What Bungee Jumping Taught Me About Visualization

It's 1:30 in the afternoon and the weather's perfect. The crew at Victoria Falls Bungee have just strapped me in and they've done all the necessary safety checks to ensure I'm good to go. They're now helping me move to the edge of the platform because my ankles are secured with tight straps around two thick layers of folded towels to protect my legs from the jarring they're about to receive. My toes are over the edge, I look out over the Zambezi river and then I hear it..."3-2-1...BUNGEE!"

I jump off the platform with a grin on my face and start screaming WOOHOO!!! I take it all in, my initial weightlessness, my rate of acceleration, the beauty of the cliffside, the rushing water below and finally the deceleration as the bungee saves me from a much shorter life than I would like.

I bounce up and down another half-dozen times before the experience comes to an end. It's the best $157USD I've ever spent, but not just because of the bungee jump. What was even more valuable was the lesson I learned in preparing for this experience.

One Day Earlier

On the morning of August 22nd, my travel buddy Michelle informed me that, due to a tight travel schedule, I would be jumping on August 23rd, not August 24th, as I had initially prepared for. I didn't say anything at the time, but it didn't sit well with me at all. Up to that point, I'd been confident, I'd played out the day in my mind for weeks and I felt in control. This change tipped the scale in fear's favour.

The reality now was that bungee jumping, if it were still on the table, was to happen:

  1. A day earlier than expected.
  2. After a morning flight on a 4-seater bush plane (those are always eventful).
  3. Shortly after we arriving at our lodge (drop our bags, check in and take a shuttle to the bridge).
  4. With no opportunity to get oriented or settled in.

Let's just say that I wouldn't be in my "happy place". 

Later that evening, my friend started speaking enthusiastically about the jump and I stopped her dead in her tracks and informed her that the change made a significant difference to me. The sense we were rushing to get it in and the fact that I felt I had lost some control over the situation changed my jump status from green to amber (with a tinge of red). She struggled to understand and I struggled to explain. 

Processing the Change

I've pulled many crazy stunts over the years (my bucket list does not lie), and bungee was far from the toughest, but I've always needed to feel that I was in control of the variables surrounding the experience, which both ensured I felt safe and that I could enjoy the moment. If anything didn't "feel" right, I'd always give myself permission to walk away, guilt free. I guess you could say that I needed to feel that I was free to participate in the experience, not bullied into getting it done by people or circumstances. 

That night, I thought long and hard about what could happen the next day. I worked through all the variables, old and new, and processed what the day might look like. I thought about the transportation to the new lodge, what clothes I would wear, the bus ride to the bridge, getting a bridge pass at customs (the Zambezi is the natural border between Zimbabwe and Zambia), paying for the jump and finally getting the gear on and everything involved in the jump itself (the sights, the smells, the feel of the wind on my skin, the feeling of the harness, my heart rate). That thought process took the better part of an hour before falling asleep and an hour lying in bed the following morning.

That mental preparation made the difference. There was a calmness about me that morning and, thankfully, Michelle did not bring up the jump. Indeed, her understanding of my need to decide on my own terms may have made the difference.

Getting It Done

Once at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, I changed into my "jumping" clothes, still wavering but getting more comfortable with the idea. Once we had our room keys, I knew that I'd be on that bus. The feeling solidified once on the bridge. Everything felt as it should be. It was almost like déjà vu.

I got to the counter, asked the questions I'd planned to ask, paid and ended up with a number written on my forearm. I was jumper 6427. This was really happening. 

I felt relaxed. I'd made the right decision, thanks to reframing the experience.

From then on, it was pure joy. I was excited, looking forward to it and, most importantly, not scared. I watched five jumpers before me, listened to instructions and focused on taking in everything about the experience. I wanted to remember it all and I can assure you I remember the sights, the smells, the feeling of the body harness and the ankle restraints...everything. I was in the moment. I'd even say that time slowed for me, enabling me to process it all.

The Power of Visualization

I always knew I had a process when confronted with a new experience but I never comprehended the power of that process until I had to work through a "do over" of that preparation. I'd already done the preparation for the jump weeks beforehand but the change in date and circumstances forced me to hit the reset button on my expectations and start from scratch. That forced me to pay attention to what I do before carrying out a big project or new experience that will expand my comfort zone. The key was visualization.

Visualization helps me think I've been somewhere before and done what it is that I'm about to do. I never before appreciated the full power of this process. If anything, going forward I'll use this mental tool more often and more thoroughly, given the positive experiences that result. With practice, I may even be able to get comfortable more quickly and with less effort.

What about you? Do you use visualization as preparation for jumping into new situations and experiences?