First let me apologize for the tongue twister of a title. I was trying to do my best if-Yoda-was-a-blogger impersonation 😉
How did I do?
I thought so.
Anyway…I think we can all agree, Yoda is a pretty wise fella. Between mastering swashbuckling lightsaber handling skills and moving huge rocks with the sheer force of his will, he still somehow found the time to master dishing out wise sayings while he was at it.
I guess living till 900 years old has its perks!
Here’s one of many examples of what I mean.
Just in case you’re not in a convenient place to watch the video right now – say for example, if you’re at work – haha I know right? It’s pretty ironic/badass to be reading https://freedomfrom.work while you’re at work 😉
Here’s what the legendary Jedi Master says:
No! No different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.
That’s pretty deep stuff (so pretty standard Yoda stuff).
Take a moment to ponder that because this ties in to today’s main lesson.
The Backwards Brain Bicycle Experiment
Earlier today, I came across this YouTube video of a guy who attempts to learn how to ride a bicycle.
Okay sounds easy, everyone knows how to ride a bike right?
But there’s a catch.
This bicycle is no ordinary bicycle. It’s what he calls a “backwards bicycle.”
If you’re thinking “what the heck is a backwards bicycle?” it’s basically a normal bicycle but modified to have inverted steering.
In other words when you steer right in the way you normally do, the bike will actually steer left and vice versa.
I know, it’s confusing as heck.
Now you might be pretty skeptical as I first was. It still sounds pretty easy and you’re probably thinking what I was thinking – that you could easily do this.
Piece of cake right?
As I watched the video I became convinced that it’s much harder than it looks.
Have a look for yourself.
Key lessons learned
First of all don’t you just love that video?
It reveals some interesting and powerful human psychological principles such as the following:
1. Knowledge does not equal understanding
In the video, Destin explains the epiphany he had when first trying to ride the bike. He realized that he had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but he did not have the understanding. Therefore knowledge is not understanding.
As you can imagine, in theory it’s quite simple to ride this bike. All you have to do is steer in the opposite direction of what you normally would.
So if you want to go left, turn right and vice versa.
Great. This means you have the knowledge of how to do this. This should mean you understand therefore you should be able to do it right?
Yet if this were the case it would be easy to learn how to ride the backwards bicycle.
But as you saw in his challenges to folks from all over the world, no one could do it right away (even with monetary incentive) as it would take months to learn how to ride the backwards bicycle.
Or rather perhaps more accurately, it would take months to unlearn how to ride a normal bicycle.
2. Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head it is not easy to change or rewire it
Even if you really want to.
This is the reason why many times what you imagine yourself doing in your head does not equal what you actually do in reality.
3. The only way to rewire your thinking process is by consistent conscious and focused effort
It took him consistent daily practice over a period of 8 months before it finally “clicked” for him.
I don’t know about you but I find this extraordinary. 8 months! Don’t forget we are talking about a fully grown intelligent adult who already knows how to ride a bike!
This shows we often severely underestimate the power of habits or fixed thought patterns. Whether they be good or bad, for better or for worse, they are a very powerful force that drives us human beings.
So powerful that to break a habit requires 8 months of dedicated effort. Imagine the potential if you channeled this powerful force towards positive habits and thinking patterns? They will become equally strong and equally hard to break as the negative habits that plague us.
4. To learn something new you must first unlearn the old
Yep Yoda would be proud of him.
After Destin finally learned how to ride the backwards bicycle he decided to test it out with his little boy who has been riding a bike for 3 years (over half his life).
He was curious to see how long it would take a kid to learn how to ride the backwards bicycle.
And the results were amazing.
In two weeks, his son who was barely over 5 years old, did what took him, a fully grown adult 8 months to learn!
This demonstrates that a child has more “neuroplasticity” (a fancy way to describe the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout one’s life) than an adult. This also explains why children can learn languages so much easier than adults.
I believe this is because children still have a fresh “untainted” mind without all the baggage that comes with age. They do not have much pre-“installed” knowledge in their heads so they do not have any preconceived notions or make any false assumptions.
Instead they approach everything with awe and intense curiosity and wonder.
As a result his son could learn how to ride the bike so much quicker than he ever could.
5. Knowledge can sometimes be a form of pride
Isn’t it ironic that a child is a better student than you?
When I was a child I used to think it was adults who were the smart and wise ones.
It turns out, the assumptions and things you think you know as an adult only serve to hinder you if you lose that sense of awe, wonder and curiosity you had as a child.
This is a form of pride.
Which reminds me of a lesson I learned from Chris Sacca from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans:
Experience often deeply embeds the assumptions that need to be questioned in the first place. When you have a lot of experience with something, you don’t notice the things that are new about it.
Isn’t it strange that when we’re new to something we attack it with zeal, enthusiasm and a positive attitude. We work extra hard and go the extra mile because we know we are far behind everyone else and we’re playing catch up.
We pay attention. We take notes.
But when we start to taste some success we stop doing the very things that got us there in the first place.
Now why would we do that?
It doesn’t make logical sense yet it always happens. Well I suppose humans aren’t fundamentally logical creatures.
That’s why they say success is a lousy teacher.
Action points/notes to self
- Moral of the story: always keep a beginner’s mindset.
- Remember that I’m always learning and the day I’ve stopped learning is the day I’ve stopped growing as a person. There is an Italian phrase for this: “sto ancora imparando” which translates to “I’m still learning” – I would do well to etch that in my mind.
- Even if I currently have bad habits or thought processes, in the same way how Destin unlearned how to ride a normal bike – it’s still not impossible to break my bad thought processes if I consistently apply focused effort and persevere. Many people make the mistake of thinking “oh I’m too old so it’s too late to change.” This is a trap. It’s only too late if you keep telling yourself that. This too is a form of shooting yourself in the foot or failure by default.
What do you think of Destin’s experiment and findings?
As you saw, some of the people in Amsterdam didn’t believe him when he told them he could no longer ride a normal bike.
Do you think this whole experiment was real or fake?
Are there any key lessons you learnt from it?
Would love to hear your input. Please leave a message in the comments.
Until next time.
Tony Lee Jacobs
p.s. #1 if you liked this article and would enjoy more posts like this, then please subscribe to the Freedom Fighter’s Digest for free exclusive tips and updates directly into your inbox.
p.s. #2 Now show this to your mum who complains you are on YouTube all the time and ask her “who says you can’t learn valuable life lessons from YouTube videos?” 😉