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By now you have made a couple of jumps and you know the meaning of “sensory overload” and “tunnel vision”. You have experienced that moment of the door opening, the rush of chemicals through your blood stream and the suspension of your ability to think clearly, to assess the situation, to make decisions, and act accordingly. However perfectly you have been trained, your performance in the air was but a fraction of what it was on the ground.
It is obvious that emotional management, which directly affects awareness, is the most important skill to have if you are to become a good and safe skydiver.
During each skydive; you have two emotional experiences going on at the same time. On the bright side, you are stepping out of an airplane into the freedom of flight, the ultimate adventure, an experience that cannot be put into words. Divine. On the other “dark side”, you are perceiving the situation as life threatening (rightfully so), and your system is instinctively reacting to it by going into fight or flight mode. A long list of chemicals are pumped into your blood stream that give you endurance, make you strong, fast, and pain free. Not bad, except that those same chemicals impair your thinking. And that is EXACTLY what you need for skydiving …. The ability to think under pressure, to accurately assess a situation, to make decisions, and to respond (not react) accordingly. Your safety is directly proportional to your situational and self awareness.
The simple definition of awareness : understanding the situation (situational awareness) in order to respond appropriately (self awareness).
In skydiving (and life perhaps), situational and self-awareness is the most important skill to have.
1. Be relentless with your ground preps and dirt dives. Take charge of your training, be proactive, and gather information. Practice your skills and dive flows to automatic, which will leave more of your headspace to keep track of your emotional management and awareness in the air. Being well prepared will boost your confidence.
2. Practice emotional management and awareness during your ground prep. As you are going about practicing skills, stay in touch with your breathing, be aware of your body and of your surroundings. This is the level of multitasking that you will need in the air (and then some…). Be very serious about practicing the circle of awareness to the point of it being automatic.
3. Remember your backups. You are ultimately responsible for your safety but you have a lot of backups in your corner: 2 instructors, 2 parachutes, an automatic activation device (AAD), a reserve static line (RSL), radios. Your skydiving progression is a well thought through, redundant adventure.
4. Visualize your skills, moves and dive flows. Visualize with your eyes open, this will strengthen your focus.
5. Positive focus on performance and fun during your skydive. You have the power to fill your heart either with fear or with joy. The choice is yours.
6. Stay inside your circle of awareness during the entire plane ride, climb-out and exit, freefall, canopy flight. In the beginning of your skydiving career, this is the hardest thing to accomplish. By shifting your focus between situational awareness (heading/altitude) and self-awareness (body/breathing), you are going to be able to keep track of all the elements necessary for a successful skydive.
The circle of awareness is the embodiment of skydiving itself. Whether it is your first jump or your team is winning the world championship, being situational and self-aware if going to make it or break it for you.
Becoming a better skydiver is the process of expanding your situational and self-awareness.
So what is the emotional end game in skydiving? To transform the fear into respect for the sport. To thoroughly enjoy every skydive while in the air, rather than just the aftermath of it.