Tag Archives: Extreme sport

The Kind of Person that says WOO HOO

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Woo Hoo!!

“I wish I was the kind of person that said, Woo Hoo.” A college friend once told me. Sandra is elegant, she is sophisticated, she is well put-together. But she’s not the type of person to sling high-fives around and you know, yell at the top of her lungs.

Over the years I’ve wondered myself about the importance of the Woo Hoo. Am I the kind of person that says, Woo Hoo? What is the virtue of maximum enthusiasm?

What’s the value of not being cool and instead letting our excitement wash over us in an embarrassing vocal outburst?

When Sandra made that declaration all those years ago, I had agreed in a sort of “humble brag”. Too bad we aren’t like those pathetic frat boys getting all excited about the smallest little thing.

Dude! That was awesome! High-Five!

Instead I melted under a blanket of cool, blended into the gray surroundings of Evergreen State College, and didn’t make waves.

Now, as I embark again on the book publishing process, I’ve decided to make a change. I am going to be the kind of person that declares, Woo Hoo! anytime my new project gains even a slight bit of momentum. So, here I am waving my freak flag, because I have a new book and I have a new agent and he’s right now, as I type, sending it out to publishing houses.  And you know what? That deserves an all caps WOO HOO!!!

enthusiasm

Jumping for joy on the banks of the Salmon River

What is this new book about, you might ask? (I can hear you asking, and I’m letting out a very tiny woo hoo right now.) The book examines the risks and rewards in extreme sports. Looking at athlete’s stories and going beyond the “adrenaline junkie” stereotype to examine the brain science and experience of getting out on the edge.

One thing I’ve learned so far about the book publishing world, is that there’s no final destination. Instead, I have learned to celebrate each little milestone, every little moment and encouragement along the way. I’ll be keeping y’all posted on the book’s progress, and taking the time to high-five myself along the way (which isn’t as awkward as you might think, it’s kind of like clapping, but even better).

So you know what?

WOO HOO!!

Finding Flow in Action Sports

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Action Sports should adopt Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. They should claim him as one of their own, putting his face on bumper stickers and splashing his book covers on websites, blogs and twitter hashtags. Because Csikszentmihalyi, pronounced CHEEK-sent-me-HY-ee, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, invented the idea of flow.

What does flow have to do with action sports, you might ask?

Everything.

Csikszentmihalyi studies happiness. Flow provides our most optimal experiences. And almost everything about action sports is about getting into flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, certain things have to happen for us to be in a flow state:

  • flow-theory-what-makes-a-good-game-77ai10fSkills must match the challenge: too easy and you get bored, too hard and you feel overwhelmed
  • Action and awareness merge: you become “one” with the wave/snow/single-track/wing
  • Feedback is immediate and unambiguous: you fall, you die (or else you get really, really hurt)
  • Concentration is essential: see feedback above
  • Sense of control: oddly you gain a sense of control even in the midst of what might appear a chaotic situation
  • Time either slows down or speeds up
  • Loss of self-consciousness: you focus solely on the moment and forget about your ego, your bills, your life outside the moment
  • The experience is autotelic: you are skiing, riding, flying, etc not for an external reward but solely for the experience itself
flow-the-psychology-optimal-experience

Csikszentmihalyi’s bestselling book FLOW

Have you ever lost yourself in the moment? If you’ve ever felt flow you know what I’m talking about. Skiing a hard line or mountain biking down a tight single-track requires intense concentration and skill. Time slows down, consequences are high, and we completely lose ourselves in the activity. We are in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wants you to feel flow more often.

Flow=happiness. And I bet that flow is the biggest motivation for pushing ourselves in our sports. I know that’s true for me. I’m not out there for the glory or to gather sponsorships (not that sponsors are kicking down my door to sign me). I’m out there for the experience itself. I’m out there for flow.

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Join me this week on The Edge Radio as I talk to the father of flow theory, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about  flow, creativity and getting out on the edge. The show airs live Wednesday 8am pacific and will be available as a podcast a few hours after it airs. You don’t want to miss this one. Seriously.

Extreme Sports are Good for Your Health

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Dr. Eric Brymer

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According to psychologist Eric Brymer, extreme sports are good for you. Far from the realm of the “adrenaline junkie”, true extreme sports require intense focus and offer an opportunity for optimal experiences and even transcendence. Brymer narrowly defines “extreme sports” as one in which the most likely outcome of a mismanaged mistake is death. (While many athletes eschew the term “extreme” when referring to their sport, psychologists such as Brymer use the term to define a certain type of action sport.)

Brymer’s recent study showed that extreme athletes are actually better off than the rest of us. They have lower anxiety, are more independent and self-assertive and have a higher sense of reality. Anyone who takes part in risky action sports will most likely nod their heads in agreement. They will tell you, jumping/climbing/skiing/fill in the blank makes them a better person. My biggest fear is that I will get injured and sick and not be able to ski. Because a non-skiing Kim is an unpleasant beast, I assure you. But maybe it’s more than that. Perhaps, access to mountains and rivers and places to test our boundaries is an essential part of what it means to be human.

Brymer’s findings fly in the face of past research. Most psychologists have lumped sky-diving with gambling, reckless driving, and drug abuse, labeling anyone who participates in these activities as “sensation-seekers.” In essence, extreme athletes are on the same spectrum as heroine addicts, but their fix comes from a different “drug.” These folks need more thrill in part because their dopamine receptors vary in a way that requires a higher dose of fun in order to get the same kick.

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Do we NEED fear?

Brymer disagrees with this premise. He claims that extreme athletes are not looking for sensation, but other rewards such as a connection to nature and a better understanding of the self. This is big news in the very small world of extreme sport research.

Instead of the NO FEAR mentality so often associated with action sports media, Brymer claims that not only do his subjects feel fear, but that fear is a good thing to have. Fear, claims Brymer, is a clear reminder. It tells you to pay attention. It reminds you that this is important here. You can’t be on autopilot or making status updates on your phone. Not while you’re packing your parachute before jumping off a cliff, and not before kayaking off a thirty-foot waterfall.

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This week, I’m interviewing Dr. Brymer on The Edge Radio in hopes to learn more about his fascinating research. Join me on Wednesday at 8am pacific time.

Learning to Fly

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When Jon Malmberg picked up a paraglider for the first time six years ago, he didn’t know his life was about to change. A longtime skier, rock climber, windsurfer and

Jon Malmberg takes flight

Jon Malmberg takes flight

white water kayaker, Jon was no stranger to action sports. Now, John just wants to fly. Canopy sports are his new passion. A skilled acrobatic pilot and paraglider, Malmberg recently spent a winter in the Alps learning to speedfly (the sport of flying a small wing close to steep slopes, usually wearing skis). He’s currently BASE jumping with the hope of someday piloting a wingsuit. He hopes to return to the Alps this summer to complete that goal.

What I find most intriguing about Jon is his passion for a sport that he knows is dangerous. His goal is to fly off the Eiger in a wingsuit. But once he reaches that goal, he plans on quitting the sport. When I asked him why, he told me about the BASE fatality list. This compilation of deaths from the sport of BASE jumping is indeed sobering.

Kircher-show-descriptionThe Edge. I will talk to action sports athletes, sport psychologists and neuroscientists among others as I delve into the behavior and motivations for living a life close to the edge. Please join us while we talk about the rush of flying, the thrill of takeoff and the dreams of flying a wingsuit.

Doing it for the Thrill

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Verbier Extreme Spectators

Verbier Extreme Spectators

“Sensation-seekers”, according to psychologists, fill their days with thrilling adventures and novel experiences. Their brains seek more sensation, more of a dopamine kick, more of that optimal flow moment than the rest of the population.

Psychologists have been watching sensation seekers for decades, comparing skydivers to reckless drivers and gamblers, lumping them all together into a wide category of “risk-takers”. Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman created a personality test for sensation seeking, check it out and see where you stack up.

Neuroscientists have recently dipped into the “sensation-seeking” brain and found more enlightening discoveries. I recently interviewed Cynthia Thomson of the University of British Columbia for my upcoming book on action sports. Thomson focused her PhD study on skiers and dopamine. Dopamine is the brain’s way of offering motivation in the form of a reward. It provides that nice kick of good-feeling reverie after we accomplish something big. And it turns out, not all brains handle dopamine the same way. Thomson found that skiers tend to have a variant of the DRD4 dopamine receptor that affects the way their brain handles dopamine. In other words, they needed more thrill to get the same kick.

Just another day in Chamonix

Just another day in Chamonix

Where psychologists and neuroscientists diverge is by lumping together athletes and addicts. In Thomson’s initial study, she didn’t separate them either. But she was able to determine the difference in later work. In addition to being sensation-seekers, addicts also score high for impulsivity. This is not so for high-risk athletes. At least not the ones that stick around. Just imagine an action sport athlete that was also highly impulsive. He or she wouldn’t be around long. Involvement in a risky sport, such as skiing, skydiving or surfing requires careful planning and extensive training. Anyone jumping off cliffs without first checking the landing (acting impulsively) isn’t going to live very long. Impulsivity tends to fade as we age, whereas sensation-seeking remains more stable.

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

Stevens Pass Boundary warning

I believe that as we get older and log more experiences our judgement overrides our impulsivity. This is evident in my job as a ski patroller and EMT. I’ve seen enough head injuries to wear a helmet while skiing. I’ve watched avalanches rip down slopes and break apart trees enough times to choose my line carefully. In many ways, I’ve gained judgement by learning from others’ mistakes. But I’ve also had my fair share of close calls.

My new book project, which I’m calling Crystalized: Finding Clarity on the Edge (but that title probably won’t last, so don’t bother googling it just yet) will take a look at the hows and whys of participation in action sports. I will especially look at my own experiences with dopamine-inducing sports and try to determine where I stack up against the experts. Most of the time I wonder what they have that I don’t have. Why are they able to huck bigger jumps, surf bigger waves, run scarier rapids and overall scare the shit out of me watching them from the near sidelines? Maybe it’s their DRD4 dopamine receptors. Or perhaps it’s their training. Or maybe I’m just a natural born scaredy-cat in comparison.

The best part about this book is the opportunity to interview some amazing athletes and brilliant scientists. I will be sharing some of these interviews here. I will also start hosting a radio show next month at Voice America, an internet radio site, where I will have many of them as guests on the show. (Hopefully you will join me for those interviews.)

Cynthia Thomson’s research suggests that some individuals need more thrill than others. If so, she posits that skiing and other action sports offer a viable avenue for sensation seeking, rather than the more destructive types of negative risks often associated with the term. Either way, her research shows there could be a genetic link to sensation seeking after all.

As if I needed another reason to go skiing.