“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
In the spring after the rain stopped falling here, I felt pretty psyched and strong. I felt like I was climbing well. It’s always such a great feeling! I made significant progress, both in training and on routes that challenged me, had a few sends, and the summer seemed very, very promising.
However, the climbing gods had other plans for me this summer – somewhere during the heat, visitors, events, and a buildup of tweaks and twinges in my body, my psych took a hike, and I found myself more than once wondering if I even liked rock climbing any more.
This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m certain it will not be the last.
After all, 2016 marks my 24th year of climbing. Sustaining a passion for two and half decades will inevitably have its ups and downs. I feel like in a way we’re not supposed to admit that this happens, but the reality is that it does happen, to many of us.
So now, as I move from my summer doldrums back into feeling more psyched (and notably this is happening as the summer heat is starting to fade!), I put together some thoughts to share about what I’ve learned about weathering the down times. Hopefully, this will help you get through those unmotivated times that will almost inevitably strike you if you’re involved in climbing (or another sport or recreational activity) as a lifelong passion or endeavor.
- Unless you’re injured, don’t stop training or climbing or all physical activities entirely. It will make it that much more difficult to get back into shape if and when you do feel stoked again. Oftentimes people have suggested that I “take some time off” completely, but I quickly learned long ago that starting back from being totally out of shape is not that fun. Stay active.
- On the other hand, don’t force yourself to continue doing exactly what you’ve been doing at the same pace as you have been doing it. Burnout and loss of psych often stem from overdoing it, overtraining or accumulating fatigue. The more you force yourself to do something that is supposed to be fun but isn’t fun for you right now, the less likely you are to rediscover your fire for it anytime soon.
- No matter what season it is (even if it’s prime climbing season where you live), consider shaking things up and redirecting your climbing focus. For me, diving into a training cycle with less climbing and more training often helps. You can also change the style of climbing you are into, if that’s an option for you (i.e. switch from sport to bouldering, or vice versa). If this doesn’t work, try this:
- Feel free to pursue some other activities that interest you (physical or not), and spend way, way less time climbing or training for climbing. While you don’t want to “lose everything” (refer back to the first item on this list), you don’t need to continue climbing and training as much. Don’t feel guilty about it. Enjoy the break.
- As far as climbing goes, aim for maintenance and mitigating any fitness/strength losses. Even one or two sessions a week of efficient, climbing-focused training can be enough for you to not lose much, if anything.
- Don’t fret about where your psych went or worry that it won’t return. It will, or it won’t. Expending time and energy worrying about it and wondering why you’ve lost it doesn’t usually help. I used to get really freaked out and distressed when I felt my passion for climbing dwindle – but for me, it has always rekindled at some point. This doesn’t rule out the possibility that it won’t, but nowadays I tend to have faith that I’ll always find the love again…and if or when I don’t, then it will be time to move on.
- Giving your whole being the time and space it needs to recover – physically, mentally and emotionally – is usually quite effective for helping recover the passion for your activity. Don’t put yourself on a timeline in terms of when you must feel ready and stoked to climb or train intensely again. Let your love for climbing guide you through the cycles of your psych and your life. Honor yourself when you need a break without any negative self-judgment.
- View the time away from climbing as productive and helpful in the big picture. Understand that most sports have an off-season, and that giving your body (and your whole being) a break from intensive training and climbing can be helpful in healing micro-injuries or any aches and pains you might have built up. It’s okay to step away for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months.
- I believe one of the biggest reasons people fail at exercise programs is because they’re generally not viewed as fun or enjoyable. Rock climbing enables us to stay fit and strong while sharing our love of climbing movement and outdoor living with others. Don’t forget this! You are lucky to have found an activity that makes exercising and staying fit fun for you; handle it with the utmost care so that you don’t lose it – even if that means giving it a rest now and again.
“It is my opinion that enjoying yourself in the present and loosening your definition of time slows the aging process.”
(Frederick Dodson, Parallel Universes of Self)