Pipe Full of Focus

by Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications at Southwest Health | 

My ignorance is sometimes a big plus. On specific occasions, I find it very helpful to dredge up some inner unawareness. Which is totally not hard for me, but the thing is, with it I can do just about anything.

It’s a matter of turning out the light on the brain’s eye and dimming fearful thoughts in that moment.

Jaime Collins 3-2017My theory is this: For some things – some of the really fun, rewarding, and often especially challenging things in life – you need to squelch your inner doubter. That’s the only way sometimes to make the leap. Ignorant, blissful unawareness helps me get the hard stuff done. For me, it’s one of two keys to getting where I want to go.

Example? This realization first came to mind while thinking about my more intense (and younger) skiing days and how I feel in that hall of terrors called the half pipe. My illustration (bear with me) begins in the moments looking down on the daunting terrain of the pipe, as I’m getting psyched up enough to drop in. There, I would wait my turn in a line with a half dozen goggled up kids, mostly snow boarders with ski jackets three sizes too big for their wiry frames. Headphones cords trailing nonchalantly from their ears, many of these kids performed with incredible skill that belied their youthful faces and not-yet-matured voices. I could not help but put myself in the mix, though admittedly, it was a compulsion that defied logic.

I mean, even just skiing into view of the pipe’s 36 foot, nearly vertical, scooped and sculpted walls of tightly packed snow and ice would intimidate me. That low slung “U” shape at the bottom was no safe harbor either. It was engineered with one thing in mind – to maximize your speed before your next take-off, giving you velocity that would send you shooting far above the lip of that frozen ledge only to leave you and your precious internal, life-sustaining vital organs suspended momentarily in midair nearly four stories up, turning slowly, waiting for that bully called gravity to reach out and suck you back down, accelerating you to ridiculous speeds, flinging you back into that wide white chasm, hopefully still upright, bones not crunched in a painful pile at the bottom.

Coming back down, you feel your weight again and find your feet before drawing a visual bead on the towering wall of ice now coming at you fast. Though panicking inside, you use the slope to find the right speed, and a millisecond later you’re once again rocketing straight up, up and out of the trench, flying high and hanging in air once again, heart stopped, turning slowly, now eyeing your route back down. Back and forth you repeat this frightening sequence through 120 yards of pipe until you exit the bottom.

half pipe Lake Placid

My home-town half-pipe (Lake Placid, NY) during World Cup competition.

Mine is a love/hate relationship with the half pipe. Each time I arrive at the top, I’m filled with anxiety. But, somewhere in the middle of the madness, as I’m turning through space, I find I’m really quite high, both literally and emotionally. By the time I shoot out the other end, I’m in love with the freedom of flight, and I can’t think rationally enough to NOT go back up to repeat the sequence: terror-panic-high-love.

So yes, I admit that ignorance is the first key to any success I may have felt in the half-pipe. Shove all fears out of the way and let confidence take its place.

The second key is far simpler. It’s where your eyes go.

Your eyes, as we all now, have the power of focus. They also lead your way, where ever you go. As was explained to me by an Olympic half pipe athlete one day, “Where you look is where you’ll go. As you’re rising over the edge,” he told me, “Turn your head back toward the pipe to see your path back down again. Look where you want to go, and your eyes will take you there.”

His lesson was as straightforward as they come. Focus your attention where you need to go, and your eyes will lead your body as well as every other physical muscular reaction you make. The natural result is you go exactly where you intend. I wondered if cats instinctively did the same when dropped upside down as people say they do.

This is a good rule in all of life as it turns out: what you focus on is what you get.

Over the years, these two bits of wisdom have helped me in surprising ways. They have allowed me not only to survive and even (almost) to thrive in the half pipe but also to accomplish a great deal off the snow, including meeting the daily challenges of living well and living healthy in a world chock full of ways to lead me astray. That’s something I’ve long been passionate about and yet still need all the help I can get to make it happen.

When, for instance, I need to get in a good healthy run on a cold and dark winter’s night. Far easier it is to stay in and relax. Winter has a way of making us slackers. None of us likes a cold and inhospitable wind, slippery streets, frigid night air in your lungs, and blinding headlights of cars whose drivers may or may not see you out there running in the dark. Getting outside and running is challenging enough even in the best of conditions.

half pipeTo run on winter nights I need to reach for tried and tested tools that have made the difference many times in the past. So, I dredge up some temporary ignorance to soothe my over-thinking mind, removing all those obvious difficulties, and I focus my intention on the simple act of getting outside. Presto, I’m geared up and outside running. Sometimes, I still fail. One way this fails is if you focus on the wrong thing. If you think, “I need to run or walk three nights a week all winter long to get in decent shape for spring and keep doing this every other day the rest of my life,” you’ll probably end up staying inside most of the time. Focus on what you need to do right now, not the rest of your life. Like everything, using these tools takes practice.

But, you can find the opportunities to practice because the situations are everywhere. Every one of us has walked into a restaurant with the awesome aromas of something downright irresistible wafting into your brain. It’s right there in your face and under your nose. Your belly says it’s time to eat a giant plate of whatever, but in the back of your mind, you know it’s going to end up around your waist or clogging up your arteries. Unfortunately, the food is always gone all too quickly, and what you’re left with is the regret. BEFORE this happens is exactly the time to dredge up a dose of happy ignorance to all those tantalizing aromas, blind your mind to what everyone else is ordering, and focus all your attention (besides that which is listening to and chatting with whoever is with you) on what’s good to eat that’s also good for you. I mean physically pick up the menu, and SEE the healthier choices. Allow your eyes to lead you in the direction you need to go. Next thing you know, you’re ordering a healthy meal and walking out feeling good about your decisions. Easy? Never. Effective? You can’t succeed if you don’t give it a shot.

Of course, none of us is immune to bad choices. But, when it comes to physical activity, healthy eating, and potentially so many other aspects of living well and thriving, a few good tools can make all the difference in successfully overcoming the inevitable line up of daunting challenges we each face. A little experience in using them goes a long way, too.

So, next time you’re at the top of your own personal version of that half pipe, dim that incessant noise in your brain that says you can’t. Listen to a different voice. Go with the one that says, “I’ve got this.” Then look where you want to go. Focus your intent. The rest of you will follow.

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