It should come as no surprise that as skydivers, we deal with A LOT of anxiety. We’re taught to check our “circle of awareness” from the very beginning to help keep calm and relaxed in a stressful environment. So how does this relate to a global crisis? Icarus Athlete Mikey Lovemore tells us more. Here is a glimpse into his journey and how he has used his skydiving mentality to help him through an unknown future.
We will not return to ‘normal’ – Blue pill or Red pill?
You’ve exited the aeroplane of normal existence into a social-isolating freefall. When you open your parachute you will land in a world that has changed forever. We’re all reeling from one of the biggest shocks of our life. We never thought this virus would so rapidly reach as far as it has and impact everything so profoundly.
Holy crap.. What the f%ck is going on?
Three weeks ago my four-year-old daughter had a high temperature, so we had to go into self isolation. I’d started to accept the fact that things were changing. The DZ and the wind tunnels weren’t closed yet (that’s where I predominantly make a living at the moment alongside video production). However, as the outbreak was becoming a pandemic I knew that if the DZ or tunnel didn’t close we’d soon run pretty low on customers so had to start readjusting.
I got my bike out again to do a bit of cycle couriering which I do from time to time for extra cash. I’d done all of two deliveries when my wife texted to say our daughter had a high temperature so I had to head home and go into self-isolation (following government advice). During the first few days of that isolation the DZ shut, the tunnel shut and our new situation became real like a hard opening… Bang! (My daughter is fine by the way – no Covid-19).
In the UK we are ahead of a lot of other countries in the Covid-19 game. As author Francesca Melandri wrote in a letter from Italy to fellow Europeans “… this means I am writing from your future.”*
Nothing will be the same after this. You and I will be different; more than a quarter of the world’s population is in lockdown. All industries and communities have been affected, in ways that we may not yet even be aware of. Ripple effects will be profound and very long term. We may feel that things are a bit more fragile when we return to work, hobbies and families, akin to returning after an enforced break due to an injury or serious incident. What may have seemed reliable and permanent suddenly became the opposite.
We won’t just pick up where we left off. We’re not on a weather hold watching the clouds… a tornado is ripping through the town and heading for the DZ.
Suddenly we’re a lot more reliant on our internet connections. This has been the direction of travel for some time now, but this is a big leap. There’s little that we do now without an online element to it. Social media and video calling fills a gap previously occupied by face to face contact with friends and family. Zoom party anyone?
There are life hacks a plenty, fitness regimes, conspiracy theories, suddenly your local shop and brewery are doing home delivery. There’s no bread flour, pasta or TP available… hang on! People aren’t eating or sh%tting more than they were, are they?
We are under pressure to adapt to this new lifestyle but we’ve been forced into it so quickly we’re having a collective existential crisis… or rebirth maybe.
Is this how it’s going to be forever… even after the pandemic?
On my bike
I’m out again doing cycle deliveries, I’m lucky to have quite a unique view on street life. I’m often seeing two extremes, those people exercising more and then others being sedentary and staying indoors. I like the brief interactions I have with people on their doorsteps, seeing how they’re adapting to the lockdown. Maybe this is also why I love doing tandem camera flying. A brief snapshot of someone in a life changing situation.
When I started seeing the lockdown becoming imminent and community action taking off so quickly I immediately started thinking there are so many positives to come out of this. Fewer people on the streets have a few knock on effects. The environment is having a much needed breather. People are reconnecting with their communities, neighbours and friends in a deeper way.
Can we weather the storm?
The answer is yes.. Phew! We as skydivers are perhaps better prepared than most. The psychological effects of this situation will for many be like forced unemployment or a break due to injury. A period of involuntary non-action and feeling trapped and not in control. So the psychological effects may be similar. Anxiety, depression, low self esteem and strained personal relationships. But if you were to design a human with all the necessary abilities to deal with this scenario, you may come up with an extreme sports athlete.
Circle of awareness
Learning the “Circle Of Awareness” during AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) is great because it is relevant throughout your progression (and life). Learning to skydive is about adapting your mind and body to survive in a foreign environment. Development in a sport is not a linear progression but a widening circle of development which is your pathway to confidence, skill and excellence.
It makes more sense to me to picture it as a circle of awareness rather than a linear development because the skydiving environment has many aspects that are interconnected. For instance, your knowledge of exit order can be linked with your canopy experience as well as the performance of your canopy in different scenarios and conditions. It’s also not always evident which skills you need to develop next. There are an ever growing number of development opportunities on the horizon.
So the more experience you have (and i’m not just talking about the number of jumps), the further out you’re pushing the circumference of your circle, encompassing more elements. The things closer to the centre are the basic early things that become second nature or muscle memory. Stability, altitude awareness, loading order of the aircraft, packing etc. The bigger your “circle of awareness”, the more prepared and capable you’ll be to deal with anything. This is a combination of situational awareness, self-awareness and self-efficacy.
Adaptation and awareness
Situational awareness and self awareness are quite self explanatory, but self efficacy is linked to both. It is your ability to affect a situation based on your belief in your own ability. It has an impact on your actual ability to deal with or adapt to a situation and the choices you’re most likely to make.
Put on top of this circle of awareness, another commonly used personal development image which shows your comfort, fear, learning and growth zones.
We’re constantly moving into our learning and growth zones in order to progress in skydiving. We’re used to breaking through fear barriers for reward and growth over and over again. We’ve trained ourselves to feel the “fear and do it anyway”*.
Fear is a rational response to a threat that we can learn to control. In the situation we’re in now, we likely experience fear’s best buddy anxiety, which is a behavioural response to a threat that we cannot control.
Don’t stress over what you can’t control. Practice acceptance and focus more on what is within your control.
We skydivers are adaptable and resilient. We can deal with stress. We’re physically and mentally trained for challenging situations. We have the mindset to not just survive, but we are predisposed to use this situation to develop ourselves. We also have a fantastic international community with friends worldwide in different phases of the pandemic. Let’s Woogie!!
Speed Skydiving is my therapist
Through my training for Speed competition over the years, my main take-away lesson and something that has served me on every level, is keeping things simple and being present in the moment. Zen (from the Indian Sanskrit for void or emptiness) teaches that if you are always thinking about what has been or what is to come, then you miss life, because living happens now and nowhere else.
I use music, humour and playfulness to help me focus on the present for as much of the day as possible when in training and competition. This is something that has stuck with me during this time. I’m trying to keep this up and my two daughters are helping a lot with that. I try to forget everything and immerse myself in play or activities with them regularly.
Take the Zen and run with it
It’s OK to struggle with this and have times where we just get through the day. We must take the pressure off of ourselves and practice acceptance. If you’re having a rough time, take a moment as soon as you can to do something to bring you to the present again. Listen to a favourite track (and I mean properly listen), maybe with your eyes closed. Or you can just sit for 10 minutes and focus on your breathing. There are many ways to bring yourself back to now (look online). Open up your circle of awareness.
Let’s keep talking, laughing, enjoying the ride and don’t forget what it’s like to hug our friends, to high five, and to fly our arses off!!
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.”
* References featured in the article:
- The Guardian article ‘A letter to the UK from Italy’
- Feel the Fear and do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Socialise with Mikey Lovemore
Wanna know what Speed Skydiving is?
Mikey gave a presentation at the BPA Skydive the Expo back in 2017 about Speed skydiving. Check it out here. If you are wanting to get into this particular discipline, then the FAI has some information on their website.
An abundance of reading, learning and more
Stuck at home and need some entertainment? Our woogie webinars from some of the top athletes in the world are worth a watch. Our Chrisssssss share their Quarantine diaries. And we have some tips on maintenance you can do on your gear while you have some spare time (no time like the present).