Don’t (always) eat that PB cake & how casino’s make money from you
freediving Canadian record holder Luca Malaguti coming up during a deep dive

Don’t (always) eat that PB cake & how casino’s make money from you

Lessons from Dr. Andrew Huberman that we can use in freedive training

In this article I will summarize (some) of the epic work of by Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist from Stanford, and how it applies to your freediving.

This will include:

  • Intro to Stoicism, a previous article I wrote
  • F*** goals & dreams, work on systems & principles
  • Understanding habits and habit building
  • Use dopamine/epinephrine and serotonin cycles to your advantage
  • The dopamine reward-system and dopamine crash
  • Why you shouldn’t (always) reward yourself after the work
  • Random Intermittent Rewards: How casino’s make money off you!

Reading time: 10 minutes | Front Cover by Daan Verhoeven

**Note: For those of you that don’t know, the “PB cake” or Personal Best cake is informal tradition in freediving. When you reach a new depth, or a “PB”, you reward yourself with cake, or desert, or a beer, weed, etc. Whatever is your inherent vice.

Intro: Don’t forget to be Stoic

A while back I wrote an article about how the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of Stoicism can apply to your discipline and training. In fact, it can apply to everything in your life. It has quite a bit to do with neuroscience and how your brain works.

To read the article on Stoicism and Freediving click here.

To summarize the Stoic principles:

  1. Control your perceptions: Your imagination, what you imagine is not (most often) the reality of the situation.
  2. Direct your actions accordingly: Irregardless of what you think, you are a finite energy systems. Simple thermodynamic laws will prove this.
  3. Surrender to the outcome: You will never control the external, you only control how you internalize it. It’s your judgement of the situation that you suffer from, not the actual situation that happened to you.

On that note, let’s move on, but first a nice quote to wrap that up:

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.

Seneca, Greek Stoic
Luka Adams keeping the mind calm and cool. Photo by Luca Malaguti. Greenland 2022.

F*** Goals and Dreams, Set Systems & Principles

Forget the goals and the dreams, focus on the systems and principles you set in place every day. In an excellent Podcast between Dr. Andrew Huberman and Dr. Emily Balcetis, they discuss what “sticky notes” don’t often work (sometimes).


When you write down a task and visualize doing it, like on a sticky note, the brain thinks, “oh, great job, you did something!” In reality, you haven’t done anything.

Writers make this mistake all the time, they say, “I’m going to write this awesome to everyone they know.” They proclaim it to their friends and family, and everybody supports them by saying, “Yes, great idea, you should write that book!”

They never write it. Why? Because the satisfaction they received in imagining it, and the FEEDBACK they receive satisfies their dopamine reward. The nervous system is happy, it “thinks” it achieved something.

Don’t set a goal: I will write a novel. Set a system: I will write 100 words every day.

You can dream about diving to 100 meters, but it’s the discipline in training consistently, the volume, the hours that let you achieve this.

The principles you define for yourself (i.e. I’m an athlete and thus I have to train every day) and the systems you set in place (i.e. I do three depth sessions, 2 pools sessions and 4 dry training sessions every week).

Dream all you want, this is what makes the difference.

Freediving under an iceberg. Photo by Daan Verhoeven. Greenland 2022.

Neuroscience of Habit Building

Some habits are preferable early in the day and others later in day. There is a reason why, and it has to do without your hormones and neuro-modulators: dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), serotonin, acetylcholine, cortisol, etc.

Understanding the neuroscience helps you generate and optimize your daily habits in life.

Morning: Phase 1 (0-9 hours after waking)

Associated with high dopamine, high epinephrine and higher cortisol levels in the body.

Andrew Huberman refers to this as Phase 1 of the day: how you can take advantage of the neuro-modulators dopamine and epinephrine. This is a great time to do a bunch of analytical/linear work (hit the gym for reps, answer emails, etc.). Tasks you know well and do often repeatedly.

This is when the linear-brain operation is working at it’s best and certain habits are done best at this time: habits you know how to do and just need to get them done! This time is associated with higher levels of dopamine, epinephrine and higher cortisol.

Afternoon: Phase 2 (10-16 hours after waking)

We tend to be calmer, and more relaxed at this time. At this time in the day we have higher levels of serotonin in the body.

Habits that have to do with the non-linear brain operations are performed better. This is Phase 2 of the day. We’re calmer at this time of they day, and here creative writing, brainstorming, creative and exploratory work is best done here.

Evening/Night: Phase 3 (17-24 hours after waking)

Here you want to be getting to bed and starting to fall asleep. A this time we are starting to release more adenosine in the body which is there to help us sleep.

An increase in adenosine increases a person’s need for sleep, also called the sleep drive or sleep pressure. The sleep drive helps the body maintain sleep-wake homeostasis, or the right amount of sleep and wakefulness over time.

The neuro-modulator acetylcholine is active in this phase. There’s some “poor habits” you really want to avoid at this time, including:

  1. Exposure to all forms of light (not just blue-light)
  2. Drinking coffee too late (caffeine disrupts adenosine receptors)
  3. Any dopamine bursts (i.e. Instagram binge)

Good habits” suggested to help you sleep:

  1. Lower your body temperature (lower room temperature)
  2. Meditation practice
  3. Dark and quiet environment
  4. Anything that stimulates the para-sympathetic nervous system (i.e. sex)
Freediving Breathing Techniques
Freediving breathing techniques are an excellent morning habit. Photo by Vannesa Sierra.

Science of Goat-Setting & Overcoming Injuries

This is a little controversial and likely different to the “power of visualization” techniques you’ve heard so far.

It’s dark yes, but fear is a far better motivator to do something. As an athlete, I’ve been terribly injured. Every athlete goes through this at least once in their career.

From a neurochemical point of view, envisioning success to set goals and habits is far less effective than imagine the catastrophic effect of failure.

Dr. Andrew Huberman

Visualize that if you don’t get up, stretch, strengthen and lengthen your body, impact-proof it, move and thus heal, then you will be walking with a cane by the time you turn 50. If you don’t put in the hours of physio, hit the gym, get up and move every morning: imagine vividly the worst outcome.

Think about that dark thought.

That, according to Dr. Emily Balcetis, is far more effective than imagining the positive outcome. This is provided you can still think clearly, not panic, and use it as fuel that drives you.

I would recommend, in my experience as an athlete, to use both:

  1. Positive visualization (let’s call it this): Imagining yourself successful (i.e. doing your personal best dive and getting a white card in a freediving competition)! This works, we know it.
  2. Negative visualization (let’s also call it that): You don’t feel like stretching and doing your workout to overcome an injury, well imagine yourself debilitated and in pain! This can be powerful too.

Either way, the outcome is ultimately POSITIVE: you get to work!

Visualization is incredibly powerful, and you can use this to really drive yourself to accomplish something. My good friend and mentor Thibault Guignés has an excellent article on visualization right here.

I can bear any pain or suffering, as long as it has meaning.

Haruki Murakami

The Dopamine Schedule

By understanding how dopamine system works, you: “Give yourself random intermittent rewards for performing these habits on a regular basis”.

Why are some workouts and training sessions not effective?

Because you’ll put all this energy into one, and then immediately reward yourself afterwards with some junk food or a bad habit/vice. According to Dr. Huberman,“This undermines the process of doing that act consistently”.

“The way reward schedules work is, you’re trying to teach the neural circuitry to work reguarly and be rewarded on every once in a while and at random.”

Dr. Andrew Huberman

Reward Systems: Don’t (always) eat that PB cake

Don’t get into the habit of constantly rewarding yourself after each act of “success”. This is actually counter-intuitive to how the dopamine reward-system in the brain works.

How to the casino’s keep you in a constant state of motivation to keep getting your money? They rely on the dopamine system, and hack your nervous system circuitry.

Don’t celebrate every success or every win while training, but rather celebrate a win at a random time.

Random Intermittent Rewards: This is how casino’s make money from you

Best way to reward yourself for a job well done. This is because the dopamine in your body is “replenishable, but non-infinite”.

If you constantly seek that “dopamine rush” because you just did a an awesome deep dive, well what happens when you’re not doing a deep dive? You have a dopamine crash. Your body is getting used to the fact that when it dives, it wants a dopamine boost. A reward every single time.

This is not a “positive” thing.

Casino’s know this. Whether it’s there slot machine or blackjack, they keep rewarding you, not constantly, but intermittently. And it works!

“Don’t celebrate every win, celebrate random intermittent wins”.

Dr. Andrew Huberman
Luca heading into the deep after many failed attempts. Daan Verhoeven. Cyprus 2020.

Failure is the Way

When you fail at something, the next time you repeat that action/movement/dive your nervous system is far more dialed in to succeed at it during the next iteration.

However, when you do succeed, the following time you’ll likely think “Oh the next one I’m good, I got this.” Actually your nervous system thinks, “Hey, you just succeeded before, why would you be good again?”

The best example of this is people learning to shoot, or marksmanship.

Every time you miss (a rifle shot), the next trial is the one you are paying the most attention to the target. But when you hit the target, you think “oh the next one I’m good”. No the next one, why would you be good? Why would your nervous system pay attention to what happens next? It already succeeded before!

Dr. Andrew Huberman

Why, would the nervous system pay attention to what happens next, it wants the reward now since it succeeded! Now the nervous system want to relax (since it succeeded) and release maybe some serotonin rather than epinephrine (adrenaline).

Errors are key to learning, they make you focus more, pay more attention and dial the nervous system in.


Dr. Andrew Huberman, Huberman Lab

Dr. Emily Balcetis & Dr. Andrew Huberman

The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Atomic Habits, James Clear

The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday

The 4-hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss

Visualization Exercise by Alchemy and Thibault Guignes

T. E. Bjorness et R. W. Greene, Adenosine and Sleep, 2009.

Photos by Daan Verhoeven

Luca Malaguti

Luca Malaguti is a former engineer turned freediving professional athlete and founded Sea to Sky Freediving. He lives in Vancouver, Canada among other places including Dahab, Dominica and Philippines.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jesse

    Great summary. Love the Huberman Lab Podcast .

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