Firstly, can we please marvel at the fact that Will Smith is 50? The man is a ball of youthful energy and it seemed like just a short few years ago he rocked up to stay with his Aunt and Uncle in Bel Air. He's following in a long line of Hollywood leading men who simply refuse to age or slow down, and if his half-century celebrations are anything to go by, he'll be kicking around like a Fresh Prince for years to come.
To mark the momentous occasion, Mr. Smith flew his family out to the Grand Canyon... seems normal for a typical American family right? Well not exactly, because that's where the normalities end. Will then chartered a helicopter out over the middle of the canyon, only to bungee jump out. As you do.
"Anytime I'm scared of something, I feel compelled to attack it," said Smith in the lead up to the jump. And in that single quintessentially Smith-like statement actually goes a long way to explaining the longevity of his career, and the levels of success the film icon has experienced. At least that's what science is saying.
“Moderate stress enhances learning," explains Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival, a book that examines the neuroscience behind fear. "When two neurons fire together, they become wired together….So risk is an integral part of life and learning. A baby who doesn’t walk, for example, will never risk falling. But in exchange for taking that risk, he gains the much greater survival advantage of being bipedal and having his hands free.”
According to further research from the Texas A&M University, adventure sports bungee jumping and white-water rafting all induce cortisol and epinephrine, aka adrenaline, at a level higher than any workplace or mundane social situation. Activities that are more physically and mentally stressful assist your body in reacting well to everyday stresses, suggests the team.
“Mindset impacts emotion, which alters biology, which increases performance. Thus, it seemed, by tinkering with mindset — using everything from physical to psychological to pharmacological interventions — one could significantly enhance performance.” suggests Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.
The book is yet another resource that suggests elite performers in all areas of life (this definitely includes Will Smith) continually seek to harness their emotions, such as fear. So should you follow suit?
While your access to both a helicopter and the Grand Canyon may be limited, science and statistics seem to say a resounding 'yes'. In terms of safety, only 1 in 500,000 bungee jumps results in a fatality. While that seems high, it's extremely low and unlikely. For perspective, you're 5 times more likely to die during a dance party... true story.