There is a special mess of synapses in your brain that exist just below your consciousness. This particular circuitry of neurons is capable of calculating the most complex problems, taking into account a huge number of factors. It’s even more powerful than any computer you’ve ever touched. But just like most computers eventually do, this too screws up occasionally. And when it does, you’re in for a beating.
Ever dropped into a halfpipe or bombed it towards a kicker and had your mind go blank? I thought so, because we probably all have. In my case when this happens I’ll launch into the atmosphere without a plan for what move to execute – and possibly I’ll undershoot or overshoot the landing by 50%. In the first case I just end up looking stupid in front of my mates. In the latter my knees blame me for being stupid. Sometimes both will even call me stupid for a week or two. It’s a fair guess that your mind goes blank about as often as mine, unless you did some drugs I didn’t. That’s why I’ll spend this page sharing some elementary research I did on why our minds go blank at times – and also why they work brilliantly most of the time.
Snowboarding is a mind game more than anything else, a fact proven by the fact that most pro riders you see on the pages of a glossy magazine like this one are approximately as well-built as you are. I say approximately because a wide span of human shapes exist, but they are at least probably about the same age, weight and height as you are. So why you don’t do what they do – at least not for the moment – boils down to what’s in our heads and not what’s in our legs. This and a bit of experience, but that anybody can acquire. All you need is time. Fact is, in the first 2 seconds of looking at something, we actually make most of the decisions we are likely to make. The same holds true whether it’s a person, a movie trailer, or a line down a mountain. And in pretty much every case our decisions will be the right ones. It’s not a magic gift or anything – as a human being we are simply equipped with minds that are sharp. That is also why first impressions last, we simply don’t think as hard later as we do during those first seconds. (By the way, the bet is that computers will catch up with us ten or twenty years from now. So beware…)
A small problem, however, lies in that we every so often don’t trust our initial judgement. We then spend more time than 2 seconds looking at the situation, and it is during that extended decision making that we often screw up.
Now we are nearing the core of what you may want to learn: more information doesn’t make a complex problem less complex. And if the situation in which you need the judgement is urgent – like when you are about to drop in on a monster kicker – then it is likely to make you lose the flow in your thinking. So it’s actually likely to cloud your thinking and trick you into an incorrect path. A good sign that you are facing a problem that is likely to fall into this category is that you have a hard time describing your logic for solving it.
But how strongly can we trust those initial judgments? This theory says “very strongly". Experiments have shown that psychiatrists actually just as often make a correct diagnosis of a patient with just the right amount of information as with an abundance of it. They become more confident with their conclusions with more knowledge, but their hit-miss ratio remains the same. Same things go for studies of why doctors fail to diagnose a heart attack. So when we are about to drop in, should we first spend some time contemplating issues like “what speed did the guy before me use?", “gosh, my beanie itches badly" or “did I use the right wax for my board?" Nope. Instead, blank out your mind. Put some positive thinking into it if anything. Then go ahead and, as the slogan states, just do it. So why are great snowboarders good at trusting their first judgement?
Part of the picture is also that because the first thoughts of a great rider makes connects to hard-wired associations – built on experience from thousands of runs in their life – the decisions made have a superior hit ratio. This is also a fact the rider has become accustomed to, so he or she trusts it. This means some of them can be daring enough to put their life on the line, going down mountain faces in Alaska so steep that once they’ve started the run the slush coming down behind them removes all options for stopping anywhere during the run. They simply bet their life on the fact that they are quick enough thinkers to come up the right solution at any point in the run when something unexpected happens.
So what can you do with the information I’ve just given you? Well, if your gut feeling now tells you this is just a bunch of crap, then you are most likely to benefit from thinking this. However, at the risk of arguing with my own argument, I’d advise you to think a little longer about it all. You may even want to cultivate something new within yourself. Eventually you can even get to a point where you, on a conscious level, can let the sub-conscious rule.
Try this a few times when you are riding a pipe or park and see what happens. Quite possibly you are able to develop your skills in this area, tuning your decision making to match your experience level. This will lead to less ‘paralysis by analysis’, better decisions, and fewer sarcastic comments from your mates or knees regarding your intellect.
Finally, for all you geeks out there who didn’t get the above, here’s one last try: it’s just like using THE FORCE in Star Wars. So do it Skywalker style next time and turn off your radar when you attack that evil space ship… or even better, a monster kicker.
Anders Hagman is a Swedish former pro rider who came up with this story while trying to rid a bad case of the snowboarding equivalent to what golfers call “chip jit".