Kyle Bass: How Freediving Enables Better Decision Making

Below find an excerpt taken from an interview between Raoul Pal and Kyle Bass (a hedge fund manager based out of Texas.)

What resonates with me here is the need to find a way out of a world where we are pulled in a thousand different directions and find an internal quiet. In turn these quiet and intimate moments with ourselves enable us to excel.

Pal was asking about how Bass keeps balance in his life.

Kyle Bass: I’ve searched for that my whole life. I found it about six years ago. My favorite thing in the world is to do freediving and spearfishing. I know you live on an island. I could do that if I wasn’t running this firm, meaning as a lifestyle choice. I have a little Hemingway in me.

Raoul Pal: What is it about spearfishing and freediving that you like? I don’t spearfish. Freediving, I’ve had lessons in, and it’s a fascinating thing because it’s very internal.

Kyle: It’s internal. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s like when you think about the greatest battles in the world, they’ve always been civil wars, just like I think the greatest battles you and I fight are in our head. It’s between ourselves. The biggest battles that most people fight are with themselves.

When I was in college, I helped pay for college through … I had a diving and an academic scholarship. I was, primarily, a springboard diver. That was, I would say, 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical, even though it looks all physical. It’s you versus yourself. It’s you convincing yourself that you can do this, and do it as well or better than anyone else.

Freediving, very similar. It’s you knowing yourself. It’s you teaching yourself how to regulate your heart rate. It’s how to control your emotions. It’s made me better at controlling my emotions in the office.

Raoul: It’s kind of where I was going to get to this.

Kyle: The beautiful part of freediving for me and spearfishing is the day-to-day “grind” that we go through. My phone rings 24/7. I take that back. I turn my phone off at night, so there’s only a select few that can get through at night.

But during the day, I’m pulled in a thousand different directions. Regardless of how much I try to control my path through the day, things pop up. You have people everywhere pulling you 50 different ways.

The moment I go underwater in the ocean, it’s Zen-like for me. My phone can’t ring. No one can bother me. I’m typically there with people that I want to be there with, my team. I always dive with a team. Then it’s me versus myself. It literally is Zen-like, and I’ve gotten so much better at being calm that I go 8-10 hours a day.

Raoul: Wow. Because a lot of people do the similar thing with yoga, and actually, yoga and freediving have a lot in common.

Kyle: Do they?

Raoul: Yeah. Lots of the great freedivers now learn yoga to understand how to control their body and control their minds.

Kyle: I have a problem with yoga. My mind drifts. When I’m freediving, I’m focused. I’m focused on the potential threats, because I primarily do it all in the Bahamas, so we see sharks every day. I’m not that afraid of sharks. I respect them.

The difference, for me, between yoga and freediving is in yoga you’re sitting there, and you’re in a solitary moment, and you’re trying to focus on things mentally. But — I don’t know, I need the freediving aspect of it to be really centered. … That’s how I get centered.

Raoul: Yeah, you have a physical focus then, as well.

Kyle: Yeah. I’m always searching for the next great hogfish, or grouper, or lobster to eat that night. We eat what we shoot. It’s a beautiful, beautiful cycle that I go through, and I can do it for weeks on end.

Raoul: When did you take up freediving, and how did it change you in terms of how you work?

Kyle: It didn’t, initially. It was just something I’d always wanted to do. I found a young man on an island in the Bahamas. I asked around and said, “Who’s the best spearfisherman on the island?” Everybody said, “It’s Dave. It’s Dave. It’s Dave.”

This 17-year-old kid who had been bitten by sharks on his hand. He had been cut up on his foot by a propeller, and he’s just a great kid. Over the years, he’s become my boat captain. He’s now, I guess, 23 years old. We’ve been partners now for six years. Every moment, every chance I get for vacation, that’s where I go.

Raoul: As I said, you’ve actually noticed that whole process of learning that spill into your work, and it makes you calmer in how think about things?

Kyle: Yeah. You have to stay focused. If you trade on emotion, you lose every time. Every time. If you can divorce yourself of that, especially those real extreme and extremist, those emotions you feel, you have to go the other way. You have to.