HE DISPLAYS the ultimate in courage and daring, risking his life performing the most hair-raising trial bike stunts – from riding the treacherous Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye to teetering on the edge of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.
But Scottish cycling star Danny MacAskill has admitted he is feeling nervous about one public performance – a talk he is taking part in tomorrow in Edinburgh with a leading psychologist, probing the nature of focus and how it can unlock the brain’s potential resulting extraordinary achievements.
MacAskill, who shot to worldwide fame in 2009 as a result of a YouTube clip of him displaying his skills on the streets of Edinburgh went viral with more than 30 million hits, will be appearing in “Tunnel Vision”, with Professor Ian Robertson, founder of the Trinity College Dublin Institute of Neuroscience, as part of the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival.
“Public speaking does not come easily to me, he said. “Appearing in something as big as this is a first for me and I’m quite nervous thinking about it.
“For me, it’s fine to be riding my bike watched by hundreds of people or being filmed in front of the camera for something for millions of people to watch, but sitting in front of a large audience is nerve-racking.
“When I first heard I’d be going on stage with a psychologist, I joked ‘Oh, what if I break down crying on stage?’ But then when I looked into what it was all about, I thought to myself that here was a real chance for me to learn something new and push myself further.”
MacAskill, from Dunvegan on Skye, is a former bicycle mechanic.
He said: “I spend a lot of my time on the bike day to day, like when I was a kid. I ride up to 90 per cent within a comfort zone I’ve built up over the years – it’s the same feeling as a pedestrian walking.
“But when I go outwith that and try something new with possible injury and risk, I have to deal with the fear – and that makes it hard to focus.
“Your brain goes into survival mode and is telling you ‘You don’t want to do this’. But at the same time, I want to push myself and do it.
“The way I do it is try to calm my thoughts and often think back to what I’ve done previously. I say to myself ‘I want this in my life’ and it is almost like a switch which clicks in your brain which pushes you on.
“I get into the way of thinking ‘Nothing is going to stop me’. I also imagine the feeling of disappointment that night if I don’t do it.”
Prof Robertson said the key to focus and overcoming fear was setting goals and giving them full attention.
“Fear is a great motivator. It seems to me that Danny is partly driven by fear of failure; the higher you climb, the more you don’t want to disappoint.
“The thing about controlling fear depends on attention. He does it, it seems to me, by turning his mind from fear to a state of ‘half memory’ and ‘half anticipation’ so that he alters the content of his state of mind. That is brilliant mental control.”
• “Tunnel Vision – Red Bull athlete Danny MacAskill and Professor Ian Robertson”, is at 3pm tomorrow at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Tickets cost £5-£10.