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The Parachute Principle

More than a couple of years ago, a group of adrenaline junky friends of mine and I decided to challenge one of the first laws of the created universe i.e. gravity. We felt the urge to jump out of a perfectly functioning aeroplane, with a bag of nylon and strings tied to our backs, and see if we could make it safely back to the surface of mother earth - parachuting. We drove through to the Citrusdal parachute club’ training camp the Friday night, had a braai and a few drinks while we were discussing the odds, strangely feeling petrified, but alive!

During our “crash course” the Saturday morning, I unexpectedly received one of the most powerful life lessons ever. This principle has not only carried me through several difficult times in my life to date, but has also formed part of many talks, coaching sessions, workshops and conversations that I have facilitated in my career of just short of a courter of a century. In this article I’d like to share this simple but profound principle which I have coined “The Parachute Principle”.

We jumped out a small plain, mercifully connected to a line and pin that opened the chute for us, called static line. In that moment (but fortunately just for that moment) I forgot every single thing I was taught during +/-5 hours of the, info-over-loaded, training session after training session, that same morning. As soon as I realised the chute did open (it became wonderfully quiet, and I experienced an amazing floating feeling), all the checks and balances rushed back into my consciousness…

Shape, …Sound,… Lines, … Canopy, … Toggles – (the two handles you hold in your hands to steer the parachute where you need to go)… 
- Lift both hands – parachute speeds up;
- Pull down the toggles for the chute to slow down, 
- Pull down left hand toggle for a left turn, and 
- Right hand toggle for a right turn…

Orientate yourself i.e. where you are, and where is it you need to land? Ideally on an open flat surface without obstacles like trees, power cables, rocks, waterfalls etc. In our case it was a predetermined space about the size of a rugby field that looked a bit smaller than our front lawn from where I was floating at the time. Decide on your plan of action to end up there. And lastly enjoy the ride!

A whole list of life strategies is included in the story so far, but the greatest lesson for me at the time was the fact that even though you’ve done ALL of the ABOVE… “life” sometimes (actually always) happens! I was fortunate on the day of my first jump, that although it was touch and go, and very challenging, I ended up landing safely (and softly) where I needed to.

The lesson I talk about is what they’ve taught us when things end up going wrong - in contrast to way you’ve planned - e.g. an unexpected wind pushes you off course. When you come in to land and you and the parachute are on your way to some serious looking unfriendly power cables...

At any time when your life is in danger, your ego is threatened or you livelihood is at stake; the natural thing to do is to be focused on the problem. We think about it constantly, tell our friends, complain, or try and understand why things have gone wrong. We ponder on our disappointment and study all the causes and the realities it is causing. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be reflecting, but the fact of the matter is that the longer we do that, the bigger the chance that we’re going to run into those power cables, and getting ourselves killed. When you speak to someone who is desperately unhappy in a relationship, or job; you mostly find people talking about the unfairness of the situation, the things those people did, and how bitter or unhappy they are to be there. It is evident that they have been studying the situation for a long time – focussed on the power cables!

What we have learned at that parachuting course, was this. As soon as you realised that you are heading into danger; LOOK AWAY FROM THE PROBLEM. It is not ignoring the problem or pretending that it’s not there; it’s in response to the problem. It is actively responding to the problem by deliberately looking away from it, and to focus your attention on another safe spot to land… Where do I need to go to? A solution or plan of action!

Your body responds physically when you turn your head and focus on the new target. The hand and shoulder with the toggle drops in the direction you need to go, and the parachute responds moving you away from the danger, and towards the solution. I have since learned that the same principle applies when you cycle, or race cars or motorbikes. Your body follows your focus…

The longer we focus on the problem the more we get of the problem, the deeper we go into the problem. The longer we remain there the more difficult it gets to do something positive about it, the smaller the chance of me finding a positive solution. The moment you realise you are heading into danger, ask yourself or someone you trust:” What now? Who can help me? How can I solve this? What is the right thing to do?”

But knowing this is not good enough. I’ve known this to be true for many years now, and still find myself often focussed on the problem, and not busy with the solution. It’s a matter of practice makes improvement. The more I practice the more I get it right.

Focus on solutions, and let the parachute take you to a safe landing spot.

Stefan Lessing
MCA Training International
Life and Leadership Coach, December 2016