Don't Think About Pink Elephants
by Jan Meyer
Suppose someone asked you not to think about pink elephants. What would immediately pop into your mind? What else? Pink elephants!
Suppose someone asked you to think about yellow canaries. You'd conjure up all sorts of yellow canaries. Your mind would be filled with yellow canaries, possibly socializing with Tweety. These yellow canaries would be keeping a sharp look out for Sylvester, too.
Pink elephants and yellow canaries don't have much to do with skydiving, but the idea of thinking or not thinking about certain things does.
Nervous jumpers don't need to be told "Now, don't be nervous." They do need to be told "Now relax and imagine the dive going exactly as planned from start to finish, including deployment, canopy ride and landing." Whether you're a jumpmaster with a nervous student or an RW/CRW coach with a slightly edgy jumper, you should know how to elicit positive responses from other jumpers.
Nervous jumpers are usually easy to spot. They tremble, sweat, quiver, forget the dive sequence and take "death" grips in the dirt dive. The very last thing they want, is to be identified as a nervous jumper. The worst thing anyone can say to them is "Now, don't be nervous." Their reaction will be to concentrate on covering up their nervousness. Occasionally, this will make a calm jumper start thinking, "Gee, I'm not nervous, but am I supposed to be nervous?" Emphasizing nervousness will not enhance any skydive.
A better plan is to concentrate on the positive aspects of the dive. Talk about the great view from the plane, fresh air at altitude, fantastic feeling of freefall, sense of accomplishment and other such things. Build-in phrases such as, "Remember to smile at your jumpmaster during the circle of awareness." Deliberately build-in altitude checks when jumping with lower experienced jumpers. This gives them the opportunity to learn the "Seek-a-Peek" method of altitude observation. It makes it okay for a jumper to check altitude, even if his RW attention and performance may momentarily degrade. Focus on the tasks required on the dive. Remind jumpers that each formation is a combination of turns and slides they already know how to do. Each dive is practice to develop skill level.
It's not a good idea to ignore someone who is nervous, but don't call attention to the fact, especially with others present. At best, an acknowledgment of observed nervousness is okay, along with a reassurance that it's okay to be nervous or concerned about some aspect, but not so fearful that panic is likely to set in or the fear is in control of actions.
Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal, V2, #3 Jan/Feb. 1990.
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