I’ve been reading this awesome book on rock climbing called the “Rock Warrior’s Way – Mental Training for Climbers” by Aarno Ilgner. For rock climbers, you know that climbing is a very challenging sport, not only physically but mentally as well. You are faced by your own fears, all of your physical weaknesses are exposed, you get hurt over and over again, you fall off climbs, you can’t make it up – many reasons some have given up the sport entirely, but we don’t, because of our love for climbing.
Perseverance is key, and whether you wish to apply it to rock climbing or situation in life, I think these first few pointers can definitely change the way you view the challenges ahead and will make you a happier person altogether. Why? Because when we feel like we’ve “failed” we are discouraged and disappointed and this mental state is reflected upon our entire life, affecting our relationships, our performance at work, our health even, making us feel like crap and like we should just give up.
It is important to recognize the work of the Ego. Taking climbing for example, many climbers get to a crag and look around comparing themselves to others even before starting climbing! (we do this unconsciously and in many other social situations as well). The Ego wants to know where it stands, so it drives us to compare ourselves to others, making us feel superior or inferior to those around us. Noticing this is a good first step. Only then we can become the Observer.
Next, we climb. As we take a fall or can’t make it up a climb, we kick the wall, screaming that “this route sucks!”, blaming the belayer, the holds that are too crimpy, our stupid fingers or our weak forearms for not sticking it, etc. Other times we come down the wall in silence but angry and disappointed at our poor performance, pouting and discouraged, telling ourselves that the route is too hard and that we’ll never make it up. The thing is, whatever level you are climbing at, whether a beginner or a 5.12d climber, this happens to all of us. In fact, many of us will choose to stay on easier climbs in order to always succeed and avoid being discouraged… but in doing so, we are also avoiding progress.
So yesterday, I decided to lead up a hard climb (Sausages 5.10b) which I had only ever tried on top rope before. Although I have climbed it at least four times this season already, and many other times in the last years, it has always been a difficult climb for me and I have fallen off many times during each ascent, leaving the crag feeling frustrated. The difference now is not that I am stronger or more experience, it is that my mental state has started to shift. And so, as I fell off the climb the last few times, instead of being discouraged, I asked myself “What did I learn?”.
I lead and fell off the climb over the fourth bolt this time. But instead of being discouraged of not having made it up to the top on lead, I asked myself again “What did I learn?”. Well it turns out that I have learned how to do the first part pretty well because I use to fall over the 3rd bolt before! Now that’s rewarding :) I made it up higher than before and I did all that while on lead. And although I fell, as I came down I was happy and was already thinking about what I had learn that I could apply to my training and my climbing for next time. Not only about the holds and which sequence to work out, but also about which part was challenging for me, what was going on in my mind and in my body while going through these.
So get out there and try again! Don’t think in terms of accomplishments because there are only two possible answers to this : succeeding or failing, and that is not helpful. Instead see what you can learn about yourself, about your abilities, how can you use those holds to your advantage, and finally, what the possibilities are. Remember that there are always possibilities and opportunities waiting for you and that there is only failing if you let your Ego compare yourself to others. Trust in your abilities and believe in yourself, because no one else can do this for you.