STEP FORWARD INTO GROWTH, OR STEP BACKWARD INTO STAGNATION
Assessing risk is a critical skill. When I’m pushing myself, whether in the gym or outside, I try to constantly assess risks whether it’s focusing on where my feet are in relationship to the rope, how far I am going to fall, where I will hold my three points of contact in order to clip, loose rock, etc.
I am drawn to climbing because it pushes me out of my comfort zone. It teaches me how to approach problems and create solutions. I seek climbs that make me fall because that means I am being challenged. This means I am going to learn something and consequentially grow. Growth is not always cut and dry. Sometimes it means falling over and over and over again. Sometimes it means not getting the redpoint on your project before the sun sets. When I climb at my max it means I am utilizing every skill that I have acquired. Whatever is called upon, or deemed necessary by the climb in that very moment, I strive to execute.
Early in my climbing career I took falling very seriously. I made it a practice to fall. I wanted to confront my irrational fears because I knew it would make me a stronger climber and as a result, a stronger human. When we confront our fears, we see ourselves differently. When I started falling more and more, and jumping on harder routes that were seemingly out of my "pay grade", I began feeling more confident. At one point I would jump on a hard climb and slowly, but surely, get one clip higher than before. This built up my belief in myself. It built inside me a belief that what once was impossible is now possible. The moment we begin questioning our own idea of impossible is the moment windows and doors open.
It has not always been easy to take falls. Irrational fears would well up inside me causing me to take falls under a false mind. A mind that was unwilling and begrudging. I would hold my breath and see a blur as I went down the wall. I have come a long way in my mental training to be able to feel present when working hard routes. It is my continuous practice to redirect my thoughts away from “oh no, I feel like I might fall,” and move them towards “breathe and climb.” Instead of zeroing in on my arms feeling pumped, I zero in on the next foot placement or hand hold.
If I have assessed the risk, and I am physically doing everything that the climb calls for, then I am giving my all. And that is all I can do.
Once I assess the risk of a climb, the next step is to make a choice. To begin the climb or not. If I choose to climb the route then I must banish all thoughts of fear and worry from my mind, because it is irrelevant at that point. There is no more thinking to be done once we have made up our minds to climb. The only thing left to do is... climb.
This is very similar to the Zen mantra, “breathe and be”. There is really nothing else more necessary for any moment besides breathing and being. So, when you are climbing, just breathe and be.
When I am working a project that calls on all of my energy, all of my muscle, all of my focus, the only thing that gets in the way of me climbing the route is my head. If I’m not falling, I’m not learning. When I don’t want to, when my body feels tired, when my mind says you are getting pumped, when I look up and the next rest looks too far, when I look down and can’t find a decent foothold, that’s when I am pushing my limit. That’s when I am gaining momentum in my performance because I am leaving my comfort zone. It means I am being challenged and I am responding to the challenge. You may think you have no choice in how you respond, but you do.
Mental training is just as important as strength, or technique.
I have been considering lately the reason why I climb. The other day someone said climbing is sketchy and that’s what is so thrilling about it. But I don’t climb because it’s sketchy, in fact, I try to make my climbing as least sketchy as possible. Climbing for me means that I am constantly proving myself wrong. There have been many times throughout my climbing career that I have told myself that the move or sequence I want to get through is impossible. Since making commitments to falling over and over and over again, I have trained my mind to believe in possibilities. Instead of thinking to myself, I am probably going to fall if I go for the next move, I try to think to myself, go for the next move because it might stick. It’s not about getting scared, it’s about pushing your limits.
Push forward into growth, or backward into stagnation.
If you find yourself on a climb and you are overwhelmed with stress from thoughts of irrational fear, remind yourself to breathe deeply. Remind yourself that you have already done all of the thinking. We cannot stop our thoughts, but we can put them at bay. Make a conscious decision to open up space for thoughts that are focused on the moment. When thoughts of stress and fear bubble to the surface, let them come, but quickly tuck them away to reflect on after you are done climbing. We must train our minds just as we train our bodies. Our minds think they know everything, but oftentimes our bodies can perform better than we think.
If we allow space for in the-moment-focus and breathing, we will become clearer, calmer, and as a result, more efficient, when attempting climbs at our limit.