Sunday, October 23, 2016

Layers of Fear

How do you cope with fear in mountainbiking?

Fear in mountainbiking is an odd thing. I constantly see different behavior regarding fear from the people I ride with, but there is a red line. I see a pattern of behavior. And my general theory is; pretty much everything can be predicted and/or categorized. So here goes; the different layers of fear in mountainbiking. Lets start of with a simple physiological look at what fear is:

Your amygdala is essential to your ability to feel certain emotions and to perceive them in other people. This includes fear and the many changes that it causes to the body. If you are looking down a huge drop, that you haven't ridden before, chances are that your amygdala is very active!

I have categorized fear in mountainbiking into 6 layers and named them;

-The Darwin-award seeker
-The first-mover
-The risk seeker
-The risk calculator
-The risk avoider
-The shell shocked

From the smallest amount of fear, to the biggest amount of fear, lets go:

The Darwin-award seeker
This is the "Bender" of the mtb scene. There are very few of these people, and for good reason; our brain is usually not seeking stunts that can cost us our life. The Darwin-award seeker is often lacking the self-preservation intuition that many of us have. This results in the biggest risk-taking in the sport. The darwin-award seeker does not necessarily have the skills to do the stunts they do. The Darwin-award seeker can sometimes be seen doing things on the bike, what others would categorize as downright "dumb". Oh, should you for some odd reason not know what a Darwin-award is, then go here.

Josh Bender is a good example of a darwin-award seeker. Take this drop he did; the gravel-landing was too soft, and his skills where questionable at best for stunts this size. I wonder; do these people feel fear, but don't recognize danger? Or do these people have a amygdala defect?
(click to enlarge)
Often results in:

The first-mover
Not only are first-movers hitting big stuff, but they are also the fist ones to do it. This is the Redbull Rampage contender. This is the rider that builds and hits big stuff on the northshore BC, or in some secret spot in the French mountains, or in your local quarry on some sick high-risk line.
The first-mover go in...first. Fueled by confidence and technical skill, where others watch..they ride it. First-movers are often skilled builders as well. They are not without fear and a strong self-preservation intuition tho', the first-mover have limits, but they are way more gray-zoned.

Compared to the bender-drop above, this huge drop from Redbull Rampage is well designed, calculated (takeoff, landing and speed), and ridden by a rider with a very high skill set. However, he is the first one to ride it, despite the danger. Fear is present, but overcomed by technical skills, and confidence.
(click to enlarge)

The risk seeker
This is the category where most of my riding buddies sit. They definitely don't represent the majority (I will get to that later), but a lot of seasoned riders go into this category. This is the rider that gets thrills by seeking bigger and bigger stuff to hit. This rider loves bikeparks, and the challenges that await there. This rider can look at a big set of stairs, in some urban area, and think "I could hit that with my bike". The risk seeker is never satisfied, there is a continuous search, and need, for something a tad bigger. The risk seeker is rarely seen on a hardtail in tight spandex. They have a strong self-preservation sense, and a comfort-zone, but like to push both things. Fear and danger is flirted with.

So this pic sums up the risk seeker pretty good; Its all about hitting bigger and bigger stuff, new stuff, and a constant need for a self-challenge. All this while still being grounded by the "laws" of fear and self preservation.
(click to enlarge)

The risk calculator
One thing that spots a risk calculater is that they are never the first one to hit stuff. The risk calculator is often seen walking up to a drop or a jump, inspecting it over and over again; over-analyzing. They talk about hitting stuff, often having an open monolog about stuff they'd hit in the past, or how they can potentially injure them-self in the present. The risk calculator is often standing on top of drops or jumps, thinking, while the mind-fuck corrupts their brain. But please note that the risk calculator can actually be spottet hitting big stuff, and riding high-risk stuff, they just need more time than most of us, they need the time to...calculate.

(Using Jan in this picture is not fair, but it fits the topic.) The risk calculator is often hiding in his comfort zone, and only the right sum of calculations can take him out of that comfort zone. The over-calculation can often be a sign of technical insecurity. Fear creeps into their head, and dominates their decision making. The self-preservation and amygdala is on high alert pretty much all the time.
(click to enlarge)

The risk avoider
This is the main-stream mountainbike rider. The risk avoider is afraid of pretty much everything. Their fear is only matched by their insecurity and extreme self-preservation need. Stepping out-side the box or comfort zone is a big no-no. Expect excuses from the risk avoider for not hitting stuff, the risk avoider is often self-aware that they are scared of everything, but will not always admit it. The risk avoider often has a very poor set of mountainbike skills, mostly because they never challenge them self, they are often seen to compensate by having a strong cardio tho'. (go ahead and read between the lines)

The risk avoiders are not that hard to spot in the wild..
(click to enlarge)

The Shell Shocked
We have all been there; failing a drop or jump and crashing. It can freak us out, make us scared, insecure, momentarily destroy our skillset. All that, is what I categorize as being shell-shocked. Fear creeps in and corrupts our minds. The self-preservation part of our brain is going full steam.
There are 3 ways to evolve/devolve from a shellshock state:

1)you get up from the crash, and ride the feature the same day. Shocked, but determined not to be beaten. You get back into your former "fear-class".

2)you temporarily devolve into the "risk calculator" or "risk avoider". After some wound licking, you get back to your former "fear-class".

3)you permanently devolve into the "risk calculator" or "risk avoider".

Shell shocked is a layer of fear that is spawn from a crash. The self-preservation part of our brain is going full steam. Only question is; how will you tackle your fear as a human being? Do you ignore it? fight it? or capitulate?

And so..
So this is my non-empirical observational study of fear in mountain biking. More than 10 years of mountainbike riding with very different people, has taught me a thing or two. There is a red line. In the end, we are all but (somewhat) simple and predictable mammals when it comes to fear. Try taking note of who is who, next time you stand by some new feature out on your trail, with your buddies.

What class do YOU belong in?

Bonus: My thoughts and late night wine-drinking-theory
Fear and comfort-zones can be translated to many other aspects of life, you can use most of my theory in this article to the following:

-Handling of a relation ship
-Handling of Money
-Travel and exploration

However! And this is the interesting part: you can be very risk willing in one area, but absolutely comfort-zone seeking in an other. As an example; you can be a first-mover in mountain biking, driven by the thrills, but ultra conservative (risk avoider) when it comes to relationships, with no needs for thrills whatsoever. This to me is interesting, as I initially imagined that the amigdala in out brain would not differentiate between what aspect of life the fear/comfort zone sets in. But it does. 

We obviously do not have an omni-potent relationship to the challenges we face in life, instead we unconsciously categorize them into segments, each segment is then individually evaluated by our amygdala. This is what makes us into the humans we are. Skål!

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