Sometimes, I know when I’m right and sometimes I’m smart enough to admit when I’m wrong. However, I think I am best when I admit that I don’t know and approach as a beginner.
When I started RLC I really wanted to learn to track stand. For me, it stood to reason that better balance off the bike would result in better balance on the bike… So I started standing on one foot, walking along curbs, hopping on and off curbs. I must have looked like a 4-year-old, hopping, skipping, and jumping around! But I did not care. I wanted to learn to track stand and I wanted better balance! Also, it felt good to be a kid again!
RLC is built on the principle of building very advanced skills out of basic fundamental skills. This can be hard for people like me. I’ve been riding bikes for over 30 years, MTBing for over 20. Surely I know something by now? And I do! But I can’t bunny hop or wheelie, and I take corners much slower than a lot of my riding buddies.
Often as we get older, we start to believe we know all we need to know. To be clear, I’m not saying that we turn into egotistical 'know it alls’. I’m saying we know enough to do the trails we really like. And then we lose our beginner's mind. We lose our curiosity. We lose that exploration of possibilities that came so easily to us as a child.
I recently watched a video by Josh Turknett . The video has nothing to do with MTB - Josh is a banjo-playing neurologist who has done a lot of research into brain plasticity; especially in adults. In the video, Josh discussed a subscriber to his site, Brainjo Bites, who went back to focus on fundamental skills. At first, this subscriber found working through these skills to be a ‘slog’ and felt like he was taking a step backwards. But in the end, he found it easier to master harder skills after going through the basics again. He was ‘buzzing with excitement’ after that!
The perfect beginner's mind is in the intersection of dreams and reality, where you have the desire to keep practicing what you dream of while being grounded about where you are. That keeps you moving forward and motivated, while at the same time, 'keeping it real’ so that you know the next solid step to take.
So what can we do to gain our beginner’s mind? Or perhaps this is better phrased as how can we lose our expert mind?
The willingness to go backwards is often demotivating. The realization that you have not really progressed or that you have not truly mastered something is such a mental hurdle. But sometimes reviewing what we supposedly already know can lead to breakthroughs. Fellow RLC Mentor, Patrick Mitzel, mentioned recently on Facebook that a lack of a solid track stand has been holding him back in other skills. He has been going back and focusing on them for a while now and it has really accelerated his more advanced skills. For beginners everything is new. So they don’t mind practicing the ‘beginner’ things which fine-tune those skills.
“You are going to fail”
There. I said it. Review the “behind the scenes” videos of Danny MacAskill. He fails… a lot! You have to embrace it and learn from it. Learning from your failures is key. But here at RLC, we do not want to see people crashing to get better. See where you can find failures that are not catastrophic. Pay attention to the little things. Are you straining to balance in that track stand? Did you feel a bit too much pull with the arms for that manual?
Ryan says, “Your compromised abilities are a GREAT thing because it shows just how much potential you have for optimizing your technique.”. Beginners expect to be new. So it is easier for them to accept that they have compromised abilities!
The flip side of embracing the suck is to enjoy the wins… Hey! If you can track stand for a full minute who cares if your form is good? That is still awesome! Beginners celebrate every little win because they are excited about learning something new and being able to do it. They are more concerned about doing something today they could not do the day before. It is fun for them to have the momentary pause, or lift the front wheel off the ground just a tiny bit. Whatever the skill, beginners are happy with where they are and the small accomplishments; even if they want to move on to something harder.
Ryan has called himself a “professional practicer” instead of a “professional MTBer”. Beginners also love to practice because everything is new. Practice for non-beginners only becomes a slog when their expectations get in the way. Try to embrace the beginner's mind through micro-experiments. Pay attention to the little things: What if I lean my foot just a bit on the pedal? What am I feeling in my grip? Am I tense? Am I breathing? Are my knees out? Are my arms straight? We can make the same skill ‘new’ again with just a slight shift in mindset.
Countless hours of doing the same thing ‘wrong’ can be bad. Keep things fresh by trying different things as well as the same thing differently. Beginners, and especially children, are great at ‘playing’ while they are supposed to be learning something. But play and experimentation are vital to learning. This is where 'happy accidents’ happen. And a lot of fun too!
Trying new things is great, but you also need to have some structure. Beginners know they are new and so they look to follow instructions. A sure way to lose your beginner’s mind is to attempt things which are beyond your ability. Failure is a good thing but only when you can break it down and learn from it. Trying skills which are too far beyond one's ability can be confusing because there is a likelihood that many things are wrong. Break things down and move through the RLC lessons step by step.
Beginner’s don’t put undue pressure on themselves because they know they are new. Unless you are a professional MTBer, you have other responsibilities. It is ok to skip practice. Don’t get down on yourself. Be real about how much time you have to practice. But when you do go practice again, embrace the opportunity to ‘begin again’ and open up the beginner’s mind to wherever you left off…. Or even the lesson before that!
Ira Weiny (RLC Mentor)
Many thanks to the following for helping to point me to various resources to put this article together.