There is one particular learning experience that I will always remember. It took place when I was about eleven years old and it lasted a couple of weeks. It was a very painful experience too. It was learning how to my bike.
The bicycle had been a Christmas present from my Grandmother. We didn’t have a car in those days and we went to see my grandparents that year during the holidays. They lived in Scunthorpe (UK) and we got there using a mixture of taxis and the train. You can imagine what it was like bringing the bike back with us using the same services. I can remember other people telling my Dad that ‘they’ might not allow the bike on the train and that he would not be able to fit it into a taxi. But he never allowed minor detail like that to get in the way.
Of course, the bike had to go away until Christmas day, but then, as soon as I could get my hands on it, me and my Mum were out front ready to give it a shot. She had a simple plan. I would sit on the bike whilst she held onto the back of the saddle. She was going to hold on to keep me steady while I pedalled. What she didn’t tell me was that she was going to let go when we were up to a little speed. In her mind I would not know the difference; I would be happily pedalling away and riding the bike and she would have successfully passed on this important skill.
So, it was probably about three or four seconds later that I crashed into the neighbour’s fence, falling from my bike and badly grazing my knee. Ouch! I can still feel that fall now. “Right,” she announced, completely unperturbed by the circumstances, “get back on.” Well, I thought she had to be joking, but she wasn’t. I think it took a bit of encouraging before I was prepared to give it another go, but I can remember her telling me that everyone falls off the first time and now it was going to be all ok.
It wasn’t. I still have the school photograph, taken a couple of days later showing me with the two black eyes. It was one of the most painful moments of my young life. I remember that the neighbour came out and picked me up. He carried me back home and my Mum cleaned me up. There was this stuff they used to put on cuts back in those days – iodine. Ouch, again! And I can still feel the sting of it too.
In those days, when you bought something for a child, especially clothing as I recall, you always bought the item that was a few sizes too big and then the child wore the garment until it was a few sizes too small. Children grow so quickly and that was the way you could ensure you got your money’s worth. My Gran bought into this philosophy. See the bike was too big for me. My Dad had put blocks on the pedals so that I could reach them, but as I recall, I could just about get my tip toes on the ground if I got off the saddle and straddled the crossbar. That meant that there really was no reliable way I could stop.
It was a couple of weeks later that my Mum thought I was ready for lesson number two. This time, she briefed me about what to do. She explained how to stay on and, as a result, I felt a lot more confident. I don’t know how many times I fell off the thing, but I remember the turning point. It was when I decided to practice using her bike.
Her bike was much bigger of course, but because it was a ladies bicycle, it had no crossbar and that meant that I could get my feet on the floor quickly when I needed to. That made all the difference. Soon I was able to ride her bike without falling off and, once my brain had made the right connections, I was able to get on my own bike and ride it despite the aforementioned difficulties relating to size.
Sometimes life is just like that. We want to learn something, but we just have to, metaphorically, fall off. We get hurt, we doubt ourselves and our courage takes a knock. When we are ready, we get back into the hot seat ready to give it another go and we fall off again. We begin to wonder just how many times we will have to pick ourselves up and try again before we start to get things right.
There are two things that I think make all the difference. The first step is learning how to fall. I remember hearing someone speaking about how he learned to walk a tightrope. He said that the first thing his tutor taught him was how to fall off without getting hurt. This was an important lesson because, he said, if you are ever going to learn how to walk the rope, you are going to fall off quite a bit and even at a height of just six feet, it was going to hurt if you didn’t know how to fall.
As it happens, there is a fairly straightforward way of dealing with the loss of balance. When you feel you have lost it, you crouch and grasp the rope with both hands and allow your weight to swing you left or right. Once you have swung under the rope, you just allow your feet to come down and you can then simply drop the short distance to the ground. That is why you should learn this skill walking a rope that is six feet high rather than say four feet high. You need to be able to fall safely.
The second thing is the will to persist. You don’t try a few times and then give up. You try, and you keep trying, until you succeed. As I remember Tony Robbins saying on one occasion, succeeding is the same process that a baby goes though when they are learning to walk. They don’t try a few times and then give up, they try and try and try until they can walk. In fact, anyone who has ever watched a baby learning this skill will know that they too, first learn how to fall safely … and then they try and try until they succeed.
The same applied to when I learned to ride my bike. Using my Mom’s bike meant that I could effectively fall safely. The rest was persistence. So I hope you will think about this little life lesson in relation to whatever you are trying to achieve because, when we fail, we naturally don’t feel too good about ourselves, it is often painful and we can easily get discouraged. Perhaps what you need to do before you can master that difficult task or skill is to learn how to fall. Once you have done that, you might be surprised how quickly success will follow.