Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 4 (HARD)


Fear of Failure and Fear of Success (II)

As discussed in the previous entry, fear of failure obviously can inhibit your climbing performance outcomes and enjoyment of the process, both. And its less-common cousin, fear of success, can do the same as well. In addition to the two fear of failure situations covered last time, fear of failure can also freeze you in the moment, making you uncertain and unwilling to “go for it” on a route when you’re in danger of failing/falling, refusing to leave rests on routes even long after they’ve ceased to be restful, and actually sabotaging your send if you allow the fear to permeate and take over your body as you climb. This happens when people blow it on the easy ground going to the anchors due to total mental breakdown, for example. I’ll talk more about ways to work through this on-route fear-of-failure mentality in part six in this series: On The Climb.

Of course, whatever choices you make in climbing, it’s personal and up to you, meaning that nobody else has the right to judge your own decisions – so if you enjoy sending everything all the time and don’t want to push into the zone of discomfort or possible not sending, that’s your choice. If it makes you happy and satisfied, do it. Ditto for choosing routes that you have no hope of ever sending – if that makes you happy, do that. But if you’re being motivated to do either because of a deeply held fear of failure, and that makes you unhappy and impairs you from making the performance/ability progress that you want to make, then it might be worth examining your choices and either pushing yourself a little harder, or giving yourself something a little easier to try to put together now and again. A big part of enjoying this process is adjusting your mentality to not equating sending with succeeding (i.e. as the only worthy goal in your climbing experience), and all else as failure…or alternately, as viewing only climbs of a certain grade as worthy of your attention and happiness should you send. If you try your hardest on any given day of climbing, you’ve succeeded. Period.

Fear of success is less common, but it’s worth checking in with yourself to make sure that you’re not subconsciously holding yourself back from succeeding on climbs, too. Why would someone do this? Fear of expectations of future performances from both self and others is a big cause of fear of success; if you set the bar at a certain standard, then if you’re unable to achieve that standard again, you will suffer future disappointment, so perhaps you instead sabotage your own performance now. If you climb a 13a, will 12c ever mean anything again? It should, if it’s hard for you, and you’re challenged by the route…but if you’re scared that sending a 13a will render it not an accomplishment, you might fear success. (Though, for top enjoyment, you should really never think that sending a certain grade makes other “lesser” grades not worth your time/attention, even if those lower grades are attached to routes that challenge you more). People can also fear succeeding on a long-term project because it means they have to embark on a whole new journey with another climb once they’re done, and starting anew can be daunting. And of course, a positive competition outcome can put more pressure on future performances in competitions, which can lead to underperforming to avoid such pressure in the future.

Fear of success is best combatted by staying in the present moment with yourself and not allowing your mind to wander forward into, “What if?” scenarios. And, of course, the more you let go of grades/outcomes as a measure of your success and instead self-assess honestly how difficult particular routes are for you and how hard you tried, the less you will care about the number/letter attached to any particular route you attempt, whether as an onsight effort or a long-term project, and the less you’ll need to send to feel satisfied with your climbing, too. This mentality and approach requires practice and discipline, of course. In the next entry, I’ll talk about positive thinking and visualization, both of which
can help you avoid getting bogged down by fears while you climb.

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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