I recently took the plunge and learnt how to ride a motorcycle. YIKES!
I have been wanting to get my motorbike license for close to two decades now and have finally done it. I didn’t anticipate the life lessons I would learn through the experience, and I wanted to share them with you. It is so fascinating from where deep learning can come when you adopt a beginner’s mindset.
I learnt how to drive a car in a manual—I decided to do the same thing when learning how to ride a motorbike. Despite having all the mental models in place regarding what is required to drive a manual transmission; balancing clutch, friction point, and throttle, different parts of your body are doing those functions on a motorbike. I found it so challenging to reassign those functions from my feet to my hands. For those of you who haven’t ridden a motorcycle before, your left-hand controls the clutch, your right-hand controls the throttle and front brake, right-foot controls the rear brake, left-foot stops you from falling over when you’re stationary. There was a lot of re-mapping going on, and I have to say, I wasn’t given much of a chance to have a flight response (although I did feel it brewing) because they get you our on the bike pretty quickly.
Because I had never (successfully) ridden a motorbike before, my body was tense with the effort to control all the uncertainty that was in the shape of a motorcycle I was perched on top of. I learnt very quickly the more I tensed my arms and my shoulders, the rougher the ride became. I started bunny hopping the bike, it was scary and uncomfortable. Every time I did what the instructor asked, “relax your arms, relax your shoulders, you should be able to do the chicken dance with your elbows even when taking a corner” my ride became smoother.
So what did I learn?
No. That’s not the profound life lesson.
When we are in a situation that is scary, or new, or we feel out of our depth, our tendency is to tense up and try to control the situation. We believe that more control will help to reduce risk and smooth out the uncomfortable bumps. What I have learnt is a more productive response is to focus on relaxing into the situation, no matter how challenging. To become very present and to see situations as they are, without making stories or meaning out of them. I have learnt if I can sit with the uncertainty rather than try to reduce it through trying to control it, things resolve more smoothly, with less stress and in a more productive way.
The other thing I observed was the need to let my body do its thing and get my brain out of the way. The instructor reassured us our bodies knew how to balance and lean into a corner, we just needed to allow our bodies to ride the bike. What I noticed was as soon as my brain got involved… you know the voice, “make sure you hold the friction point, be gentle on the throttle, don’t over rev, release the brake slowly”... I would lose it.
I had to trust that my body really did know how to ride the bike, even though all the evidence I had was to the contrary. I had to trust the bike would respond accordingly to my body, that if I kept my head up, my eyes on where I wanted to go, dropped my shoulder into the turn, the bike would naturally move in a smooth arc around the bend. When I didn’t focus on where I needed to be, and instead focused right in front of me at where the front wheel was going, I missed the corner, over-shot or started to ride rough.
I learnt my brain was good at scanning the road, looking for risks, assessing where I needed to position on the road, and my body could take care of the bike riding. I also learnt that I needed to continue to keep my focus on where I wanted to be so that I could direct action in line with that. Focussing on the thing I was trying to avoid, only led my actions toward that very thing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced such direct and immediate feedback of profound life lessons, but what I experience on the back of a motorbike will stay with me forever.
I wanted to share the experience with you, in the hope it would trigger some deep thinking about trusting your body knowledge and wisdom, relaxing into difficult and scary situations while loosening your grip on control and trusting more in allowing life to emerge in the moment.
And when all else fails, there's always the chicken dance.