It's All About Perspective - Improving Your Skydiving Through Mindset

From their very first jumps, skydivers hear ridiculous things from non-skydivers such as, “I would never skydive. That’s crazy.” Yet the same skydivers may look at these non-jumpers and think, “Why are you sitting on the sidelines of life? What is holding you back from experiencing the best that life has to offer?”

But hold on a second. Many jumpers assume that skydiving is the ultimate adventure, but maybe it’s not. It is all a matter of perspective. Every jumper can think of something that they would never attempt to do. This is because, in their minds, it seems outside of their potential (so it seems crazy to them). A competitive triathlete once said, “Everyone has their own definition of what is considered to be crazy. People tell me I’m crazy for doing triathlons. I see nothing wrong with it.”

So let’s think about this again. Just because someone is a skydiver doesn’t mean he experiences everything life has to offer. What excuses do jumpers make that hold them back? Those excuses may seem legitimate even if there are no facts to back them up. What barriers do jumpers create that don’t need to be there? What do they miss out on in skydiving itself? More importantly, what do they miss out on in everyday life because of thinking this way?

Perhaps you want to make a big decision to change careers, have an ambition such as learning a new language or simply want to do something small such as jump at an unfamiliar drop zone. What is holding you back? The answer may be all about how you think about these “crazy” options. Two particular mindsets—fixed and growth—can help explain how people approach life situations differently.

Those with fixed mindsets tend to believe that people’s basic qualities are carved in stone, and that their true potential lies within their comfort zones. This thinking creates an urgency for them to prove that they are already the best they can be. Their skills, talents and intelligence are at a constant level that cannot change. To them, they are who they are, and that’s that.

People with fixed mindsets devalue effort. They will avoid something if it takes a lot of hard work. They get discouraged easily and fear challenge. Difficult situations are a threat to how they feel about their current knowledge, talents and abilities. Fixed-mindset thinkers believe that if someone has to work hard at doing something well, it means that he lacks the ability to do it in the first place.

For people with fixed mindsets, the worst thing they can do is fail, because it exposes their weaknesses and deficiencies. Fixed-mindset thinkers see those weaknesses and deficiencies as deep-seated flaws that they cannot change. When fixed-mindset people fail, they identify with it and label themselves as failures. They tend to blame others or make excuses. A fixed-mindset person will do anything to save his self-esteem instead of finding out how he can avoid the failure in the future. He guards his ego closely because it is so fragile. The outcome is the only thing that a fixed-mindset person values. If he doesn’t win first place, he feels as though he is a failure and that the whole attempt to compete was worthless.

People with fixed mindsets will gravitate toward activities that are easy. Immediate success validates their greatness. They are very concerned with being judged, compare themselves to other people and don’t take feedback very well. The fixed-mindset person is all about being perfect right now. Talent should be immediately validated. Comparison to others is a major focus if it makes the fixed-mindset individual look better. Success is about establishing superiority.

You can see this type of mindset in action in skydiving: An AFF student who fails one category never comes back to try to pass it, because he feels as if he doesn’t have what it takes. The skydiver who finishes a wind tunnel training session becomes angry because he hasn’t nailed a skill yet. The longtime belly-flyer quits trying to freefly after a couple of attempts because it’s too hard. An AFF rating holder doesn’t use his rating because he feels AFF instruction is too technical for him to do well. A jumper doesn’t compete because she feels she’s not good enough. It’s the skydiver who’s been in the sport for 20 years and has thousands of jumps and still manages to take out the formation on every jump and biff in every landing. The experienced jumper who only learned to pack for his A-license and never packs again because, “I suck at packing. It’s too hard. I’m just not good at it.” A low-time jumper who does a lot of solos because she doesn’t want to screw up anyone else’s skydive, and she’s concerned that other people will see how bad she is. It can be seen when a skydiver is intimidated by another jumper’s skills instead of being inspired or motivated.

Someone who has a fixed mindset can potentially put himself on the sidelines of life. Thinking in this manner affects what choices he makes, including what he does for a living, what activities he pursues and whom he associates with. He’ll take the easy route and just get by. He wonders why someone would try to do a task that pushes his limits if he is only going to run into disappointment, failure and exposure of what he lacks.

Someone with a growth mindset has a different perspective. Growth-mindset thinkers believe that a person’s basic qualities can change and improve through effort, a person’s true potential is unknown and undetermined, and intelligence and skill are things that can change, no matter what sort of situation a person is in. Growth-mindset people believe that, while some people have more natural skill or talent than others, with hard work and diligent effort, anyone has the ability to go from a novice to an elite performer.

Since growth-mindset people value effort, they will stick with a task even when it’s not going smoothly. They are concerned only with improving. Success is measured by the increase in their knowledge, abilities and skills. Growth-mindset thinkers feel great when they work at something difficult and finally figure it out. They don’t let failure define them. Failure is still a painful process for growth-mindset thinkers, but that pain drives them forward. In the face of failure, they take a step back, look at the whole picture with an objective eye, specify what needs to be changed, make a plan for how to tackle the problem differently and start over without judging themselves. People with growth mindsets value what they are doing regardless of the outcome, because they are going to get something out of the situation no matter what happens. Setbacks are motivating. Success is about measured progress.

Those with growth mindsets are willing to take calculated risks and confront challenges. They thrive on opportunities to learn and do not shy away from pain or discomfort. They flourish on feedback and incorporate it so they can get better at what they are doing.

It is easy to find people with growth mindsets in skydiving: The grandmother who came to the drop zone to make a tandem becomes a freeflyer and 4-way competitor. The young kid who broke his leg on his AFF Category C landing becomes a proficient AFF instructor examiner. The guy who packed himself a malfunction on his first pack job becomes a master rigger. The gal who had major issues jumping with groups goes on to specialize in big-ways. The shy guy who had trouble making friends at the drop zone develops into a well-known load organizer. The jumper who was too light to jump in groups becomes a swooping competitor. A disgruntled software engineer who made a jump for his bucket list cuts away and becomes a world-renowned videographer. A beginning skydiver who drowns himself in debt at the wind tunnel becomes a sponsored 4-way champion. A packer who lives in a van on the drop zone goes on to start a skydiving gear company.

A growth mindset takes continuous maintenance. People can get into trouble thinking that once they improve, they can go back to their fixed-mindset ways. Think of it this way: When you take care of a pet, you don’t just feed it once. You have to give it food and water every day, take it to the vet for yearly vaccinations and give it lots of attention. The growth mindset takes constant work.

If you have purely a growth mindset, stay on that path. And it is entirely possible for people to be both fixed-mindset thinkers and growth-mindset thinkers. However, if you’re like many people and realize that you have a primarily fixed mindset, don’t worry. You can change your mindset. All it takes is to recognize when you’re stuck in the fixed mindset and take a growth-mindset approach to the situation instead. Tell yourself that the excuses you’re making don’t carry any weight. Instead, think of evidence and facts that will counteract your excuses. In situations in which you’ve failed, set judgment aside and ask yourself, “What specific thing can I change to improve this? What other steps can I take to grow from this experience?” Incorporate feedback as a skill-builder rather than a bruise on your ego. If you don’t receive feedback, ask for it! If all you get is a general comment such as, “You did well,” ask about what particular things you did well. Being able to replicate something you did well is a big part of growth and progress. Then incorporate the feedback into your plans for the next time.

You’ll need to cultivate self-awareness to become conscious of what situations or decisions cause you to react with a fixed mindset. It’ll take going outside of what you’re used to and becoming OK with being uncomfortable, embarrassed and non-proficient in front of others. It’ll take creativity to get around an obstacle. It’ll take persistence to keep doing something when you don’t see immediate results. It’ll take discipline to refrain from beating yourself up when you fail. It’ll take bravery and humility to attempt to do something you may not be good at right away. Think of an area of your life about which you have a fixed mindset, and tackle that challenge through a growth-mindset perspective. Change is tough, but it’s very much worth it.

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

About the Author
FEATURE20134-20Beth Athanas, D-29277, graduated in 2007 from Georgia Southern University with a master's degree in sport psychology. She started jumping in 1999 and now has more than 1,300 jumps. She jumps in Texas as inside center on an all-female 4-way team and is learning to freefly in the wind tunnel.


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Mattie Bray
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 04:38

Wonderful blog. I really agree that most people think that they are best when they are within their comfort zones. I'm sure that they can be a whole lot more when out of it since there are numerous possibilities out there in the world. Opportunities are endless if you only know how to look for it. Just like in skydiving, who knows, you might change careers when faced with something as dangerous as skydiving. LOL.

Fri, 04/26/2013 - 22:50

This has to be the best article I have ever read.

Thomas Wheeler
Fri, 08/23/2013 - 23:37

I am a teaching and I will be sharing your article with my students! This is exacly what I hope to inspire in each kid I meet.

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