Last year I wrote an article on how survival training helps to make our brains better. It offers problem solving, creativity, the creation of new neural pathways, and building of social skills. The human brain is fascinating and even as we get older we still need to keep exercising our brains. Building and expanding the super highways of knowledge and skill not only keeps life more interesting, but can actually reduce the onset of age related disease such as Alzheimer’s
I based it on a fantastic article written by Dr. Geil Browning, who is also the co-creator of Emergenetics. Please take a look at the article later, in the mean time I thought I would expand on her viewpoints into our world of scuba since that is where my brain and my spirit are right now.
Below I have used Geil’s ideas for building your intelligence and converted them into how survival and bushcraft training can work as an activity base to build better intelligence. In this blog I use the experience of scuba diving
While some programming of our body is “hard wired” into us at birth through DNA, we also create new neural pathways every time we experience something new and different.
Diving places you in a novel experience from the start. In my early studies with Dr. Jon Johnson of Team Leadership Results, he focused on how new and novel experiences are a platform for creating the experiential learning environment. The fact you are learning new concepts about how our bodies function underwater, motor skills required to perform drills, knowledge about the underwater environment you are diving, and planning and preparing for dives all build neuro pathways and the more you practice the more those pathways will become highways. At that point you are gaining a sense of mastery and many aspects of diving become second nature. Taking a class in navigation, deep diving, or enrolling in a Master Diver class are examples of new experiences that will help build new neural pathways.
When asked, most of us would agree that its’ life’s experiences that teach us the most. We need to learn new things every day of our life just to sustain ourselves.
As discussed before, the pathway along which information travels through the neurons of the brain is a neural pathway. A neural pathway created through life’s experiences. Imagine you lived in a cabin in the woods and you had to walk from your cabin to a nearby pond with your scuba gear, but there isn’t a path. As you meander through the woods to the pond each day you begin to form a small path. Pretty soon, the path is wide enough you can pull a small cart with your gear in it for faster access. Not only have you built the pathway, you have created a mini-highway to travel on. You know it so well you could navigate it without thinking about it.
I live in an area where we have a few mud-holes to dive. At first they are a challenge, low-visibility, easy silt-out conditions, or taking others out at night. In my favorite mud-hole I have 75 dives this year at just that spot. For most dives I enter the same place, follow my usual path under water to a dock where I may look for dropped treasures or back-off so my buddies can look for lost sunglasses, mask, the occasional wedding ring, and sometimes a wallet. To make it more of a challenge I might enter from the opposite side of the pond and navigate 200-plus yards to the same dock. Its more challenging and helps me grow my own navigation skills.
Once you have acquired basic scuba skills you need to continue to not only practice to master, but rather challenge yourself through the use of different methods, gear, environmental challenges or by handicapping. I dive 3-5 times a week on average. To keep challenging myself I will rent different gear to get acquainted with, drop a fin and swim back with one on my foot and the other in my hand, build a navigation course, build something with PVC pipe I take out with me, hit a practice pool with a buddy and practice pool harassment, work on ditch and dons or bailout drills, or set up a difficult buoyancy challenge. Even as an instructor, I will seek out other classes to go to.
Diving builds your problem solving and creativity skills better than many other methodologies. The more safe opportunities we have to solve basic issues in the water and experiences we endure, the more we learn and grow. For the most part these experiences are a benefit even if we fail and need to get help from our dive buddy.
Some of the best experiences I have had is when things were not going as panned and I had to think of new options. In Hawaii in 2016 I got separated from my spear fishing group when the dive guide sent me back to check on the others. We were about 600 yards off-shore, I fought a current and wound up in the wrong cove and exit as seas were getting rough. I was exhausted and sure I was going to be spending the night on a rocky ledge while fighting off hypothermia and dehydration. Because of that I now carry a small pocket survival kit in my BCD and teach that as part of my rescue class.
Another way to push creativity is by making your own gear. Not on the scuba unit- but gear or tools to use in the water, Anoraks for staying warm, pockets on a wet suit, camera mounts, and ditty bags are just of the few items you can start with to push your own creative skills.
Do Things the Hard Way
I still practice long swims with gear, wear gloves too thick in the summer time, hit the pool for training with a leaking mask, do a night dive starting with my back-up light, put my gear on doing a boat bailout drill. You never know when things aren’t going to be perfect so practice for scenarios they aren’t. Find an instructor who will not just go through a routine of a scuba refresher, but will challenge you and put you into (controlled) but difficult situations. Volunteer to get “roughed up” a bit. Heck, dive in your 3mm wet suit when you should be in a 5mm. Get used to a bit of hardship on training dives.
There is a whole network of people just like you who want to increase their skill level. Working through simulated problems, learning together, and even challenging each other builds strong friendships. Diving is incredibly social and there are so many different activities that can be put into the social aspect of diving.