Danny MacAskill on Anxiety, the ‘Zone’ & Mental Imagery


I’ve started reading Danny MacAskill’s At the Edge: Riding for My Life and on the first page of the first chapter he offers an insight into what sets him apart from the masses.

Danny’s talking about recording the final scene from Cascadia where he front-flips off scaffolding and plunges into the sea.

He talks about how, when recording stunts, he endures ‘endless hours of psychological torture’ with it taking him ‘ages to get my head straight’. He interestingly says that he wishes he could deal with the stress and anxiety better but, in saying this, he misses the fact that by him ultimately attempting and achieving the stunts, he is dealing with the stress and anxiety better than most other people in this world. It’s what sets the elite apart from the rest.

Danny goes on to describe how he talks to himself to get to the point where he can flick the ‘commitment switch’ and take himself from ‘an anxious state into a more positive mood.’

We all experience the same intense fears and anxieties but what people operating at an elite level have is the ability to channel their crippling negative energy into world dominating positive energy.  Tim S. Grover talks about this in his book Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable and I’ve spoken about it in a post from my ‘Lessons from the 2016 UCI Downhill Series’. In the post I talked about Rachel Atherton revealing she had been so nervous she’d vomited before getting herself together to win the race at Leogang that took Anne-Caroline Chausson’s record of most consecutive world cup wins.

Channelling all of your energy into world dominating performance takes mastery of your emotions and the label this ability is often given is getting in the ‘Zone’. The English Oxford Dictionary describes the Zone as:

‘(especially in sport) a state of such concentration that one is able to perform at the peak of one’s physical or mental capabilities.’

Tim S. Grover describes the Zone as:

‘….that deeply personal space where you can quiet your mind until you have no thoughts, it’s just you and your instincts, focused and unemotional’.

Danny gives us his experience:

“As I place my feet on to the pedals I do sometimes feel a surge of energy. Everything around me seems to melt away in that moment – the wind, the noise, the fear, those cameras. I grow completely focused on what I have to do, and how I have to do it. Usually, it’s a trick I’ve visualised hundreds of times beforehand. I just need to see it through to the end, hopefully without crashing.”

As well as telling us about the Zone here, Danny also gives us another insight into what makes him so good – he visualises his tricks hundreds of times before performing them. One consistent correlate with elite level performance is the use of mental imagery. Physically practicing will get you so far but if you want to get further you have to mentally practice as well and some of the techniques behind achieving this I’m putting in an upcoming post.

Danny MacAskill is a world class performer and in the first few pages of his book he’s provided 3 massive insights into how he does it – there’s a lot we can learn from him.

If you’re going to take the time to practice, practice like the elite.


Danny’s book and Relentless are available on Amazon

At the Edge: Riding for My Life

Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable

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