Most people who watched the Channel 4 documentary Don’t Look Down on Sunday 19th January will be well aware of James Kingston’s name now. It is safe to say this guy is obsessed with unprecedented adrenalin crane/building climbs which truly makes for an uneasy watch. The backlash on Twitter considered the airing of the programme as careless in the way it sensationalises something which should only be left to the minor, irrepressible few individuals who crave the feeling of accomplishing new and different buildings. But James also reveals an extremity of a character type who seeks challenges, can we not all learn something from him in order to enrich our daily lives?
James Kingston’s ethos is that in order to grow and to live he needs to challenge himself on a daily basis. I once read somewhere that an enriched life is one where you overcome challenges, if possible, on a daily basis. The documentary was overfilled to the brim with footage of people tightrope walking along a pole raised 100ft in the air or the crazy Ukrainian, Mustang Wanted, daringly holding a pole with just one hand. Even talking about it now reminds me of the nervous tingling I felt watching it. What was clear with James was that he was compelled to free climb, at times he doesn’t really get a buzz from it, which reflects an adrenalin addiction – needing to seek a bigger or higher challenge each time. The real incentive for James, in my opinion, is to remind himself what it feels to be alive, the way he’s just chilling whilst holding a pole like a trapeze ironically shows him in a complete state of calm.
This is what lead me to look into the programme as an example of a thought process, the nature of risk-taking. We have evolved to avoid tension and risk and yet there are a crazy bunch of people out there who are the exception to the trend, for them, they are drawn towards risk and danger. In other words, there are some people who like to tempt fate while most of us unknowingly wait for fate to hit our lives. Risk taking is defined by some researchers as “engaging in any activity with an uncertain outcome” which completely runs full circle with something James said about the excitement of not knowing what’s round the corner. For only one minute of me watching this documentary, did I suddenly feel insanely jealous of this guy.. he is taking complete control of his life, confronting danger head on and holding up the finger. By contrast, I suddenly have this image of the remainder of the UK’s population working in a factory like the Despicable Me minions, waiting to be grabbed by a fate-picker and sucked away.
The need to take a risk is characterised most obviously in the free-climbers, even the roped climbers, snowboarders, skydivers – the list is endless, you catch my drift. The question is, how we can normaltons take risks on a daily basis? What simple acts can we do to make us feel alive? I’m really really really not referring to any kind of professional risk, this is about putting yourself out of your comfort zone in your personal life. My attitude towards risk taking is the best I feel I can offer given my lifestyle, my home and my personality. I take on challenges like giving blood, going to a new club, going out to a bar with a group full of people where I only know one person. on the offset, it sounds comparatively weaker than the old crane climb but actually, if you were to put yourself in a busy bar on Saturday night where you’re scanning the room for that one person you recognise, you actually need to have some balls to have gotten there in the first place.
I also take on physical challenges, I used to be a sprinter constantly pushing my body to be quicker over a short distance and then I went and ran a half marathon last year, I did a sky dive (in tandem) from 16,000ft and I asked to be the first one to jump. I compare how hard the person next to me in circuits is working and crank up my own workout to ensure I’m also busting a gut. Challenges also face us in unexpected encounters, the friends we make, or existing friends who test the friendship, it could be a romantic challenge where you’re faced with an internal battle to continue pursuing them or give it up and turn away from the challenge all together as a defence mechanism. Sometimes, in hindsight, a challenge isn’t worth taking and an assessed judgment leads you to turn it down – this is down to our personality types and how volatile we are to this (read about personality types here). Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’ is all about the way in which we make a snappy decision depending on our gut reaction, I think this is deeply wired in with our assessment of risk, we make an educated judgement and this is where the ultimate link of head over heart (or vice versa) kicks in.
I think challenges are obviously a way of life but we need to be prone to accepting them and not letting it wear a chip in our shoulders. Challenges are impromptu life events that you were unknowingly picked for, they may hit when you’re least expecting it, you might not have climbed up a tall building but you still feel like you’ve fallen 100ft at 300mph. If risk has an improbable outcome, then why not play a lottery with the future instead of letting the fates pick you.. embrace it, become tough skinned to failure and stronger from a lesson learnt. To conclude, the only battle is your mind itself, James says in the show something which is suddenly as clear as day about how much our mind dominates in risk, ‘Hanging off a bar 10ft of the ground is exactly the same as hanging off a bar 100ft off the ground.. the only difference is it’s in your head’.
Watch the #dontlookdown documentary on 4OD (click here)