This is one of the best posts about mental toughness I have ever read. Although Connor Mollison is writing within the context of mountain climbing he accurately conveys the mental qualities required to climb the mountain you face, be it public speaking, running a marathon, or leading a team for the first time.
Preparing for the climb : mental training techniques
Climb for long enough, and you’ll come to the realization that climbing requires a lot more than physical training and skills. Your mind plays a significant role when it comes to climbing, which is why you should dedicate time to your mental preparation, working through any mental blocks and teaching your mind how to perform in conjunction with your body.
You may think mental training is a waste of time, as the results can be slow when compared to your physical training. Nonetheless, the benefits that can come from psychological training, however gradual or unsubstantial they may seem, will lead to increased tangible progress amongst all climbers of all levels and skill sets.
Face your fears
Climbing can be scary, as you are faced with steep drops and the possibility of real danger. Therefore, one of the best places to start your mental training is by facing your fears. Start by separating what poses an actual risk to what you believe could harm you.
For example, if you’re in the middle of a climb and your body starts seizing up with fear even though you’re not in any imminent danger, stop and ask yourself what you’re really scared of.
As soon as you’ve identified the source of fear, engage your brain in positive self-talk. Tell yourself that the fall isn’t unsafe so that you can carry on, or that those storm clouds are still a long way away.
Fear of falling
One of the most common fears amongst climbers is the fear of falling. While this is a valid fear as there will always be inherent risks, rock climbing can be safe, as long as you take the necessary precautions and assess the risks to minimize the danger.
If you fear falling while on lead, ask yourself “What will happen if I fall? I’ll go for an exciting ride, and it will all be over before I know it.” Fall enough times without any negative impact, and you can diminish your fear of falling with positive reinforcement.
Now, falls can be scary, so you should always train so that you know how to gradually take safe falls. A good way to start is by falling on the top rope, so you are acquainted with how it feels for the rope to catch your weight.
Fear of failing
Fear of failure is common for everyone, not just climbers. Most of us are more comfortable when things turn out as expected, and the possibility of something going wrong is cripplingly daunting. Failing doesn’t have to be a negative, as learning and growth are an integral part of allowing yourself to fail and taking risks.
You need to be willing to fail, as otherwise you won’t ever make progress. As you increase your self-awareness, you also need to direct your attention towards a new way to explore a challenge. So, set yourself a seemingly impossible goal, such as a higher climb than you’ve ever experienced, or a climb that’s three grades harder, and work towards it.
It may not be possible at that moment, but you won’t know unless you’ve tried and possibly failed. If you do fail, let your body and your mind experience the sensation, then analyze what happened, reflect on the incident and move on as a more knowledgeable person.
Without facing your fear of failure head-on and getting out of your comfort zone, you’ll never redpoint your next difficult route and take a risk. Keep in mind that climbing entails a lot of failures, and that is all part of the process. And remember, if you fail, that does not mean you are a failure.
Practice mental toughness
Grabbing the wrong piece of gear or fumbling a clip can be a big distraction on a climb. Be hard on yourself and a series of small errors can end up breaking you down and soon enough, you’re frustrated back on the ground. If you don’t practice mental toughness, these mistakes can end up snowballing into more significant issues such as subpar performance, and anxiety. Therefore, it matters how you deal with these situations, as they can be opportunities for progress or massive setbacks.
Often, you may have an unrealistic expectation of your performance, as you think that climbing should be flawless. Your physical effort, mental strength, and technical skill needed to be perfect. The thing is, perfection is impossible. If your mental strength diminishes every time you make a small technical error, you won’t be able to reach your full potential. Therefore, start with the realization that perfection is unachievable, and minor mistakes don’t have to decrease your intensity.
Mental toughness doesn’t mean ignoring your mistakes. Own them, so you don’t create doubts and lose confidence in yourself. Immediately realize your mistake, take a deep breath, relax, and then focus your energy on acknowledging it and then calm down. Don’t spiral into self-doubt, instead set your mind to learn from it and move past it.
Learn how to separate performance from self-worth
How valuable you feel is dictated by your self-worth, and lots of climbers fall into the trap of measuring their self-esteem based on their performance. When you interconnect your value with climbing, you start to get an overwhelming need to succeed so you can feel validated, meaning a great climbing day will equal elation and a poor climb leads to anxiety and diminished self-esteem. This mindset decreases the joy that comes from climbing, which should come from climbing itself, not from the outcome.
To separate your performance from your self-worth, always keep in mind why you love climbing: the challenge, problem-solving, and movement. Focus on appreciating the positives and don’t let the day’s outcome validate you as a person.
When you genuinely believe in yourself and your abilities, your climbing will be positively impacted. Something may feel or look impossible, but you need to believe that it could be possible, and take the risk.
Add some positive self-talk to your climbing routine. Some mantras could be “Stay calm,” “You’ve can do this,” or “You’re brave and strong.” No one can hear your thoughts, so use any phrase that positively motivate you. And as much as possible, remove negative phrases and words from your brain. Abolish any thoughts that contain won’t, can’t, or no. Instead of thinking “I can’t make this move,” train your brain to think “I haven’t done this” instead.
While climbing, it’s vital that you learn how to stay in the moment and be present. When you stay in the moment, you are able to stay tuned and alert to any potential risks or dangers, reduce any distractions and focus on what you need to do. As much as possible, keep your mind from wandering, as thinking of something that happened earlier that day or what you need to pick up from the grocery store is not helping you to visualize what your next move should be.
Remaining present also means not getting ahead of yourself. You may have pulled off a tricky move successfully, but don’t celebrate just yet. There will be plenty of time for a self-congratulatory session once you’ve reached the top.
Learn how to redpoint a route
When you’re at your mental and physical limit, red pointing a route can seem like an impossible task. To do so, you need a multitude of specific approaches and strategies, so always climb as if you’re trying to send the route, and avoid climbing as if you’re just trying not to fall.
Take each climb as an opportunity to learn something new, control your breathing, and stay focused. When you truly learn to value the process of climbing itself instead of just focusing on the outcome, you will see a gain in your performance, and in your overall experience.
For more on mental training techniques and building mental toughness contact us.