When I was fifteen years old I was lucky enough for my parents to agree to send me on a skiing trip to Heavenly, Lake Tahoe in California with school. They put a lot on the line to give me this opportunity.
I wasn’t that we were poor, but we certainly weren’t well off. Going on this trip was a big deal, not only was it a chance to explore a state I had grown up idolising through my early teens for its punk rock scene and idyllic beachside lifestyle, but it was an opportunity to do a sport I loved, snowboarding.
To me California was the epitome of US living, on one side you had the Sierra Nevada Mountains and National Parks such as Yosemite and on the other the ocean and miles of sandy beaches.
I had first learnt to snowboard on the green slopes of Scotland, Abernethy. It’s safe to say that my snowboarding skills were lacking. But that didn’t dull my passion for the sport, I remember so obsessed was I that I used to get up in the night at 3.30am and creep downstairs determined watch the winter X-games and see my favourite athletes perform the sport I loved most in the world.
In summer this also applied to the Summer X-games where I see things that I only thought possible in movies, it blew my mind what the human body was capable of, a BMX racer clearing unbelievable gaps or Tony Hawk completing the 900 on the vert ramp. Moments like these created history and it changed what i believed could be accomplished in my teenage mind.
Extreme sports showed me that anything was possible and contrary to what people think or the typical advice of adults, I felt that adults had been capped at what they thought was achievable or that they somehow had the breaks on.
Anyway, back to Lake Tahoe, there I was having not done much snowboarding in my life, (only a couple of times down some very graceful Scottish slopes) now being asked by the instructor in a thick American accent 'how much experience do you have?
This was a defining moment for me. I could go in one of two groups. Either the beginner or the advanced.
In a flash I made a decision. I told the instructor I was advanced. I didn’t want to spend the week in the beginner’s class mooching around on the blue and the greens, I wanted to see the top of the mountain, to push myself and to take what I knew and 'learn on the job' so to speak.
The decision came with risk as we moved off down the mountain I could feel I was being watched by the instructor who I could tell was assessing my ability. I had to condition my mind to believing that I could do it. As we skated off to find the ski lift, I was excited and a little anxious.
This act led me to understand a core principle in life, do things before you are ready because they will push you to greater heights.
Richard Branson also agrees,'If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!'
And this is what I had done, without knowing it fully, by saying yes to the advanced group I had opened myself up to see it all.
Over the course of the week my snowboarding ability improved no end, I got to see the entire mountain range and experience a freedom that little else comes close. I even completed a double back diamond run. In that week I took the basics and taught myself to snowboard. Learning from the falls and growing through the experience.
'You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.'
- Richard Branson
Watching the Netflix documentary Don’t Look Down I saw Branson repeatedly practise this mantra as he attempted to become the first person in the world to cross both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon. I won’t spoil the plot but it’s well worth a watch.
Branson has always pushed himself and not one to shy away from the opportunity for brand promotion of virgin, he is always drawn to the challenge of adventure.
Most recently in October 2018 coming moments away from death whilst climbing up mont blanc completing a gruelling Virgin Strive Challenge with his son Sam and daughter Holly.
This year the challenge route started off in Sardinia and finished on the summit of raising over 1 million pounds for Big Change as charity focused entirely on helping young people fulfil their purpose.
‘If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere’’ – Frank A. Clark
Other mentors and self-help coaches talk about this also, Tony Robbins says you’ve got to be able to deal with what he calls the ‘Threshold of Control.’
These moments are when we decide that we will push ourselves through the barriers of our own mental and physical ability to produce the results.
It is about not giving into the fear of the mind, not giving up but fighting for the opportunity to participate.
Those moments are threshold of control moments, you have two choices focus like crazy on what you want or focus on what you don’t want. Most people do the latter.
The important thing to recognise here is that everyone has scary thoughts, these thoughts are not original, they have been thoughts before for thousands of years, they are not your thoughts exactly they are just made up by the mind.
To paraphrase Tony he says ‘courage isn’t that you’re not afraid, it’s that you’re scared out of your mind but you decide that you’re going to focus on what you’re here to do.
Life is the dance between what you desire most and what you fear most.
When you learn how to overcome those moments instead of collapsing that is the single most important thing.
If you can keep pushing through those thresholds, over time what you find is what was once hard, is now easy.’
He calls it living out of what’s possible, not out of fear and when people do this they produce the level of certainty in themselves, so they really execute.
When I observe all of these high performers, all doing and saying the same thing, you’ve got to think that they’re really on to something.
Time and time again they reference this ability to overcome the mind, even Christ said, ‘as you think, so you shall be’ and Tilopa said ‘have mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing’ again another nod to the power of controlling and focusing our thoughts on only that which empowers us.
After all, why would we let anything else into our lives?
I truly believe there is a power in this combination of choosing to say yes to opportunity and controlling how we view the world through the thoughts that we think. Once in this place then the actions that we take are greater in certainty and as a result we are able to overcome all manner of obstacles.
I will leave you with one final quote from Richard Branson.
"Life is a lot more fun when you say yes! It's amazing how that one little word can lead you on an incredible adventure," How would saying "yes" more and "no" less change your own life?