I ski in winters, and am a member of the International Ski Club of Geneva where we ski together and learn from experienced instructors. A typical day out is great fun and very social, surrounded by splendid mountainscapes, which certainly makes it more motivating to wake up at 6am and handle a day of being pushed beyond your comfort zone!
One day our instructor Alexandre took us off-piste onto a fairly steep wall of moguls (moguls are bumps in the snow that are not easy to navigate). Reading the “How on earth am I supposed to do this?” expressions on our pale faces, and hearing the dramatic (although reassuringly consistent) statement of my friend Bruno “Oh great, here we go – another wall of death”, our instructor decided it was time for a different tack. “Right everyone”, he said. We’ve done quite a bit on technique, now we’re going to work on the emotional side of things“.
Normally our instructors take us down off-piste runs like these and all manner of things happen: The more proficient among us nimbly nip down; whilst most people like me try hard, yelp and possibly swear a bit as they attempt to keep it together, hopefully only sustaining a fall or two before reaching the bottom of the slope, absolutely exhausted. A few others turn into gigantic tumbling snowmen and have major wipeouts, losing a couple of skis in the process that then have to be dug out of the snow. This time our instructor really wanted us to to embrace the fear.
In skiing, you have to work against what feels natural. You are literally throwing yourself down a mountain on a pair of very slippery planks. When faced with skiing straight down an impending slope, your natural reaction is to lean back, as you are terrified. This leads to: you ending up sitting or lying on your back, attached to your skis and continuing to hurtle down the mountain without the ability to brake, or….a wipeout. Either way, not good. At our level, most of us have managed to sort that part out. Now the trick for us was to learn to turn efficiently on a 45 degree slope, in deep snow and around the moguls. Inevitably when it came to turning in these conditions, we would freak out just before the turn, lean back a bit and, you guessed it – wipe out. (Wiping out gets pretty exhausting, especially when you have to clamber out of deep snow, find your lost skis, dust yourself down and put them back on again. If you are small like me, sometimes you are in up to your waist).
Our instructor continued. “When you take that turn, you need to lean forward“, he said, “and you’re scared. I know you are scared because as you make the turn you hit the void. That’s the scary part, because in the void you don’t know how you are going to control your next move, or if you’re going to make it through. That’s why you lean back to avoid the uncertainty, and often fall over because you’ve lost your stability. What you need to do is face the void, and go into that unknown place, until you reach stability again. How can you do that without being frightened? You need to trust. You need to trust your equipment. You need to trust your experience and abilities. You need to believe you have what it takes. Now do it – into the void. Make it happen!”
Now I’m not going to say we then all whizzed down the mountain like James Bond or the Swiss mountain rescue. However, we did perform much better with Alexandre’s advice in mind and I will never forget his words. Of course it’s easier said than done. The temptation to lean backwards is strong. But if you don’t enter the void, or face where it is you need to go, getting where you want to be will either be more disjointed and difficult or just won’t happen; you’ll either wipe out and possibly give up or have to dig yourself out and start all over again.
Naturally this applies to life as much as it does to skiing. So, when faced with uncertainty, and knowing that you need to move out of your comfort zone in order to progress, I hope the advice of my ski instructor may inspire. Embrace the void, for it is where possibility lies!
Questions to ponder:
How do you feel about the void?
What do you do when faced with uncertainty?