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The Zen of Riding
Mind, Body, and Bike: Make a friend of Fear

Sport Rider, October 2000 - by Genviev Martin

Most of us are confronted by fear at one point or another on our riding paths. The main question regarding fear, however, is whether the essence of this emotions necessary to protect us from danger or harm, or will it become a barrier that may prevent us from continual progress and development.

I recently had the opportunity to reflect on this subject as I was getting back on my motorcycle for the first time since a serious accident came close to taking my life. It was the most wonderful feeling to be back in the canyons, flying along familiar roads on that beautiful machine of mine. Yet during the ride I was bombarded continuously with frightening images of my crash; the realization that an accident was imminent, the violence of the impact, the horrifying sound of crunching/scraping metal and plastic.

As my riding friends and I sat chatting around coffee at the end of the day, they suggested I confront and conquer my fears, to cast them completely from my mind and consider the accident non-existent. My initial reaction was that to forget completely would be dangerous because I believed my fears protected me. After further discussion, however, I realized I was wrong to a certain extent.

Fear doesn't always protect you. It can hinder your clarity of mind, the rapidity of your reflexes, as well as your ability to analyze a situation effectively and take immediate, appropriate action. Suffice to say, as you ride your sportbike through winding canyon roads, if you can't process and evaluate what is unfolding ahead of you every second with crystal clarity, it can cost you your life. But if fear is unnecessary and ever counterproductive, how do you free yourself from it? In the martial arts there is a proverb: "You must make a friend of fear." What that basically means is you must confront your fears over and over again, until they become so familiar that they no longer have an affect on you. By becoming accustomed to facing them, you develop an intimate relationship with your fears, helping to liberate you from debilitating grasp.

However, facing your fears does not mean ignoring them entirely. Fear is often a good barometer for many people to determine how far they can safely push their limits. While developing your relationship with your inner fears, you must also learn to respect them and "read into them." The difficult part is trying to determine whether what you are feeling is a warning that you are stretching your security blanket to its edge, or simply a self-imposed limitation nurtured by dwelling on a worst-case scenario.

Make an effort to discern between rational fears (those that are determined by analysis) vs. irrational fears (those that are determined by imagination). Rational fear is when you realize you are approaching a corner a bit too fast for your riding skill level; this is a warning that you need to focus and reconsider your pace. Irrational fears are the ones hovering over for no apparent reason -- such as the fear of crashing, the fear of getting hurt or repetitive flashbacks harassing your thoughts when you get back in the saddle after a crash (as in my case).

Only when you have managed to detach yourself from the emotional turmoil of your irrational fears will you be able to make the right riding decisions instinctively, and follow through to your maximum potential. In many sports, the saying "if you look down, you will go down" is commonly heard; it applies to snow skiing, horseback riding -- and especially motorcycle riding. If your fear of crashing becomes too important, it could lead to that undesirable result, almost like a type of "negative visualization."

Take advantage of the power of positive thinking. If you reinforce constantly the image of yourself as a calm, confident and focused rider (while working diligently to improve you riding skills, of course), that is what your dedication and practice will lead you to become. The mind plays a powerful role in every single thing we do, and the development of inner confidence can conquer most irrational fears. While negative thoughts can hinder your potential as a rider, visualizing your riding goals is the first step toward achieving them.

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