I’ve recently gotten into the sport of highlining. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s when you tie a line in between two points on a mountain and walk in between. If you fall, you are attached to a chord that catches you, and then you climb back up. It looks like this….
For the vast majority of people, the thing that scares the living shit out of them the most is falling. Losing control and trusting in the leash to catch you.
I frequently watch people who are at my same skill level who cant commit to standing up purely because they are deathly afraid of the leash fall. Mount the line, toe touch to crouch, right back down. They sit but don’t ever make the commit to stand up and embrace the inevitable fall that awaits afterwards.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them either. A leash fall is scary as shit. For a split second your body thinks it’s free falling to its death. Subconsciously it’s behaving that way. Physiologically your body will do anything to prevent itself from falling. It’s natural to be afraid of that happening.
But for me, falling is the best part.
…but not for the reasons that I thought….
At first, I wanted to learn how to properly fall because it’s good technique. You need to get comfortable with falling and then climbing back up again. It’s an element of the regular slackline that doesn’t exist otherwise. It’s an important skill to learn.
But as I have begin to dive down this path, I’ve begun to love the fall for a different reason….the chemicals.
A leash fall is one of the most exhilarating things I have ever experienced. It’s like a mini bungee jump. The line tosses you off and then suddenly everything goes blank for a split second…and then the leash catches you and consciousness snaps back into place.
It’s such an intense experience that your body is overwhelmed with energy after. All of my senses are heightened and in go mode. My body is fired up. NOW I’m ready to get back on that line and attack it.
At a neuroscience level my brain is (most likely) being flooded with adrenaline due to the intensity of the experience, dopamine (novelty of the experience/happiness I survived), norepinephrine (fear/anxiety), and most likely endorphins to help with the pain of the fall. After the battle cry at the end I wouldn’t be surprised if we found testosterone in the mix as well. Because of the relief that you’re alive, theres probably nitric oxide thrown in their as well.
A perfect neurochemical cocktail of peak performance!
All of these chemicals blast you into awareness. They fire up the nervous system, tighten focus and improve pattern recognition. They wake you up too, give you a ton of energy and additional strength.
I am a completely different person before vs after a leash fall. Before I take that fall I’m a nervous wreck who can’t function. I’m anxious and jittery and trying fruitlessly to relax. After a leash fall I feel like Superman. I feel like I can tackle anything and now I’m truly ready to attack the line.
I calm down too. Now that I’ve gotten the fall out of my system, it’s as if my body can now relax. It’s no longer afraid of falling. It’s been through the experience and survived. It’s as if the brain can let go and stop worrying if I can properly trust the equipment. (Potential reduction in cognitive load there, and then the relaxing could be nitric oxide hitting the system).
That’s why my recent motto is, “wait for the chemicals to hit.”
The first thing I need to do is fall off the line, purely so that I can get all of these chemicals floating around my system. My goal is to blast myself into awareness so that I can use these chemicals to my advantage to perform at my best.
I know that I am a different person with different abilities on the back end of a leash fall. This means it’s my duty to throw myself off the cliff, no matter how much my body and mind resist, so that I can overcome the fear and perform at my best.
It’s like throwing yourself into a cold shower. Before you do it your body doesn’t want to do it. You tense up in anticipation. But then once the cold water hits, BAM! You’re blasted into awareness. The shock jolts your system and you feel completely different afterwards.
I also compare it to getting punched in the face. When I used to do boxing/muay thai and MMA I would joke that I’m not fully ready to fight and properly pissed off until I get punched in the face. I need the jolt to my system to wake me up and put me into fight mode.
I’ve had a lot of similar past experiences that make sense in this context too.
I went kayaking once and I was afraid of my boat tipping over. For the first 45 minutes I was a jittery mess. I couldn’t relax into the experience. Then once it did finally tip over, and I was able to get myself back in, I was no longer worried about tipping over any more. I was then able to relax and once I got going again I navigated the waves more freely. I began to have more fun too now that I could calm the hell down.
It’s as if your body can’t relax into the moment until it has seen what the worst case scenario looks like. Leash fall, cold shock, getting punched in the face, tipping over in a kayak – in all situations once the brain has had it’s worst fear come true, and realises that it can handle it, the body can then calm down once again.
It’s actually the Flow Cycle of struggle>release in action. Once you have forced yourself to the borders of struggle, the body and mind can finally release, all of the chemicals necessary for optimal performance arrive, and then boom! You’re now awake and ready to flow.
Think of any presentation that you have ever done as well. Before you start you’re nervous as hell, but then once you get started the chemicals take over and you’re able to do it and it all passes by in the blink of an eye. Same experience, different contexts.
I could also even say this with sales calls. Sometimes I’m not very animated to go into another call. I might feel like I have low energy. Groggy. But then once the call begins I can jump right in and lose track of time all over again. The hardest part is the part before the call where I’m feeling low energy trying to pump myself up.
It’s the same thing as ripping off a band-aid or pouring alcohol on a cut. Over in a second and the hardest part is muscling up the courage to do it in the first place. The worst part, the hardest fear, is actually the anticipation. The fear of the unknown that the body doesn’t know if it can handle or not. Then once your brain knows the worst part is over, now it can finally relax.
Now when I see my friends on the highline now who are afraid to fall, I encourage them to throw themselves off of the line. To stand up like a mess and fall because they need the chemicals in their system. To let the chemicals smack them in the face. No fall and they are stuck in struggle mode. Once they finally let go and fall you can see them wake up and scream and be ready to attack once again. The first fall is the hardest, and then after that they have become desensitised to it.
So in reality if you’re ever afraid of doing something, throw yourself off the deep end, because on the other side of the experience you’re going to feel completely different. You’re going to get all of the chemicals you need that will reward you for your courage.
In any situation in life, push through the resistance and wait for the chemicals to hit 😉 You’ll feel a lot better afterwards!