverse, longest cave penetration at depths below 200' (repeatedly broken by the same group)). There was definitely one or two individuals that were vocal, but the majority of the people involved with those efforts were pretty quiet and unassuming.

To the best of my knowledge, the one person that was on all of those dives never wrote an article in any magazine, never published a web-page, never gave a TV interview, and never gave a public presentation. He just went diving.
 
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boulderjohn

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As divers, most of us respect the current or earlier pioneers or record holders. They took many risks and most of them survived. However, many of us technical divers are today routinely performing dives that would have been record breaking a decade or two ago. Does this make the dive less challenging or less dangerous?

It certainly can be less challenging and less dangerous.

The first such dives include great uncertainty. What will happen on this dive? Will we be OK? Will this device work at this depth? If they end up doing the dives with no problems, then subsequent divers know it is safe to do it. If they have problems, then subsequent divers learn to dive differently to overcome those problems. For example in 1939, Dr. Christian Lemertsen invented scuba gear that could be used to deliver oxygen to divers. The ones who died taught us how to avoid oxygen toxicity. For this reason, anyone with OW training today can routinely do dives that were killing those first scuba divers.

The people doing the deep air dives in the 50s and 60s did all sorts of things we don't do today because of what we learned from them and their dives. I can do a ho-hum technical dive today with full confidence using gear and methods they didn't know about but which they helped make possible.
 

Dr. Lecter

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many of us technical divers are today routinely performing dives that would have been record breaking a decade or two ago. Does this make the dive less challenging or less dangerous?

To echo what John said, it absolutely does. In addition to there being less grey area, technology has fundamentally altered the risk presented by a dive. The Doria on air without a DPV was for a time a pinnacle of wreck diving; on a CCR full of trimix with modern DPVs, lights, and maybe a nice heated drysuit, it's just another shallow pile of rubble.
 

Akimbo

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... For example in 1939, Dr. Christian Lemertsen invented scuba gear that could be used to deliver oxygen to divers. The ones who died taught us how to avoid oxygen toxicity. For this reason, anyone with OW training today can routinely do dives that were killing those first scuba divers...

Christian Lambertsen coined the acronym SCUBA as a Major in the Army Medical Corps when he developed a significantly improved pure O2 rebreather for underwater. However, the British, Germans, and Italians had them long before. The first prototypes go back at least to the 1850s and Siebe Gorman (British diving equipment manufacturer) produced the first commercial units around 1880.

Paul Bert discovered Oxygen Toxicity around 1875, only to be rediscovered by caisson workers and divers over and over in the following hundred years.

I mention this because no records in diving have been revolutionary... daring perhaps but largely based on known science. Decompression, oxygen toxicity, all the different variations of barotrauma, and the use of gas mixtures were pretty well known long before Cousteau and Gagnan's Aqualung. The one record that really pushed the envelope in my lifetime was Hannes Kelle's dive to 1000' in 1962 that was supported by Dr. Bühlmann's daring and aggressive, but not revolutionary, decompression algorithms.

... The people doing the deep air dives in the 50s and 60s did all sorts of things we don't do today because of what we learned from them and their dives...

Perhaps to some extent, but they learned from pioneers making much the same dives with an umbilical supplying air and mixed gases to spun-copper hard hats in the century before them.

The great majority of the cumulative knowledge presented in diving classes at all levels resulted from accidents that scared the hell out of, injured, or killed someone. Thanks to all the pioneers the preceded me, living or not.
 

Doc Harry

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Without meaningful risk in failure, there's no meaningful accomplishment in success.

"There is a fine line between bravery and foolishness."
- Doc Harry

(Some people have responded by saying that the line is defined by success or failure.)

As someone who pushed limits when I was much younger, I will offer some observations.

First, you have to differentiate between idiots who just do crazy **** (and maybe get away with it), and the true visionaries who have real skill.

Second, when you consider the latter group they have a totally different perspective on "pushing the limits" than do ordinary people. Something that someone considers "radical" or "extreme" may be well within the limits of someone else's abilities who doesn't consider it radial or extreme at all.

Thirty-five or forty years ago I used to rock-climb alone on cliffs that were over 1,000 feet high without a rope or any other gear. I look back now and think it was "crazy," but at the time it was easy as walking down a flat sidewalk for me. It was neither "radical" nor "extreme," it was just another fun day in the life of a dedicated climbing bum.

John, if you are really interested in exploring this subject, you should really look to the climbing and mountaineering community for data. Get the latest copy of the American Alpine Journal and you will read hundreds of pages of hundreds of people pushing the limits of human endurance, skill and psychological barriers, in hundreds of lonely, obscure places all over the planet.

As I've always said, you will NEVER see the best athletes in the world at the Olympic Games, because the best athletes are too busy climbing in some obscure corner of Greenland or the Antarctic.

These people don't do what they do for attention and for some "adrenalin fix." They do it for the love of their activity. Any runner will tell you that there is joy is being light and fast on your feet, and there is joy in simply running. You don't have to be in some televised race to have fun. Likewise, when you get really good at your "extreme" sport, you push the limits just because there is joy in the fact that you can push the limits.
 

Basking Ridge Diver

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This thread has gone through some different twists - I did not think I had anything of value to add but here goes and I will try to keep it short.
I was about 30 at the time - I was running about 6 miles a day and in decent shape. I was looking for what I thought would be a physical challenge and I mentioned it to a peer of mine as we were getting ready for a daily run. I said you know - it might be fun to do a bike ride - something like a cross country trip... He laughed and said - you can't do that - so I said - Why not? He said you have too many responsibilities and that is not something you can do - I was a white collar worker and was working on a long term project. But that was it - being told that I could not do something forced the issue. I am not saying this was a world record - but if you want to push my buttons or make me work to get it done - tell me I can't do something.

Three months later with my companies permission for a leave of absense - I was in Vancouver Canada putting my bicycle together in a motel - I rode a bike from Canada to Mexico with my father who had just retired - we slept in a tent the entire way down - Pacific Coast Highway - Washington, Oregon and down through California. Best trip I have ever been on and did it with my father - he talked about that trip until the day he passed.
The trip ended up taking me from Canada to Mexico and back up to San Diego and out to Tuba City AZ for a Navajo Carnival / Rodeo - I ended up working the Carnival and have memories of a life time - all on a bicycle - I had doubts at various spots along the way - but each time I was unsure - someone was there (complete strangers) and helped me get past the small hiccups or challenges that came along the way.
I could not have done it just on my own - but the power of the challenge is what started the trip. The power and kindness of people I met along the way allowed me to continue to push and finish the journey...
 

down4fun

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I think that deep divers have a desire to do what they feel is challenging and yet attainable. Deep diving or "pushing your limits" in any area of diving will always have those who are very vocal in there disapproval and lack of understanding of why people want to do what they do. I don't think there is anything wrong with with a well thought out, trained for, supported "big dive." To go out and just bounce without a plan or training or support is different.

Are deep divers adrenaline driven? I can only speak for myself and i would say yes and no. The adrenaline, for me, comes after the dive is completed, the feeling of success at reaching a goal. Leading up to and during the dive calmness is your friend. I actually meditated on the dock right before my deep dive in GC. And leading up to the dive i visualized it over and over, gearing up, going down, the deco, the issues that could arise. So that when the day came I wasn't some 12 year old waiting to get on a loop to loop roller coaster all pumped up and heart pounding. It was a quiet slip into the water to reach a goal that a team had ben working towards for months. I have been sub 400ft multiple times with my deepest dive being 652ft. I don't see myself as some death chasing adrenaline driven crazy person. In fact i see my daily commute to work as much more dangerous than the dives I do. Is what i do for everyone, no.

And for the record I am not comparing myself to Sheck or anyone else of his fame and achievement. But as someone who has done some deep dives and for a brief period was the deepest female on a rebreather i felt qualified to reply.

I have read Verna's book and though she doesn't answer the question i think it is a good read. Her fight to be accepted and "allowed" to dive deep is interesting and not something we female divers have to deal with today.
 
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dsr30

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When someone asked me about my most death-defying moment in scuba, I thought for a while and decided it was the time I was suffocating while trying on a too-tight hooded vest.

Lmao, that's just hilarious.
 
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