• Catherine Goncalves

Walking the Line and Learning How to Learn

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

I recently decided to take up slacklining because:

1) Have you met me?

2) Why not?

3) I was being graded on it for a class.

The process was challenging to say at the least, but I'm excited to share some insights from what I learned about what it takes to master a skill.

“Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands….” ― Cal Newport

I was first introduced to slacklining this summer in British Columbia. At first, I couldn’t even stand on the line without support from two people on either side of me, let alone fathom how people do it between two canyons with 100s of feet below them while high lining. So feeling a spark of challenge, I set out to learn to take five steps over the course of a few weeks. Here's a recap of how that went.



So there I was, standing in MEC talking to Kevin about the logistics of actually giving this thing a go. Kevin suggested what gear I needed to buy, where I could practice slacklining locally, and even offered to give me a private lesson. Shout out to Kevin. The world needs more people like him. I then decided to reach out to my network in BC and watch some YouTube videos about the basics. Still, when I first set up the slackline in a local park, I managed to do it backwards and then spent twice the amount of time trying to undue my mess.

So being the absolute nerd I am, I made a practice schedule and tracked my progress.

Monday and Wednesday Slackline: 6:00-6:30 PM, watch 15 minutes worth of videos

Tuesday and Thursday: Slackline: 9:30-10:00 AM, read 15 minutes worth of blogs, advice, or converse with an expert

Friday – Progress day! Take a video and analyze the progress I made.

Saturday, Sunday: Slackline 10:00 AM- 10:30AM, dry land and balance training

Not gonna lie, it didn't exactly go as planned. About 10 days in, I sprained my ankle after I tried to take things up a notch and put the slack line three feet high in the air thinking it would give me more of an incentive not to fall. Oops.

If I were to replan my training regimen, I think I'd give myself the following advice:

  • It is okay to deviate from a routine, as long as you're still taking steps forward.

Whether it was pouring rain, I just got back from leg day at the gym or just wasn't feeling going outside, I gave myself flexibility in what progress looked like. Watching youtube videos from professionals was just as valuable to me and my motivation as was actually taking steps on the line - even when that didn't "fit" in my schedule.

  • You may go faster alone, but you'll go much farther together.

Having a change buddy for this challenge made all the difference. My amazing friend Deema was there literally every "step" (sorry couldn't help myself) of the way. From helping me set up the slack line to helping me film a portion of my video, she made the challenge fun. MEC's MVP Kevin and my network of pro friends in BC also played a large part in getting me started and kept me motivated.

  • Achieving the goal isn't the accomplishment. Read that again.

I recently listened to a podcast that discussed the importance of knowing what the driving force was behind your goal. In the podcast, Jason talked about how he had set out to reach a six minute mile milestone. After training for a while, he reached a six minute and nine second time and was disappointed with himself. Then, he realized that hitting the six minute mile was coming from a place of ego, when the personal growth he had achieved by hitting six minutes and nine seconds was the real reward. This little snippet really resonated with me. Reaching five steps on a slack line wasn't about affirmation, it was about the personal strength I gained knowing challenging things are worth doing and doing often.

  • Pick a goal within the goldilocks zone.

I loved this blog on motivation. Particularly the concept of the goldilocks zone. We humans thrive on challenges that are within our optimal zone of difficulty. If a task is too easy, it's boring. If the task is too challenging, it is discouraging. I didn't just jump right into high-lining as thrilling as that would be, because I knew I wouldn't be ready. By taking on challenges that are just beyond our current horizon of capabilities we push and mold ourselves to eventually do what would have once seemed impossible.

So at this point I know you're dying to hear if I actually accomplished the goal, but I want to share some final reflections with you before I do the grand reveal. Hold your drum roll.

When I wasn't making progress after spending a few hours on slacklining when I first started, I became very frustrated with myself. It was hard and I wasn't seeing results. I wasn't being fair to myself. After debriefing with a friend in BC who has highlined over Yosemite, she told me she starts every session by telling herself that she is strong, capable and to stand again in the face of uncertain outcomes is a remarkable achievement. That's a lesson I'm going to take with me whether I'm on the rope or not.

And I absolutely acknowledge, that compared to some challenges people are facing, stepping on a rope and writing about it is trivial. I realize, that we all have our own “lines” in life. Fears we can’t move past, pasts we can’t escape, and traumas we burden. My wish is that we can all reach within ourselves, choosing to move forward, even when we measure our victories in tiny steps. That we get up, and try again, bruises be damned.

The single biggest reflection I gained from this exercise was that self-discipline is often showing up, even when the promise of doing so is only to yourself. Especially when that promise is only to yourself. I’m not sure where I want to take slacklining from here, but I hope I can convince myself to continue putting one step in front of the other no matter where life takes me.

Oh! And by the way, I made it to seven steps ;)