As kids, we’re used to being schooled. We see ourselves as “works in progress” and people around you are constantly reminding you that you have things to learn and to work on and work towards. In fact, we’re just getting things wrong basically all the time. This kind of changes when you get older, people tend to see themselves as more of a completed article and that we might have certain talents, but that it would be tough to get good at anything new. This assumption can give a person confidence in the things they know but it can also stop you learning new things, because you stop getting used to that process of being a beginner and accepting that there are things to improve on.When you’re a kid, your ready to accept being a newbie. Partially because there’s normally a bunch of others around you, falling over and doing the same thing, so you think it’s fine. A kid has also got a whole lot less prior experiences to base their decisions on – so if they fail, they don’t think too much, they’ll try again. As an adult, it’s easy to try once and think, “ I’ve failed, I can’t do it, I’m too old now”. To make progress again, we’ve got to let ourselves be like a kid, to be taught, to teach ourselves, to be vulnerable (and brave) enough to get things wrong and to not worry about feeling stupid for that second, as it doesn’t harm you- it’ll only help you grow and learn new skills.
The deciding factor in being able to learn a new skill is not being young or old; it is your attitude towards learning that new skill. Having a flexible, adaptable, determined attitude will allow you to learn things all through life and pick up new skills. It’s about practice, repetition and not blaming your mistakes on anything- persevering until the point where the skill has embedded as something that you can do automatically, then you’ve got it. Mistakes are simply “part of the process”, go back to practice again and keep trying until you can do it.
So how do kids do it? How do they learn stuff without trying? Well the simple answer is, they mess about. They play. They’ll repeat things in different ways to see what the result is, to go from attempting to do it, to doing it in a pretty sketchy looking way (but not caring!), to mastering it. As adults, we’re way too comfortable with doing things the same way again and again. Watch this kid below, he’s got messing about absolutely dialled.
Recently I read Danny Macaskill’s autobiography and the best part of it for me was the drawings he made of all his big stunts before he put them into action in his videos. They look like drawings you did when you were bored in Primary School, dreaming of being on your bike. That’s how he sees the environment around him, a playground of physics, analyzing where he could take off, land and go to next- all planned then visualized in his mind, then put into reality. We can all do the same- starting with hopping kerbs or a manual across the street and it could lead as far as hopping on and off rolling hay bales like Mackaskill himself. Set yourself a challenge and don’t stop until you can do it, there’s a reward feedback loop in the brain that releases feel good chemicals when you achieve something you couldn’t do- confront your own challenge and you’ll never get bored.
Dreaming of possibilities is all well and good but we all know that time is a huge factor that young’uns definitely have on their side. The key thing is to use the time you have as well as you can. It’s so easy to ride the same loop week in week out, following others, taking the same lines and when you mess up a section, you have no opportunity to put it right. Try mixing things up a bit. Spend a bit of time in the car park and fireroads practicing endos, hops, manuals, wheelies. You’ll see lines and transitions on the trail that weren’t there before as the new skills open them up. Find a corner that’s hard and try different lines, inside, outside, pedals level, outside pedal down – see what works and what doesn’t. Find a section you like and see how fast you can hit it, or work towards riding it with no brakes (if possible) and see how much you need to lean in and look out. Invent your own, there’s an infinite amount of lines in your locals woods just waiting to be tried for the first time.