“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
– Richard Branson
Last week I bought my daughter her first “big kid” bike and we took it for a ride in the park. I got her geared up with all the fittings — a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads.
I honestly wasn’t sure how she was going to do those first few runs, so I kept a death grip on the back of her seat. I figured I’d do this for the first few attempts so she could get a feel for it before falling to the ground (an inevitability, I figured).
But she surprised me.
When I finally got the gumption to take my hand off the seat, she flew down the hill looking like a pro (a pro five-year-old, that is). She even breaked and came to a full stop on her own.
But it’s not because she’s a natural.
It’s probably because for the last year she’s been riding a balance bike with no pedals and no training wheels. You just push off the ground and coast. It helps the child learn the most difficult parts of riding a bike: balancing and steering. During that phase, she fell a lot.
It’s now pretty well-known that training wheels are not the best way for kids to learn how to ride. Here’s what Kids Ride Shotgun has to say about it…
“Long story short, training wheels halt progress – you might initially remove the need for your child to balance whilst learning to pedal, but this will only be reintroduced when the training wheels are removed. It’s akin to giving your toddler a walking aid when they’re learning to walk, it doesn’t actually help them achieve their goal and can become a crutch they depend on.”
If we had got her training wheels, we would have starved her of learning the very skills she needed (balance & steering) to successfully ride a bike. Even worse, she would have come to believe that she knew how to ride a bike and then been woefully disappointed when we removed the training wheels.
How often do we do something like this to ourselves with our own pursuits?
We approach a goal timidly and half-heartedly, we create a Plan B, we remove as much risk as possible. In doing so we starve ourselves of learning the very skills we need to be successful — things like discipline, diligence, patience, and courage. Perhaps we’re even surprised when the training wheels come off — when real commitment and courage are required.
Training wheels are tempting because they prevent us from falling and they make “learning” nearly risk-free. But you’re not really learning if there’s no chance of falling and failing, if there’s no risk of getting it wrong.
So take off the training wheels. And put on some knee pads.
It’s the only way you’ll learn to balance.