Playing it down

The way we approach a task will have a large influence on how we go about fulfilling it. Our mindset plays a major part in this. Especially if the perception of the task is that it is maybe is routine, boring and/ or low in challenge, we may well have the tendency to play it down…

“It’s only a shitty little cherry tree”

Yes, granted, not every job sets the body pumping adrenaline in the same way, yet I am convinced that if someone is unable to apply work techniques to a small tree in a professional and safe manner, he or she will be equally unable to do so when it comes to larger trees – on the contrary, in fact! What is happening here is that if I fall into this mental pit fall, I am letting the structure dictate my performance: On a small tree this may therefore entice me to cut corners (I won’t bother with a helmet, it’s only a small tree or I won’t bother tying in, it’s hardly worth it), in a larger tree, it may lead to me feeling dominated by the size, width or height of the tree, which in turn may lead to me feeling daunted, or in the worst case, paralysed by the structure.

My approach tends to be to approach every job as a challenge to get things right, to apply my physical tools and those in my mental tool box in the most efficient manner possible – and hey, even if the is “only” a small tree, it is a practicing ground for the next big tree also.

“It’s only a battery powered chainsaw”

If you asked me which I considered more dangerous, a battery-powered top handle saw or a big Stihl MS880, I would struggle to answer the question, as there are many variables in play and there is therefore probably not one correct answer. But without a doubt, we play down the risk of serious injury with light saws at our peril. Especially in light saws the degree of discipline required of the operator to keep both hands on the saw, to diligently activate the chain brake, to take the time to assume a good work position prior to activating the saw is higher than when running larger chainsaws – for purely practical reasons. The saw is lighter and makes less, or in the case of the battery powered models, close to no noise. This has an adverse effect on your perception of risk, as the external danger signs, the black and yellow stripes, so to speak, or the big skull and cross bone sticker is missing, your sense of being at risk decreases. This can lead to corners being cut…

“It’s only a piffling little removal”

This is a trap which is all to easy to fall prey to. In fact, it happened to me just a couple of weeks ago: it was Friday, everybody was feeling a bit run down, the job booked for the day was the removal of a medium-sized black pine. Discussing it in the yard, we decided as it is only a small removal, we would not bother taking all the heavy rigging gear with us, as most of the branches and stem could be dropped anyway. On site, I got myself up the tree, to then realise that there was an over-head tram power line on the far side of the tree and I had also forgotten how close the sidewalk is. Hmmm. Lucky we brought a lowering line with us. I then started quasi-rigging the tree, getting everything down to the ground fine in the end, but in all honesty? It would have been faster and easier if we had simply prepped the whole tree correctly, installing a lowering bollard instead of taking wraps on stubs, attaching a pulley up at the anchor point to allow for fast and efficient lowering rather than natural crotching.

What happened? In my mind I played the job down. The frame of mind I was in when I was preparing for the job had a direct influence on how I was able to perform the work.

The point I am trying to make with these examples is in regards to observing my inner dialogue that when I start saying things like, “It’s only…”, this ought to be a red flag, similar to “That’ll be alright”. Often as not, this kind of underestimation of a situation can easily become the first link in a chain leading towards overload and potential system failure. Do not play down or belittle the task, treat every job with the diligence and professionalism it deserves – if it is easy, all the better! Make the most of the breather and take it as practice for times when you are having to go flat-out, pedal to the metal!

On the same topic, as my brother Tim just pointed out, in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, after King Arthur had chopped his arm off, the Black Knight famously quipped :

“’Tis but a flesh wound!”

Right. What can go wrong?!