For years I wanted to learn to scuba dive, and I finally decided to take a class.
Part of dive training includes drilling basic skills such as how to clear your mask of water, how to share your air supply if a buddy runs out of his, etc.
Anytime we did a drill where I didn’t feel 100% confident in my abilities, the instructor said, “Do it again!” And I did, again and again, until I knew I had the specific skill we were practicing down cold.
My instructor also told me over and over: “Any time anything goes wrong, Stop. Breathe. Think. Then act.”
She explained that the only time divers get into trouble is when they panic. They make fear-based decisions, they forget to breathe, they forget their training. Even if your tank is out of air and you are forty feet from the surface, you still have enough time for a controlled assent—and you’ll even get another sip of air as the gas in your tank expands as you get closer to the surface. But you won’t get that sip if you panic and spit the regulator out of your mouth.
So you have to Stop. Breathe. Think. Then act.
As fate would have it, I had to follow that advice my very next dive. After receiving my certification, I went diving with a tour company. I was traveling alone, so they assigned me a “buddy” on the boat.
When diving, you and your buddy are supposed to check each others’ equipment before you dive, and then stick together once in the water. This guy did neither. But I was so green (new to diving), I didn’t think to insist he did.
As you dive deeper, the air in bubbles in your wetsuit contract, making you less buoyant, so you need to add air to your “buoyancy compensation device” (BCD), a device similar to a life vest that you inflate or deflate as needed to stay level at any particular depth.
We begin the dive and I’m descending too fast, so I reach for the hose to put more air in my BCD.
The hose isn’t there.
I’m still descending, I’m approaching the bottom, I can’t find the hose, I can’t control my sinking, and no buddy to be seen!
And as if things couldn’t get worse, I hit a current and I start drifting away from the boat, away from my (missing) buddy, away from the group. Instant panic!
But then the words my instructor drilled into me over and over popped into my head: “Stop. Breathe. Think.”
Stop: I stopped, literally overriding the primal urge to shoot back to the surface.
Breathe: Rather than holding my breath, I was doing the opposite: hyperventilating. So I willed myself to take long, slow breaths, which helped to clear my head.
Think: Finally, I was calm enough to assess the situation. I wasn’t wildly venting air (as would be the case if the hose had been cut), so I knew the hose had to be there somewhere. And since I’d practiced what to do when your gear gets fouled, I was able to free the hose (it was under the shoulder strap), put the BCD back on, inflate it so I was at proper buoyancy, then swam on to rejoin the rest of my group.
All because I remembered to Stop. Breathe. Think.
And because I practiced, practiced, practiced my pool drills until I was certain I knew what I was doing.
I can’t tell you how often I apply “Stop. Breathe. Think.” in the work-a-day world.
Want to send an angry reply to an email from your boss? Stop! Breath! Think!
Are you participating in a negotiation (perhaps for a job offer) and it’s not going your way? Take a break, clear your head, and rethink your strategy.
A problem is only a problem because you don’t know what to do about it. I prefer to not even call such situations “problems” because problems have no solution (otherwise they wouldn’t be problems, right?). Instead, I label such events “unaddressed situations.” Because no matter how bad things look when you are 100 feet down and can’t find your air hose, all you need to do is stay calm, assess the situation, and find a solution.
Do you have a situation in your job or your life that seems unsolvable?
Stop. Breathe. Think. Then act.
There is a solution.
You just need to find it!
Follow Jack Molisani on Twitter: @JackMolisani.