Part 2- How Good Am I?
HOW GOOD AM I?
Where do think your current skills as a pilot are? What skills should you even measure and how do you arrive at a point where you can assert a value to them?
Thankfully, I’m constantly grateful of the breadth of skillsets in our sport, others once again have done the hard work! Brian Webb from XCKms.com has developed a skills matrix for intermediate and advanced XC Pilots to self assess and share with others if you like. Having been in the military and having been diagnosed with psychological injuries I have utilized this sort of tool before. It takes a few attempts to get really honest, that’s pride and ego getting in the way… (‘Marcellus Wallace’ in Pulp Fiction has good advice in relation to pride.)
I consider that the real value is in redoing this style of assessment regularly, maybe monthly to build a trend or identify changes. Discussing with pilots of a similar caliber/mindset can be a powerful forum, mutual trust and respect is very important to generate benefit. Discussing how you are arriving at your assessment and listening to their perceptions of your flying can give you a more realistic and constructive method of looking at each skill. You don’t have to agree with their perception, we all bring baggage to our view of the world and how we interpret it but it adds context at trying to be objective yourself.
Objectivity rather that ‘subjectivity’ is really hard. How do you ‘work on you’ when you are already ‘being you’? Objectivity is being able to detach emotionally and look in on your own behavior dispassionately and fairly or without bias. An example of thinking about this is deciding whether it is OK to drive home from a restaurant having shared a bottle of wine you hadn’t planned on drinking… you might be under the legal limit, the meal took 3 hours etc but at that point you are already under the influence of alcohol and looking for an easy way home… what would your decision be before the meal, before the wine? That’s objectivity!
Over time how you look at different areas of your flying and performance allows you to not only identify weaknesses and the ‘low hanging fruit’ that will have the biggest impact if you address them, but also identify strengths that can be harnessed when under stress. It also pays to reward yourself for areas of expertise, allow praise for areas you are either respected for or acknowledge yourself. Kindness to yourself is an act of love as worthy as any other.
‘Sports Psychology’ or ‘Performance Psychology’ has been steadily developed over the last 40+ Years. In re-reading “Born to Win”, John Bertrand’s autobiography from the Australian ‘America’s Cup’ victory in 1984, analyzing and being introspective on his own strengths and weaknesses, mitigating or removing weaknesses was, in Bertrand’s mind, essential to overcoming the unknowns of racing against Dennis Connor’s crew and 12m Liberty in the Cup.
“I believe very firmly that in the power of the mind lies the key to winning, as opposed to performing well and losing” John Bertrand
Inspiration plays a major role in reaching ‘Peak Performance’ as does visualization. It is nigh on impossible to achieve something deliberately that has not at least been imagined and considered possible in your own mind.
Our own minds are our noblest asset, just as they can be the weakness that prevents us from achieving our desires and goals. Today there is such a diverse and bountiful array of videos available online you can get your ‘virtual paragliding fix’ in a myriad of ways. Depending on what you are trying to achieve and how to harness video as a training tool, not just eye candy, is a subject on its own. Books, articles, photos and stories around campfires can either scare or inspire- Richard Bach’s books like ‘Johnathon Livingstone Seagull’ I think are great and I love revisiting it… but you always need to have a clear picture of what are aspirations, inspirations and your own abilities.
Understanding how you look at risk- both perceived and real (and there is a difference), is important to how you fly the way you do. Paragliding is inherently dangerous. There will be injuries and fatalities during the time you paraglide, it might be you or it might be someone close. How you rationalise those events will be pivotal. Do you only fly when others have already launched? Do you lead the way or follow? Do you back your own gut feelings and follow through with a rapid decision or do you vacillate and wait for more information? Are you confident or over-confident?
Personality traits are neither good nor bad… they just are. Understanding some of your personality and your underlying motivation can shed a light on how you look at paragliding and why you’re doing it… and it will most likely evolve. When you get to recognize your model of behavior you can recognize where thoughts and decisions are coming from and identify when to follow through with action.
What does your flying say about you? Adventure based sports generally bring out an amplified situation of how you view the world. If you take risks for the adrenaline (and I’ve done that, it can be as intoxicating as any drug) or you fly aggressively and put others in danger too or don’t want to follow rules… that’s ok, most people will adapt around you and give you the space to learn your way.
“Maybe this is the only way you are going to learn it,’cause you might not listen to someone else. That’s alright, sometimes I don’t listen to others and I should… just ask my wife” Buck Brannaman
If you are timid or over accommodating to others you might not get what you’re looking for either and ‘allow others’ to put you into a dangerous situation you can’t get out of too.
Instinctive responses to danger are typically Fight, Flight or Freeze. Having my Flight and Freeze responses changed by military training has encumbered me as a paragliding pilot and as a person. As an Infantry Officer I have been trained to react to danger by turning towards it and fighting… great for winning battles, not so good for day to day life. A really good description of how this works is done by Nick Fothergill, a Vietnam Veteran who became a Psychologist working with veterans. There are often really good reasons for turning away from danger, pausing to assess changing conditions or just running away! It has taken hard work and discipline to retrain myself to be less aggressive in decisions and to adopt a healthier mindset. If you are more likely to freeze each time you put yourself into a dangerous situation you are also accepting greater risk during your flying. We need to be able to respond appropriately to danger and that is a skill in itself.
There are paragliding specific books about competitions and cross country flying. Two that I have found to be really valuable are ’50 Ways to Fly Better’ by Bruce Goldsmith and others and ‘Flying Rags for Glory’ by Mads Syndergard. Both books are thorough and enlightening with the same openness and honesty I have come to expect from the leaders in the paragliding fraternity.
Have a play with the skills matrix or list the skills you want to improve, maintain or develop. Be as dispassionate assessing yourself as possible- no one else has to see your scorecard, but don’t discount that you might be judging yourself too harshly either. We all bring emotional baggage with us that affects how we look at ourselves. If you have always been praised and encouraged or punished and discouraged makes a huge difference to how we view ourselves.