Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to accelerate your learning

Falling from a motorcycle is unpleasant. It damages the bike and the rider's ego. When I rode a Suzuki 100cc, I fell a couple of times, but the damage was slight. The speeds were low, the bike was light, and I was generally a careful rider. When I moved up to the Suzuki Boulevard, a much heavier bike, I knew I had to seriously upgrade my riding skills. The bike is not light, and the speed could not be slow. Riding a bigger bike at higher speeds requires a higher degree of skill and you have to be more prepared. Mastering this complexity is a journey to be enjoyed.

I put in a lot of hours reading, practicing, and learning motorcycle riding skills. And yet, one fine morning, unexpectedly, I crashed. The most significant damage was to the gear shift lever, it was bent out of shape, and had to be replaced. There were scratches to my bike, my riding gear, and to my ego, but otherwise I was unscatched. My wife did not take away my motorcycle keys and was generally understanding about the whole incident.

But the incident kept bothering me. If I had taken so much care why did I crash? In general, I am obsessed with preventing problems. It gives me the joy of learning, the comfort that comes from preparing, and the peace of mind that I did my best to prevent problems. I mulled over the incident more than I should have and reached a few conclusions.

Is riding motorcycles inherently dangerous and are crashes inevitable? Is riding cars safer and crash free? Yes, Perhaps, Perhaps, and No. The previous week, I had a collision when driving my car. The roads were wet, visibility was poor, I was turning a corner, and had a momentary lapse of concentration, though I was being very careful. This may seem to be a contradiction, but being too careful actually increases risks.

The following week, I attended a riding course where I got a chance to practice "advanced" riding skills. Simply put, I concluded my ability to corner is the most important skill I needed for safe riding. To develop this skill, I needed confidence in myself and in my motorcycle. 

A startling discovery brought me peace and anxiety at the same time.
  • To develop skill, you need confidence. You will grow confident when you improve your skills.
  • Giving yourself 100% to the task at hand is the only way to develop skill and confidence. This is also known as "commitment."
  • Some lessons are learned only the hard way. You cannot prevent every problem, but you can retain your ego and your reputation by being careful.
You have to take calculated risks in what you do.Trying to live a risk-free life is "defensive living" and that will inevitably lead to a less-fulfilled life. It is possible to go overboard and be overly aggressive, that will dramatically increase your uncontrollable risks. Being super cautious will lower your quality of life and in some cases, increase your risks. (Those who have driven behind a timid driver on the highway know this is true)

Don't over analyze your mistakes. Learn from them and move on. Suspend judgement, don't look for excuses don't blame or find fault with yourself or your bike. "If only..." is a trigger that you may be judging yourself, though it does not sound that way.

Think of learning as a process of "calibration." You try something, it does not work. You make a small adjustment, then try again. You keep trying till you succeed. Once you succeed, miraculously, all your past sins are forgiven. Well, assuming you made errors you could recover from. First find your comfort zone, and cautiously step outside it with baby steps. There is no rush, this is not a race. Don't try to jump from novice to expert in one step. It is not only not possible, but is downright dangerous.

Back to motorcycle riding. The key lesson for me is not to "baby" the bike. Firm, assertive gear changes and smooth acceleration is key when taking corners. There are other elements as well, consult a trained professional to learn what they are.

Can you truly accelerate your learning? If you devote more time to learning, yes, you will learn faster. If you learn the proper methods, you will learn faster. You will be limited by your capacity to learn (this is outside your control) and your willingness to push yourself beyond your limits (this is in your control) and knowing how to do so safely (get help!).