Wandering along the river at the weekend we saw a small boy take a spill on his bike.
It was enough of a fall to draw a sharp intake of breath from both my wife and me but no real damage was done.
The boy instinctively dusted off his hands and winced at the bits of gravel embedded in the palms of his hands.
His Dad, walking behind us shouted, “That’s alright. Just dust yourself off. It won’t hurt as much if you ride on the grass.”
My mum insisted my brother and I learn how to fall when we were little, “Tuck your elbow in and land on your hip and shoulder”. Good advice for adventurous boys.
Over the years, I’ve introduced a handful of people to rock climbing; encouraging them as they take their first nervous steps up from the safety of the ground into the unknown.
The pattern of a first climb is pretty common: grip tightly to the holds, head up using mostly arm not leg strength, get to the top, clutch onto the largest object at the top, look down nervously, eventually release death-grip on the wall to be lowered down, grip the rope tightly on descent, kiss the floor with relief/sense of achievement, stare with wonder at forearms which appear to be pumped and burning, realise that you arms are now too tired to climb again for a long time.
Until you reach the top of the climb and release your weight onto the rope, you haven’t tested the system. You have no real trust in it. No experience of how it feels to sit in the harness, deliberately or otherwise, until you are in an exposed position.
So why not learn to fall when the stakes aren’t as high?
That’s how I teach. On terra firma I tie the person into their harness, show them the basics of my belay device, take up the slack in the rope, then I just fall down into my harness next to them. “I trust the system”, I’m saying. “You can too.”
I’ve laboured the analogy; forgive me.
My point is that being comfortable and familiar with falling allows us to ride and climb better. We’ve reduced the cost of failure.
This doesn’t just apply to the great outdoors. Learning to fall in our personal and work lives gives us the confidence to push our experimentation & creativity further.