Danny MacAskill tells how to conquer fear cycle

HE displays the ultimate in courage and daring, risking his life performing the most hair-raising trial bike stunts – from riding the treacherous Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye to teetering on the edge of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.
Danny MacAskill in action in Edinburgh. Picture: Jamie NicolsonDanny MacAskill in action in Edinburgh. Picture: Jamie Nicolson
Danny MacAskill in action in Edinburgh. Picture: Jamie Nicolson

But Scottish cycling star Danny MacAskill has admitted he is feeling nervous about a public talk he is taking part in tomorrow in Edinburgh.

He will talk to a leading psychologist about the nature of focus and how it can unlock the brain’s potential, resulting in extraordinary achievements.

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Red Bull athlete MacAskill – who shot to worldwide fame in 2009 after a YouTube clip of him displaying his skills on the streets of Edinburgh went viral with more than 36 million hits – will take part in Tunnel Vision with Professor Ian Robertson as part of the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

“Public speaking does not come easily to me,” he said. “Appearing in something as big as this is a first for me and I’m quite nervous thinking about it.”

“For me it’s fine to be riding my bike watched by hundreds of people or being filmed in front of the camera for something for millions of people to watch, but sitting in front of a large audience is nerve-wracking.

“When I first heard I’d be going on stage with a psychologist I joked, ‘oh, what if I break down crying on stage?’, but then when I looked into what it was all about I thought to ­myself that here was a real chance for me to learn something new and learn how to push myself further.

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“I ride up to 90 per cent within a comfort zone I’ve built up over the years, it’s the same feeling as a pedestrian walking.

“But when I go outwith that and try something new with possible injury and risk I have to deal with the fear – and that makes it hard to focus. Your brain goes into survival mode and is telling you, ‘you don’t want to do this’.

“The way I do it is try to calm my thoughts and often think back to what I’ve done previously.

“I say to myself, ‘I want this in my life’ and it is almost like a switch which clicks in your brain which pushes you on. I get into the way of thinking, ‘nothing is going to stop me’.

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“I also imagine the feeling of disappointment that night if I don’t do it.”

Prof Robertson, founder of the Trinity College Dublin Institute of Neuroscience, said the key to focus and overcoming fear was setting goals and giving them full attention.

“Fear is a great motivator,” he said. “It seems to me that Danny is partly driven by fear of failure – the higher you climb, the more you don’t want to disappoint.

“The thing about controlling fear depends on attention. He does it, it seems to me, by turning his mind from fear to a state of ‘half memory’ and ‘half ­anticipation’ so that he alters his state of mind. That is ­brilliant mental control.”

• Tunnel Vision – Danny ­MacAskill and Professor Ian Robertson, 3pm, Sunday, April 12, National Museum of Scotland. Tickets – £5-£10.