Spill Some Milk

Photo by M Yashna / CC BY

Photo by M Yashna / CC BY

Back when I was a ski instructor in Colorado, I learned an amazing technique for helping me to perceive things differently. I call it Spilling Milk, and I still use it in many areas of my life.

About ten of us instructors were taking a clinic to improve our own skiing and teaching from a master instructor named Milt. We were all expert skiers, but Milt took us away from our favorite double black diamonds and brought us to a long, flat beginners run. “Pretend that you are holding a pail filled with milk,” he directed. “Visualize swinging this pail of milk over your head so that you don’t spill a drop. This is what you all do when you ski fast.”

“Now slow down your swinging motion until the milk starts to fall out of the pail at the top of your swing,” he instructed. “You'll see that the forces you generate with speed can no longer cover up errors. This is what I want you to do with your skiing—go slow and discover what happens.”

We all began to ski in slow motion. What happened next was truly amazing: some of us lost our balance and fell over, others overcorrected trying catch themselves. If you’d been watching us from the chairlift that day—ten skiers in red and blue instructors’ uniforms, flailing like beginners down a very easy slope—you would have probably thought, “I think I’ll take lessons somewhere else.”

Just as the centrifugal forces generated by swinging a pail of milk can mask the natural law of gravity, skiing fast generates forces that easily masked errors in our stance, foundation, and turns. When we slowed down, subtle errors became glaringly obvious. We discovered that when our feet were too close together we would lose balance and tip over at certain points in the turn. When our shoulders initiated a movement instead of our feet we would compensate with another error. We learned that we had to ski slow in order to get better at skiing fast.

Intentionally slowing down in the areas of your life where you are typically proficient can help you to find the weak spots that you usually cover up with speed. Slowing down creates the humble condition in which you see the world through the eyes of a beginner, or a child. This is the prerequisite for growth. It is how we begin to see things as they really are.

Slow way down today and see what happens. Spill some milk.