Updated: Jul 19, 2020
"What do you mean I have to do this differently. This is what I was taught."
I have had that sentence stated verbatim to me at least once, and the sentiment of the above statement implied to me on several occasions. "It doesn't feel right," is another statement I quite often get or "This is just what I do naturally," is another that comes to mind.
And so the unspoken thought in my head is to wonder what on earth a person is doing at a mountain bike coaching class to improve their skills if they already have it firmly entrenched in their mind that they already know what is right. Of course, deep down there is a thought process that leads them to believe that just maybe, they haven't got it right. Otherwise, why else would they have signed up to lessons in the first place?
And yet from time to time, with some new students I find there is resistance. Resistance to learning different ways of doing things. Resistance to challenging their current paradigms and exploring alternative techniques to achieve results. Resistance to accepting what they know as not necessarily being the best way of doing things.
In short, they don't want to actually learn how to do something new and differently. Or at the very least, they struggle to let go of their ego that defines them as being correct in what they do. So they fight tooth and nail to prove that what and how they're doing things is the right way. And to that action, I usually have one very simple question to ask.
"Why are you here?"
To be fair, quite often learning the techniques of mountain bike riding (or at least what I teach) can be quite at odds to what your brain thinks is "right". The real question though is "How did you learn what you currently believe is right and does that still hold true as the best way of doing something for the current circumstances?"
Throughout life, we go through a series of experiences and our brains form perspectives of what is right and wrong based the results of the activities we succeed or fail at. Sometimes this can come from a classroom environment. Other times it's from what a trusted person may have advised us. But a lot of the time what we believe to be true comes from actions and activities that have been validated from actual experiences.
And if nothing in the world ever changed, this would be fine - and everything you have previously learned would always be true. But the smallest and most subtle of differences can create circumstances in a situation or environment that make what you know not necessarily correct.
Take for instance, the act of getting your wheels off the ground. For the longest time I believed that the only way to get your wheels in the air was to use clipless pedals to pull the bike up into the air. Sure, I'd seen some riders that weren't clipped into their bike take flight. But that had to be some sort of voodoo magic to achieve that - and that had to be wrong.
Brains can be stubborn about what they believe is right. They'll start off by telling you that the a new skill, technique or method is not right. Then they'll tell you that it feels wrong - just a gut, intuitive feel mind you without substantiation. But enough to convince you to resist the introduction of a new rule that is contradictory to what it believes to be correct and true. Especially when something might take a bit of time to learn. So it drives you back to what your brain believes to be correct.
How do you fix this? Well, you have to first do the opposite of learning. You have to unlearn what you believe to be true.
That's not to say that what you have learned previously is completely wrong. It may be that what you know is just for a different set of circumstances. A difference in the environment you're operating in, the speed at which you're doing something at or the introduction of a new technology that is enough to alter a situation from what you know.
At this point, if you really want to improve at something, you need to accept that there are different ways of achieving a goal. That there may even be a better way of achieving said goal than the way you currently know how.
In short, you have let go of being right and embrace the possibility of being wrong.
And when I say that, I don't mean just saying, "I'm wrong." To truly improve, you need to master the art of being wrong by truly believing it. It is only at that point, when you've let go of the need and desire to be right, that new possibilities will start to exist for you. Possibilities gained from learning new ways of doing things.
It wasn't until I embraced the idea of my riding technique being wrong that I started improving. I started researching better techniques, I got coaching and I actively started working on my skills to become a better rider.
And then I learned how to get my wheels in the air without being clipped in. Turns out, it wasn't voodoo magic after all.
Mastering the art of being wrong is a skill I've completely embraced throughout life now. Yes, there are things that I know and in certain situations they quite often hold true. But I don't enter a room these days thinking I know the answer to life, the universe and everything. In fact, I prefer to promote myself as the dumbest person in a room. That way, I might hear some cool new ideas that I'd not heard of or thought about before.
And with those new ideas, combining them with what I already now, just maybe I'll be able to do something better than I previously could. Maybe, I'll have the chance to improve. Because at the end of the day, I believe becoming better is far more fulfilling than being right all the time.
I think it's called progress.
The Life Lessons from the Trails is a series of articles that take the learnings from being on two wheels in an outdoor environment and relate them to how they can help you in life beyond the trails.