I can't do it. I'm afraid!!

Published 9:42 pm Saturday, January 18, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
My youngest child is over 30, so it has been a long time since I taught a child to ride a bicycle. As so often happens when teaching any skill to a child, we adults often learn more than the child we are teaching, albeit not in the same subject. My recent efforts to teach my 5-year-old grandson to ride his bicycle without the training wheels exemplified this learning curiosity.
While it is true that a child's physiological strengths and limitations effect his or her learning curve, mostly a child's progress in learning such daring skills as riding a bicycle depends upon mental attitude. The level of fear the child feels, of falling and getting hurt, and the level of faith and confidence the child has in his or her own abilities, are usually the most important factors in the child's progress in learning to ride a bicycle, or for that matter, the myriad other learning challenges children encounter day by day.
Those of us who have long ago learned to ride a bicycle know that the key to keeping a bike from falling over sideways is to keep it in forward motion. A child who does not understand this principle may attempt to climb aboard the bicycle while it is standing upright on two wheels. Naturally, the bike will fall over sideways as soon as the child lifts both feet off the ground and puts them on the pedals. Consequently, a child must learn to push the bicycle into motion before mounting.
Now what's the lesson an adult might learn from this dynamic? Just this: Real opportunities in life do not stop and wait for us to get on. Real opportunities are always in motion, and we have to catch a foothold and swing up into the driver's seat on-the-go. An opportunity which stands still and waits for us to climb on is usually an opportunity which quickly falls over sideways.
As my grandson got his bike going, I ran along beside him and held onto the seat to keep the bike upright. This teaching technique did not work, however, because Little Gabe tended to rely too much on me and would not take control of the bike. I knew this because I could feel his weight leaning on me. The moment I let go of the bike, he gave up, reached out for me and fell over. Finally, I switched to helping him by simply putting my hand lightly on his back, thereby forcing him to control his own bike, yet assuring him that I was there in case he fell. As he gained confidence, I removed my hand from his back altogether without his knowledge. Just his believing that I was controlling the bicycle and was there to catch him was enough to allay his fears and he was soon speeding confidently along on his own.
The adult lesson? We often find it hard to believe, or sometimes even refuse to believe, the powers that are within us. Many of us have our adult crutches which we lean on and cling to, refusing to take control of our own lives. Like learning to ride a bicycle on our own, life can be so much more fun and exciting when we quit leaning and take over the controls. It is nothing but fear that keeps us from doing that.
Even when my grandson was off and running on his own, his riding skills were a little deficient and he would occasionally fall when he tried to turn around or stop his bike. At first he cried, not so much because of the pain of a tiny bump or scratch, but more because of his preconceived fears. With some firm encouragement and minimal sympathies for his minor injuries, he tried again and again until his falls were far less frequent. When he did fall, he just rolled and laughed it off and tried again. He discovered that, though falling down occasionally was inevitable in the sport of bike-riding, it was not nearly as bad as he had imagined.
Pain and injury are a never-ending part of life. Those who we view as 'successful" in life endure no less of it than those who quit and lie fallow in self-pity after only one or two tries, or are perhaps are afraid to try at all. In fact, pain and injury are an inherent part of success and successful people experience far more of it because they are tenacious – they try more things, more often, and they keep trying until they succeed. It is not the amount or degree of pain that makes the difference between success and failure, but our preconceived fears of that pain. Falling down and getting hurt or embarrassed is never as bad as we think it's going to be. In fact, it's all part of the fun.

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