Tag Archives: insecurity

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!

The Mental Side of Sports Injury Recovery; Finding Confidence in Training & Climbing Again (3)

For better or worse, then, after the injury I turned 2012 into a year that would be more about attacking my greatest weakness (big-muscle strength and power) than anything else, including clipping the chains without falling. Physically, at this moment in time, I’m finally assured that this was the right choice for my body. However, mentally, coming on the heels of the injury, I would be lying if I didn’t admit how difficult it’s been to take this arduous path through this year. I have struggled a lot with it and I’ve wrestled with my confidence (in both my training decisions and my climbing choices) all year long. It’s tough and felt really scary, like I was stepping into a vast unchartered void, to just dedicate myself to the strength training for so long and to not allow myself to be distracted by the temptation of trying to send climbs.

This might not sound like fun or like it defeats the whole purpose of climbing, and I totally agree that it’s not for everyone. If clipping chains is the most important thing and the sole indicator of success and fun in climbing for a person, spending half the year strength training would be a terrible idea. But if (like me) you revel in getting on routes that once had hard moves for you and discovering that – thanks to training your weaknesses – the moves aren’t hard or as hard as they were before, it might be worth it to you. I’ll even go so far as to confess that it almost hasn’t been worth it for me; constantly “failing” even when I knew I was deliberately causing the failure (by putting the training ahead of the climbing performance) was way harder for me to take than I expected it to be. But only “almost,” because as of right now, I’m pretty happy and at peace with that choice I made back in May. I think it was the right one to make.

However, due to my strength-training decision, I arrived here with virtually no power endurance or endurance whatsoever. I felt psyched to be here and to be done with training (strength training, anyhow!) for the time being. But in all honesty, even though I aimed to consider the first month or so here to be the final segment of my training (i.e. the building up endurance/power-endurance levels closer to my strength/power levels), I have to admit that for me this season, those final touches proved a bit more brutal for me to take than they have in years past – probably because of the accumulation of mental garbage and self-doubt that has accrued throughout 2012. But I planned this – planned to arrive with zero power endurance/endurance for the Red. I just wanted to be stronger (in terms of strength and power) overall.

So, to make a long story short – as I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve spent the first month here mainly helping Kevin with his create-a-crag effort here, which is not at all how I expected or planned to spend my season here. But I just figured, “Why not?” especially after realizing the potential that the crag (an addition to the Chocolate Factory) had to offer in the mid- to upper-5.13 range, which the Red can definitely use more of and is the grade range I’m looking to get more solid at here right now. It’s been a great way to gain Red fitness sans pressure, too – just more focused on getting the routes in and cleaned up while building up my endurance and power endurance rather than trying to project something hard. That choice would come once these routes were done, and also, once I started feeling more capable and up to speed in terms of power endurance and endurance again – and those two components definitely needed some catching up to do when compared to my strength and power.

Yesterday’s experience, more than anything else this year(!), showed me that I am far stronger than I was last fall, which is all I care about and want – clear indications that training is working for me, that what I’m doing is right for me. I got on this climb Kevin bolted last year (he started this area last year), a cool, steep 13+. When I tried it once last year, the moves were too hard for me – I flailed and then I bailed. On that kind of a power-endurance route, like lots of the routes here, if each move by itself is at my limit or something I can barely do, I have no chance to link, and I know it. I was shocked this year to bolt-to-bolt the route pretty easily. Doesn’t mean that it won’t be extremely difficult for me to send (it’ll be a reach to do it this season), but does for sure mean that I’m way, way stronger in terms of actual strength and power than I was last fall here. And that is what I wanted to accomplish.

Maybe I’ll send this route and maybe not; if not, it will be just another reason to come back here in the spring season (again, taking the big-picture perspective). I totally fell in love with it, though – it’s an awesome route with cool, flowing and sustained movement on amazing features. It definitely won’t make me weaker to keep trying it; that’s for sure. And I still have most of the other routes around it to try to do, too – so plenty to keep me busy. But I really want to keep a big-mind perspective about this season and not get all wrapped up in the need to send; I just want to have fun and enjoy the process of getting stronger and working my weaknesses, however long it takes me.

The Mental Side of Sports Injury Recovery; Finding Confidence in Training & Climbing Again (1)

I promised myself long ago that I would try to always stay positive in my writing here – why add to the negativity in a world saturated with so much of it, right? But honestly, this is one of the reasons I’ve been relatively quiet here for some time now. To put it mildly, 2012 has been quite a struggle for me and my relationship with climbing. It’s almost human, really – it’s like having a long-term relationship and having a year in which you’re just not sure you and your significant other are really compatible or going in the right direction together anymore. (Yes, I fully acknowledge that I tend toward the “take climbing way too seriously” side of the equation, much as I try not to!)

It started with the injury during my trip to Spain. Silly me, I thought that once I put that behind me and my hand seemed normal again that everything would be copacetic and I’d be back on track with training and improving my steep-climbing skills, and also, that despite my injury, I’d turn out to be Wonder Woman be able to magically crush the hard-for-me routes I wanted to do at home coming off the scariest injury I’ve ever had in my life – and that I would be able to do this while training to make up for all the lost training time of the spring season.

Well, it turns out that having your hand and arm be semi-paralyzed for a couple months isn’t an easy thing to forget or put behind you, not when you’ve had a lifetime of having faith in your body and understanding the “why” behind your previous, much more painful injuries. What I mean by this is that all the other injuries I’ve ever sustained from sports (and not just climbing, because before climbing, I played hard and hurt myself in sports starting as a small child) have made much more sense and been easier to handle in terms of recovery and trusting my body. This one, though, shook my faith to its very core – even after my hand/arm worked again, they still felt weaker for a long, long time (that’s what it feels like when your nerve isn’t working right; just a terrible sense of weakness). And, fearful of somehow inexplicably triggering a new injury, I’ve been living in a hypervigilant state of low-level anxiety since the injury, to tell the truth.

Starting training again in May-June was incredibly scary. A scary decision to make in lots of ways for me. First of all, it meant that I had to start testing and pushing the injured arm, because I knew that I’d never get over it if I didn’t start to work it again and build it back up. But it was also scary because it require an enormously vast leap of faith for me about what would be the most intelligent long-term decision I could make to reach my ultimate climbing goal (which is to spend the next decade or so trying to mold this body – the only one I get – into the best steep sport climber I can possibly be, armed with the training knowledge I’ve gained in the past few years).

The keyword in that last sentence is “long-term.” And long-term decisions like this always require a tremendous amount of faith, especially when you go into them knowing that a) you’re probably sabotaging your short-term, “I want it and I want it now” ego-boosting goals/achievements and b) you may not start to see tangible, real-world results for months or even years and c) because of a & b, you will likely be tested mentally and pushed to the brink in terms of how much “failure” you can handle while you work toward your long-term goal.

More on this tomorrow…