“Focus on your goal”, Jeb Corliss and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Focus on your goal. Focus on what you want to achieve. Focus on the steps you need to take in order to achieve the task at hand. When climbing Everest you can’t look at the top of the mountain. You need to just put one foot in front of the other and do it step […]

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Focus on your goal. Focus on what you want to achieve. Focus on the steps you need to take in order to achieve the task at hand. When climbing Everest you can’t look at the top of the mountain. You need to just put one foot in front of the other and do it step by step. Once you put all those thousands of steps together you will find yourself at the top.

As a part of our series about How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeb Corliss.

For as long as he can remember, Jeb Corliss has dreamed of flying. One of his earliest memories came when he was 6 and sitting in the back of his aunt’s car watching birds jump from telephone poles, opening their wings and soaring. “When I get older, I’m going to do that,” he said. His aunt explained that when he got older he would realize that humans can’t fly. “Maybe you can’t,” he replied, “but I’m going to.”

Sure enough, Corliss has dedicated his life to human flight, and in so doing often makes the seemingly impossible a reality. He is one of the world’s foremost and best-known BASE-jumpers and wingsuit pilots. BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span (bridges) and Earth (cliffs) all objects practitioners leap from using a parachute.

In 20 + years, Corliss has made more than 2,000 jumps, from the likes of the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Falls in Venezuela, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and into a half-mile deep cave in China. He hasn’t simply leapt off and pulled his parachute, though. To add an extra layer of challenge, push the bounds of his ability, and further slice the razor slim margin for error, he has performed acrobatic maneuvers — twists, somersaults, and gainers — during freefall.

More recently he discovered the thrills and challenge of BASE-jumping with wingsuits, flying along some of the most stunning and dangerous mountain terrain. In the nearest approximation of human flight yet, wingsuits (which are more flying squirrel than bird or plane) allow the best pilots to trace the contours of cliffs, ridges, and mountainsides at high speed. All of which makes for an incredible spectacle: In July 2011, Corliss flew feet from the ground in the Swiss Alps, an event captured on camera and broadcast on ABC’s 20/20. Two months later, in September, Corliss swooped through an arch in the side of China’s iconic Tianmen Mountain, in front of a live television audience of millions.

From childhood, Corliss’s life has been characterized by adventure, flirtation with danger, and testing the parameters of his fear. Delivered by a New Zealand bush doctor in a house near Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was born on March 25, 1976, into an unconventional life. His parents were international artifacts dealers and with their three children in tow, they traveled the world. By the time he was 6, Corliss had lived in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, where his parents were scouting for art when the Soviets invaded in 1979.

As Corliss and his sisters approached school age, though, his family returned to New Mexico. Still, they continued to move frequently and Corliss found himself in a succession of schools. Always the new kid, he made few friends and was a frequent target of bullies. These experiences reinforced growing feelings of isolation and restlessness. For diversion, Corliss captured rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders in the desert near his home and made them his pets and playmates. The sensations he got from such close proximity to fearsome creatures gave Corliss his feeling for life.

Although he has a fondness for most animals, Corliss especially enjoys sharks. At 16 he discovered SCUBA diving and soon began diving with sharks because he was fascinated by them and they frightened him. In 2008 he realized a dream, diving unprotected by a cage and petting a Great White shark off the coast of Mexico.

Soon after discovering SCUBA, Corliss witnessed BASE for the first time while watching TV. He saw a man step to the edge of a cliff, stick out his tongue, step off, and perform a gainer. The experience stirred such powerful feelings, he vowed to himself: That’s my future. I’m going to do that for the rest of my life and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

It would not be easy. When he turned 18, Corliss began skydiving in preparation for BASE-jumping. Three years later, he finally completed a BASE training course and made his first jump from a bridge in Northern California.

By jumping Corliss discovered a joy and purpose that had been absent in his life, and was filled with a sense of accomplishment. He had made his dreams come true, completing a goal he set for himself years earlier. Still, there were always more challenges and projects to fire his imagination.

Corliss’s stunts and his unyielding approach to life never fail to fascinate. He has been the subject of profiles published in The New York Times, Outside, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Air & Space, Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone. He has been featured on television in the United States and abroad, including 60 Minutes in Australia, ESPN’s E:60, Real Sports on HBO, Today, The Colbert Report, Good Morning America and Conan. Corliss has been featured in popular BASE documentaries such as A Year in the Life, Journey to the Center, Fearless, The Human Bird, Heavens Gate and The Flying Dagger to name a few. He also hosted the first season of Stunt Junkies on The Discovery Channel and was a technical advisor on the remake of Point Break. When he is not traveling the world, Corliss lives in Vista, California.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/c63261755a363d2bbc5b836c2df4548a

Thank you so much for doing this with us Jeb! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My parents were art dealers that collected art from places like Nepal, India and Afghanistan so most of my childhood was spent traveling around the world with them. I had been around the world three times by the age of 7. I think that early experience is what planted the seeds for high adventure within me.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

Becoming a professional athlete wasn’t something I was aspiring to become. It just kind of happened. I saw a documentary about B.A.S.E. jumping when I was 16 and decided instantly it was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. The idea of flying and seeing the world from a birds eye perspective fascinated me. The thought of earning a living from it didn’t even cross my mind. I had no idea it was even a possibility. I just started training and did it because it became a passion. Over time people started paying me to do it and I kind of just fell into doing it professionally.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Hands down without a doubt it was my mother. She has always been my biggest supporter and without her helping me there is no way I could have achieved what I have. Not only did she give me life but she showed me how taking risks in life is the only way to achieve truly great things. All the magic happens outside your comfort zone.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Unfortunately mistakes in my profession usually aren’t very funny but they are always interesting. I was jumping from a 300ft waterfall in South Africa when I had a malfunction that sent me directing into the raging torrent flowing over the cliff. As I hit the waterfall it sucked me in collapsing my parachute and sending me behind a wall of water. I looked down and saw I was going to hit a ledge of rock at high speed in a sitting position. As I impacted I couldn’t believe a human body could hit something that hard and continue to live. My back was shattered in three places. My ribs were crushed and my sternum was broken. I fell an unknown distance from that point impacting the pool of water beneath the falls head first. I was eaten alive by animals for 3 hours while I waited for a rescue team to get to me. I ended up spending 6 weeks laying on my back in a South African hospital before I could be air-vacked back to the USA for further treatment. As horrible as this accident was it may have been one of the most important things that ever happened in my life. It’s a complicated story why and would fill a book to explain properly but in simple terms it saved me. It showed me how simple choices can have profound impacts. It humbled me and helps me realize how precious time was. It made me realize any day you are not in physical pain is a beautiful day.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

My advice is don’t. If you can find happiness doing anything else in your life do what ever that is. B.A.S.E. jumping is dangerous and it kills people. There is no justification for the major majority of people to do it period. Having said this there are a few people with minds that work in a special way that can’t find happiness doing anything else. If you are one of these rare individuals then my only advice to you is train hard. Take your time. Build up your skill slowly. Skydive as much as you can to prepare. Do hundred if not thousands of jumps before you even think about beginning your B.A.S.E. training. Take it seriously. Pretend your life depends upon it, because it does.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We have been working with the Chinese government for many years on doing a live show from the tallest building in Shanghai China. We would like to exit the tallest building with a wingsuit and then fly through a hole in the financial center building across the street. The logistics of the project are complex and the permitting process difficult. We would have to shut down large portions of the city center and controlling crowds of hundreds of thousands of people will be challenging. But the challenge is what makes the project important. When ever you are able to pull off something like this it helps people understand their are no limits. The human spirit is only limited by its own imagination.

OK, thank you for all of that. Lets now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

The first strategy is to prepare properly. You must train for the task at hand. Many people just want to do things without first putting in the time to actually get good at whatever it is they are trying to do. These things take time and in many cases it can take years before you will be properly prepared for any given task. So number one train your ass off. Second, once you have put in the proper training and can actually accomplish the task at hand now you have to deal with the overwhelming stress that can accompany doing it. My job involves death and that can create high levels of fear. I have a few mental things I go through in order to control that emotion. One is an ancient samurai technique. I go into the task accepting my own death. I realize death is a natural part of life that all living things must one day experience. Once I accept death as a possible outcome of my actions and I accept that this task is worth sacrificing my life for the feeling of fear seems to fade away and I am then capable of dealing with the task at hand with a clear mind. My next mental process is to insure all variables I can control are within acceptable perimeters. Winds, altitudes, controlling traffic, organizing people and resources. Once all these things are sorted it helps bring calm to my mind and I am then totally prepared to perform at optimal levels.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I have been doing yoga for over 20 years so the answer is yes. Deep breathing mixed with metal visualization of what I am about to do helps me perform much better.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Strong visualization helps me focus on what I am about to do. The more complex the task the more visualization I do. Sometime I visualize a task for years before I end up actually doing it. By the time I get there I have already done in hundreds of times in my minds eye. That makes it feel less foreign when the time actually come to do it for real.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

I do at least 1 hour of cardio at least 5 times a week mixed with an hour of strength training 4 times a week. I also have started doing interment fasting. I only eat for 8 hours during the day and fast for 16 hours. This has helped me keep my weight down. In my sport weight is not a good thing.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Everything I do raps around the idea of training mental toughness. For me become strong mentally is the single most important thing. Once you have control over your own mind everything else comes easy. I use repetition and visualization to help me prepare for the things I do. I have never thought of it in terms of habits but I guess that is as good a word as any to describe it. I like to think of it as focus and determination.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Passion is the single best way to create good habits. Once a person finds something they are truly passionate about then all the things they need to do in order to be with the thing that they are passionate about come naturally. If you are doing something you are truly passionate about then it doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t seem hard to do the things you need to do in order to achieve that goal you have passion for.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

Flow state goes by many different names. Some call it time distortion. Others call is the now. My entire job raps around these concepts all the time and may very well be the entire point of doing these activities. For me I like to think of flow states as the now. The moment you connect with the reality you are living in. Some monks spend decades trying to find this place without achieving it. What I do forces you to enter this state. It’s not something you can fake. When you do something that you know will 100% kill you if you make a mistake does something special to your mind. You can not think about tomorrow because it may never come. You don’t think about yesterday because it no longer matters. All your mind can focus on is the next second. All adrenaline, all endorphins, all everything your body has to give is released in an attempt at keeping you alive. This puts your mind on hyper drive and speeds up the way you process information. This makes it feel like time distorts and everything seems to flow. To me this is the entire point of life. To connect to the reality in which we live.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I have been doing yoga for two decades. I use deep breathing along with visualization to help keep my mind calm before doing truly scary things.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

Focus on your goal. Focus on what you want to achieve. Focus on the steps you need to take in order to achieve the task at hand. When climbing Everest you can’t look at the top of the mountain. You need to just put one foot in front of the other and do it step by step. Once you put all those thousands of steps together you will find yourself at the top.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am not sure if anything I have done has brought goodness into the world. I guess you would have to ask others this question about me. I have just tried to do the best job I can with any task put in front of me. If what I do has inspired someone else to live their life in a slightly better way than that would make me happy.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“My time in this world is limited but the things I can do with that time are not.” This is self explanatory.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Elon Musk, because he is a genius and a visionary.

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