December 13, 2021

The 2 Ways we can handle Life’s Scary, Bad Experiences.

At the end of the first lockdown in the United Kingdom, I bought a bike.

It was my first time owning a bike in five years. I wanted to feel free and explore, to shake off the lockdown frustrations, to feel life coming back a little. We still had restrictions to work around.

It’s now 18 months since I collected my bike and cycled home along the canal path in Glasgow, smiling like a kid. What is that expression? “It is just like riding a bike.” After one minute of wobbling about, I found my bike mojo again. There is something so natural about riding a bike.

My bike and I have been on lots of adventures together: a ferry trip to a small Scottish island is a highlight, and then there has been the train rides to cool destinations around Scotland before cycling back home. We even cycle to the supermarket to pick up the food shop, to the library, and to meet people. We come as a pair.

I found some hills near where I live, and I cycle down, freewheeling. My fingers are slightly perched on the brakes, ready to activate them if things get out of control. The feeling is indescribable—like a mix of terror and invigoration, and 100 percent joyful. I feel very in the moment and alive.

I remember this feeling as a kid—exploring on your bike, pushing your freewheeling boundaries, and always in slight fear of a fall, especially at speed. But it was a risk you were willing to take. You were warned of the fall by your parents and from what you’d heard. “If you fall off your bike, it can be dangerous, especially when freewheeling fast.” Maybe that is what we chased as kids: the danger, the unknown, the surge of terror and exhilaration in equal measures.

Remember (or maybe not), as a child, you would start to crawl, then walk. First indoors, then slowly you would learn to walk outside. Now think of the possible danger. A walk would become a run. The clumsy run was soon a fast, frantic run. And it would happen—you would fall down. You would feel a soreness, look around for comfort, and shout for help by crying. Your parent would remind you not to run fast, dust you off, and pop you back on your feet. They would look you in the eye and nod, looking ahead as encouragement to get back out there.

Inside, you would update your danger narrative. “Running fast could lead to a fall and a sore feeling”—but quickly, the feeling would pass, and you were back on your feet exploring. You had learned and adjusted accordingly. As you developed and grew more confident in your ability, you would fall less. You wouldn’t even think of it.

This is a representation of life. Try, fall, try again. Fall, change your approach, try again. Keep moving forward, growing and learning. Enjoying experiences.

Well, it should be as simple as that, if we learn and live like a child. But this is the reality for many:

1. Consider trying something new, overthink it, associate the worst-case scenario with the outcome, and don’t try.

2. Try something new, fall down, and remain stuck. You’ve validated your worst-case scenario and won’t be trying that again. You experienced some pain or discomfort and don’t want to even consider another attempt.

Weirdly, only recently, I recalled an experience I had completely forgotten about, a crazy, terrifying experience that happened in Ubud, Bali. Technically, this experience, which happened in 2012, should have resulted in the second “stuck” scenario above.

It involved a bike.

My partner and I were cycling through the nature-infused streets of Ubud, home to the rice fields. It was the most sweaty, strenuous experience ever but it was joyful. A copy of that experience was depicted in the “Eat, Pray, Love” movie made famous by Julia Roberts as the lead.

As I cycled fast downhill, probably freewheeling, I suddenly heard a massive “this bike is breaking” noise. Then, I felt my whole body fly through the air, hurled off the bike by a strong, unknown force.

A second ago, I’d been joyfully cycling my hired bike through the dreamiest of Asian landscapes, and the next thing, I heard my partner shout my name in panic.

I flew at high speed into the side of the road, a grassy ditch. I lay for what felt like a lifetime in the foetal position, majorly confused. I had tried to protect myself by turning my body into a ball and falling sideways, mainly to avoid any head or face injuries—”not the face!”

My partner had witnessed it all. The mud guard protecting the bike wheel had come loose and got stuck on the wheel. As I cycled, the bike tyre was met with resistance, which catapulted me across the air in dramatic fashion. It’s a little terrifying when I recall it now.

On inspection, both I and the bike were okay. So, guess what I did. I jumped up, dusted myself off, and got back on that bike—like a kid would do. Nothing broken, no scrapes, just a little shaken. I proclaimed to my partner, “I am okay.”

Did I turn against bikes? No. I put it down to an experience. An “Asian hire bike” experience. A rental bike is different from your own bike. It has more wear and tear.

Did I allow it to put me off future bike experiences? Definitely not. Accidents, especially fluke accidents, happen. In particular, they happen when on your travels as you are trying new experiences. This is all part of growing and learning from life.

Should I have been going a bit slower downhill? Maybe, but where is the fun if there is no “controlled” fear?

My advice to you:

Learn and experience life as a child. Try, fall, try again. Fall, change your approach, try again. Keep flowing and adjusting with life.

Sometimes, we need to dust ourselves off and acknowledge we are okay. It wasn’t that bad. Life will deliver some terrifying experiences, but maybe they are a test—to build our resilience.

Don’t turn your back on something you love just because of one “bad” experience.

If I had, I would have missed out on some of the most joyful and free experiences of my life. A bad day can be fixed with a downhill freewheeling cycle. Trust me, I know.

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