On Backflips, Adrenaline, and Your Learning Style

What is your learning style?

I recently watched several videos of professional trick ski jumping.  It was one of the most incredible acts of human talent I’ve ever seen (except maybe Daredevil stunts such as those attempted by Evil Knievel).  I think what I found so fascinating is the sheer bravery required to do these acts.  Each event carries the risk of traumatic injury and these acts of showmanship and human bravery require the ability to disengage from the human fear response.  Often times the people who attempt such stunts have the cojones factor.  This could be due to a higher level of testosterone and/or a short-term thinking personality type.  Although I don’t really NEED to learn to flip on skis, I tend to try skills that do involve some sort of adrenaline rush.  More recently I’ve been dedicated to learn a backflip.

My learning style is influenced by the fact that I’m a long-term thinker and weigh costs and benefits: I don’t want to try something that could involve me potentially hurting myself badly.  I think about the pain that would happen IF I did mess something up to that point and it becomes clear why I wouldn’t do this.  However, I recently learned how to do a backflip on hardwood floor.  And guess what?  It’s incredibly easy…  Let me put it this way: I finally squatted 275 pounds just this past week.  The months of struggle I went through to build enough muscle, master the technique, and achieve progressive overload simply dwarf the amount of time it took me to learn the backflip.  That being said, a backflip is simply frightening.  So how did I actually achieve such a goal as a long-term, cerebral thinker?

I started with steps that I knew were going to be completely safe.  I began on a gymnastics trampoline runway and would flip onto a three-foot memory foam mat.  In addition, I also recruited an instructor to spot me on the flip.  This part was crucial because I knew he had the strength to keep me going in the right direction.  I started with some technique drills to learn the vertical nature of the movement, but they weren’t that helpful to me.  I just needed to do it.  But the safety measures I had in place were mandatory for me to make this possible.  I made that first flip and it was frightening, but I was operating just close enough to outside of my comfort zone to where it was possible.  The most interesting part is what happened afterwards.  Although I went through a lot of flopping onto my stomach, I began to see that some of my biggest fears were not even physically possible.  Snapping my neck?  More like flopping onto my stomach in the worst case scenario… I repeated the movement over and over again.  Sometimes I practiced with a spotter to get the technique, and sometimes without a spotter just to do it solo.

My ability to harness my learning style allowed me to dial up the intensity while feeling almost completely comfortable.  I began to identify the sticking points in my flip and realized that jumping from a trampoline wasn’t generating maximum vertical leg drive.  I needed the hard surface and luckily my gym has a spring wood floor.  This is an excellent step for someone looking to progress in the backflip.  However, once again: I needed to grab a spotter.  It also helped to put a 4 inch mat directly behind me so a less-than-360 landing didn’t feel too rough.  Doing this over and over again helped me get the vertical height and the tuck.  I removed the foam mat and told my spotter to just keep his hand hovering for mental assurance.  Within two more flips, I achieved a perfect landing.  I’m now working on perfecting the move through repetition and will soon be moving towards other cool tricks like aerials!

When I look back on this, I’m kind of astounded that I was so afraid of this movement.  If someone had brought me to a grassy park and told me to backflip, I would have never done it.  But it seems as though the route you choose for your mind makes all the difference in the world.  I have friends who actually don’t learn this way.  They like to just go for it…  I have all the respect in the world for those people, but are they any better than us long-term, cerebral thinkers?  I don’t believe so…  In fact, we may be better.  Those who think in the short-term may have an edge when it comes to the most ballsy of actions, but they lose out on average.  In terms of sports, they get injured more and don’t have as much longevity.  I would encourage those people to begin adopting long-term thinking strategies for many of their sports and activities in life.

I think this will be a really interesting post for many of you to read and I hope it will allow you to attempt things you were always too afraid to do in your life…