Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fear: What to do about it

I've always been fascinated by motorcycles (insert your armchair psychologist explanation here). Several years ago, when a co-worker had a nasty accident on his motorcycle, my heart sank as I imagined myself getting into that situation. At that time, I determined that my riding days were over before they started.

This is an example of fear. And denying myself an opportunity to overcome fear.

Last year, I attended a keynote delivered by a former marketing manager from Harley Davidson. The flame was rekindled. But the fear, uncertainty, and doubt persisted. I asked myself, "Is this a good idea?" No matter what I tried, I could not shake this feeling off. I decided to wait it out to see which "feeling" would win.

This is not very different from the time I was about to ask my wife to marry me. This is an example of conflicting fears.

The desire to ride a motorcycle won. I took lessons, studied diligently, you can read about my preparation here.

Every time I rode my bike, I was on tenterhooks. While I was still functional, my awareness would rise to heights I did not believe were possible. It increased the joys of riding, but I wished I could ride without the nagging feeling of dread.

Then I crashed, with my son on the pillion. You can read about it here. During and after the crash, I felt a sense of calm. Perhaps the focus on problem solving was a distraction. I had to provide an explanation to my son's mother, get the bike home, make sure my friend was okay, and then get the bike fixed.

The fear persisted. I persisted with riding my bike.

This is an example of facing one's fears with a determination to find a resolution, and acceptance that it will take time, and this resolution has no timelines or deadlines.

I decided that my son will not ride pillion till I improved my riding skills.

Then I had a breakthrough. I took a class to improve my "slow riding" skills. I immediately saw why I crashed with my son on the pillion. I did not have the skills to take sharp turns at slow speeds on a heavy bike.

Instead of falling on grenades, meaning, facing your fear with pointless bravado, identify the skills you may be missing.

The following week, I signed up for a group ride on route 130, a challenging, twisty road that goes up to Lick Observatory in San Jose (see picture of destination above and map below). 

The organizer introduced the ride thus, "This is a great route to ride. Its about 40 miles in each direction, and there are about 120 turns/corners each way. This route is sure to challenge all riders and has some technical turns that are off camber, with an incline and about 120 degree turn radius. These very tight hairpins that include the incline/decline test a rider's ability to maintain focus, look through the corner, manage speed and throttle control and power through the corner without running wide or stalling mid corner."

I spoke to the organizer of the ride and asked, "Should I do this ride? Am I ready?" His answer was without hesitation, "Of course! You will enjoy it. You can do it." For some reason he had more confidence in me than I did.

It is okay to seek affirmation from others, but self-confidence will come only from within.

To cut a long story short, I completed one of the most challenging rides, and took the curves that led to my crash earlier with far greater skill.

The only way to build your self esteem is to accomplish something. Even if it means having to face your fears. The more you face your fears, the higher your confidence will rise.

The rest of the group were more experienced and soon I lost sight of them. I rode at my pace. The sweep (last rider in the group) and one other rider in front escorted me patiently as I made my way through the twists and turns.

If you are willing to work on your fears, the universe will automatically send help. Work at your pace and not at someone else's pace.

I did a few things to improve my ability to take the sharp turns that have a steep incline:

  • Rapidly dropped gears to improve my traction before a curve.
  • Used the rear brake to stabilize myself.
  • Did not use the front brake unless I had to.
  • Looked up and ahead through the curve, and did not look down.
  • Finally, the most important, I was prepared for and constantly on the look out for sharp turns that have a steep incline.
Trust is all well and good, but be vigilant and check things out for yourself. Just because the rider in front managed to navigate a curve with aplomb does not mean success is assured for me.

I still have to drop gears before entering a curve, not while I am in the curve, but the fact that I was able to complete the ride was a significant accomplishment for a person at my level of riding skills.

Now I was ready for the next stage of my development.

How to retain humility and constantly improve my riding skills.

As my rider coach summarized at the end of the ride, "Fear is not a bad thing. You cannot explain why it arises, and you cannot (or should not) make it go away. You have to learn how to manage it."

Words to live by.

Fear is a complex subject. Risk analysis, personal comfort, personal circumstances, and your context all play a role. No one can analyze all that but yourself. Perhaps even you cannot analyze all the variables. If you paused to do so, you would be paralyzed by inaction.

This is a plausible explanation for why faith, courage, and determination are encouraged and admired. Find your own way to overcome your fears. Build character along the way.

Most important tip, learn motorcycle riding from a trained and experienced rider coach, not from blogs like this one.