Look where you want to go
Yesterday, as I teetered precariously on my motorcycle at the top of a steep hill, riding home from the repair shop and thus marking my first time on a motorcycle that wasn't in a flat, closed course, I was repeating one of the standard Motorcycling Mantras: Look where you wanna go. Look where you wanna go. Look where you wanna go.
I was also repeating the Greenhorn Mantra: I don't wanna die. I don't wanna die.
The funny thing about motorcycling is that you can find all kinds of life metaphors in the sport. Take the "look where you wanna go" thing.
The actual meaning behind this stems from the fact that, when steering a motorcycle, you will end up driving towards whatever you are looking at. When I took my safety course, and was riding around the track with a bunch of other terrified newbies, our instructors kept shrieking "Look where you wanna go!". Of course, we weren't looking where we wanted to go. We were looking at the cones that we were supposed to be weaving between. I was personally hitting every single cone.
"Look up! Look up!" our poor instructors bellowed from the sidelines. It was to no avail. We were all bumping over cones left and right. It was almost hypnotic. I could see a cone up ahead of me, and my eyes would fixate on it. Don't hit the cone. Don't hit the cone. Bump. I'd see another cone up ahead. Don't hit the cone. Don't hit the cone. Bump. It was ridiculous. Sure, I thought, the better an idea I have of where the cone is, the better I can avoid hitting it. But over and over, around and around, I was running into cone after cone.
After a disastrous initial run around the course, the instructors had us pull over. "Did you notice what happened when you looked at the cones?" We all stared at our toes, mumbling "We hit the cones."
"You don't NEED to look at the cones. Once you have established that there is an obstacle, you have to look at the exact spot that you want to go, to avoid that obstacle. If you look at the obstacle, you'll hit the obstacle. LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO."
Getting back on our tiny little motorcycles, we were all repeating the look where you wanna go mantra to ourselves. And what a difference it made! The thing is, on a motorcycle, you have a pretty good idea of what is going on around you. You're not sheltered the way you are in a car. The wind is hitting you. The rain can soak you. Bugs hit your face or faceshield with a splat. Roadkill is right there when you pass by it - you can see stuff you don't want to see. You can see what it happening around your feet (not that you should be looking at your feet). So it's easy to get caught up in staring at things around you - they're so much closer to you on a motorcycle than in a car.
Knowing that looking at the obstacles would actually make it harder to avoid them made all the difference in the world. We newbies sailed through our second round on the obstacle course, swerving around cones like experts.
The same mantra was put to the test again during the figure 8 exercise, in which riders must use counterweight (that's when you shift your weight in the direction opposite of the bike's lean) to help steer slowly through two tight U-turns, without touching a foot to the ground. The thing is, if you looked at the ground, even for a split second, you'd immediately start to tip over. And you'd have to put your foot down. But if you kept your gazed aimed at where you wanted to end up, it was easy to glide through the turns without feeling like you would fall.
This exercise really tested one's ability to look ahead to the future, rather than fixating on the present. Anyone who got stuck in the moment, anyone who looked down to see just how close the asphalt really was, had to put their foot down. The thing was, you had to look over your shoulder to see where you wanted to go - an awkward angle, to say the least. But the riders who kept their chins up and their eyes moving towards the intended destination sailed through the entire exercise.
I was somewhere in between. I had done the U turn exercise many times on my own, but the nervousness of being watched made me stumble quite a few times. But when the final test came, I was able to pull it together, looking where I wanted to go.
Looking ahead, never down. Don't fixate on obstacles. Find them, locate them, look for a way to avoid them. Then look up, and again, find where you want to go.
My boyfriend recently received a copy of Get Out of Your Own Way, by Robert Cooper. My guy's not much of a reader - not that he doesn't like it, just that he gets too antsy and attention deficit-y. And he's definitely not the type to read self-help or goal-setting types of books, but he decided to crack this one open since he had seen the author give a public talk and found him entertaining and insightful.
The other night, while he was reading the book, I heard him muttering something to himself.
"What?" I asked.
"Oh, just this bit here. He talks about how people end up thwarting their own goal-acheivements because they focus too hard on the task at hand. If you look at all of things that might prevent you from getting the job done, you won't be able to see the end goal anymore."
This behavior actually runs in my family. For some reason, my mother and I can ponder the mechanics of a simple task for days before actually completing it. And we're not talking about major event planning here. We're talking about something really simple, like planting petunias or going to Costco. By the time we mentally assess how many steps it will take to plant the petunias, we're exhausted. It sort of our version of not seeing the forest for the trees - or the goal for the steps, in this case.
"I guess that I do that," I said.
"Yeah, you do," said my boyfriend, ever so helpfully. "He also says that you should always be looking ahead by about 7 years. If you're not looking at a very long-range goal, in addition to smaller shorter-range goals, you probably won't get where you want to be. All of this seems pretty obvious, I guess, but he says it very eloquently."
"So, in essence, he says, Look where you want to go?," I asked.
"That's kind of like motorcycling."
"Yeah, I guess it is."
(photo by Yoppy)