Now that's what I call reframing...

I was amazed watching Felix Baumgartner on 14th October 2012.

The 43 year old professional skydiver and daredevil performed a great human feat when he jumped from a balloon at 128,100 feet – that’s 24 miles – over 20,000 feet higher than the previous record set by Joe Kittinger in 1960 (Kittinger ran ‘Mission Control’ for Baumgartner), it is about 4 times the height of Mt. Everest, about 3 times higher than you could ever expect to fly in a commercial aircraft, higher than any powered aircraft (other than a space rocket) has flown. He reached 834 mph as he fell.

Now this guy has a history of what some might call, well, lunacy – he has held the record for jumping off the world’s tallest building, as well as performing the lowest base jump, the guy has guts or a total lack of regard for his own safety…probably both, that’s what I thought at least.

I watched the recent BBC documentary, ‘Space Dive’, about him and his record attempt because I was fascinated with what he had done and to learn a bit more about him.

I loved watching the jump of course, but one section fascinated me the most.

Felix really hated his suit.

He developed a fear of his suit.  This was essentially a space suit, far more cumbersome and uncomfortable than his usually skydiving wear, a tough piece of kit that cost $1 million to make.  The suit is pressurized, to stop the blood boiling and bodily fluids oozing from every orifice and pore at the extreme low pressure experienced at that altitude.  As the pressure reduces, the harder the suit gets and the more difficult it is to move.

In a practice jump, from only 28,000 feet, one of his colleagues who was supposed to be filming him suffered hypoxia.  Passing out through lack of oxygen he fell from the side of the aircraft and plunged to the ground.  He came round in time to pull his parachute, but it was a close shave.  Felix was freaked by the incident and upon landing he immediately began to focus on how unsuitable his pressure suit was, the suit became the focal point of all of his negative feelings about that experience and the fears with himself.  He became convinced he could not jump in his suit…

It looked like this mission was over for him.

‘It feels like I cant do it, it is just too much…I have just 20 hours of time in this suit, it is not enough…just having the suit on my body…just the smell made me feel anxious, I’m telling myself I have to do it, I have to tough it out… but I have to get out of the suit, I just can't do it today.’

The mission carried on without him and a professional test pilot was brought in to perform safety tests on the flight capsule, he even wore Felix’s suit to do so.  Felix saw the footage, and felt jealous, someone in his suit, pressing the buttons in his capsule.  He had wanted this for his whole life and realized he had to do something.  He got into training.  Felix swam, for hours, in a full scuba suit, it created the nearest sensation to having the pressurized suit enveloping his body, he stepped up his physical fitness regime and worked on his mental condition.

Dress rehearsal

He got himself ready and after a year away from the programme returned for a full ‘dress-rehearsal’ in a low-pressure chamber simulating a maximum height of 125,000 feet.  This involved 4 hours in the suit, doing all the things he would have to do in flight…including 2 hours of being sat there do nothing, isolated, only his own mind – and fears – for company.

‘That last time, I was putting the helmet on, just the smell of the rubber made me feel so bad.  This time everything was totally different, the same smell, but I related it to something else, the biggest link I created was:

"Where you’re going to go, you should not be there. But, as soon as you wear that suit, it allows you to be there, it's the only way you can survive that hostile environment."

Just by thinking about that, it changes the whole situation…’

Now that’s a way to re-frame - nothing has changed, everything is just as safe and just as risky as it was before – he’s now just as likely to survive, or just as likely to die as he was before – the odds haven’t changed, but now he can do it, he can at least try to make all of the previous work worthwhile, to fulfill his dreams!