Ellie Smart shares how she handles fear as a cliff diver

AWhile she may be a professional cliff dive, Eli Smart swears she’s not an adrenaline junkie. “It scares me,” she admits. “If you put me on a 20-meter platform right now, I won’t do it.”

For him, it takes a subtle mental preparation to reach a place where he can confidently attempt a dangerous dive. “We have a saying in cliff diving: you shouldn’t do it if you’re not scared,” said Smart. He noted that fear is a natural physiological response to danger that increases our awareness and protects us by increasing our adrenaline. Falling in love with sports psychology as a collegiate diver at UC Berkeley, the 26-year-old Smart said, “There’s a level of fear that’s really important to have,” emphasizing that he earned his master’s degree in sports and exercise science. Human performance.

He says that the technique of manipulating fear so that it is helpful does not allow it to go to a stage where you spiral into a rabbit hole of “what if” which will increase your chances of making a mistake. “It is important in our sport to have fear, but to control that fear,” he said

Smart’s has already begun the process of checking its nerves for its next big dive, coming June 4. As long as the conditions cooperate, she will probably try the hardest dive made by a female competitor, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art in the Boston Harbor while jumping. She is the first stop of the 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, and the only American woman on the Smart Standing list.

So how does he get his mind in the right place to accept what some people think is the “real extreme game”?

His number one strategy for managing fear

Smart trains run regularly in an Olympic diving pool with a 10-meter high platform, but many of its dives are 20 meters or more. Much of his training takes place inside his head. “The visualization is huge,” he says.

At least a few weeks before a big competition, she would start scheduling time to close her eyes and imagine herself coming out onto the platform. He would imagine what a jump would look like and think about how it would feel in his body. That way, when it comes time to actually dive into a competition, it’s almost as if he’s already done it. “It’s not so foreign,” he says.

Research has shown that successfully imagining yourself can have a positive effect on performance, and that this is a strategy that can work for anyone before a big event – whether it’s a marathon run or a big job presentation. “Visualization is one of the most powerful strategies for achieving optimal performance because it directly affects our neurology, which is essential for speeding up motor skills, fluid performance, emotion management and stress management,” said Eric Bean, PhD, CMPC, Associate Board Member Psychology, previously said good + good.

Basically, imagining a scenario activates the same neural patterns as the activity. As much as you can involve the senses (thinking about how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells, etc.), this technique will work more powerfully.

What it takes to calm the mind

We all know how fast our minds can run a few hours before doing something stressful. Smart concentrates, avoiding Instagram or anything else that reminds him of “real life stuff.” He puts it on his headphones to cut the rest of the world off by listening to the same song over and over again. (During his last contest, it was Justin Bieber’s “ghost”)

Although she used to avoid shortness of breath (“I don’t know why, I hate when people tell me to breathe,” she says with a smile), Smart now recommends it as a way to calm the nervous system. His walking technique is what his instructor taught him to call box breathing: he breathes for two counts, then exits for two counts, which he repeats while imagining a box whose breath is illuminated by a different side inside or outside each.

The power to take a moment for yourself

Finally, Smart centers himself with a pre-competitive behavior that takes him to a healthy headspace. “I always go and sit on the edge of the platform, look down and appreciate a second for where I am and what I’m doing,” he says. “For me, that moment is like accepting the fears and dangers that come with my sport. But reminding myself that this is nothing new – I’ve been diving since I was 5 years old. I’ve kept hours in the pool and gym and I know what I’m doing. “

It’s not just a reminder of how ready she is, but also a moment of gratitude for the opportunity to do something she likes.

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