As I’m falling through the air waiting for the rope to pull tight, I think to myself “why did I let go again?”. I had climbed the route in the gym cleanly up until the last move – a big deadpoint to a huge jug off small but positive holds. The fall is one of the cleanest you can take. I’ve gotten to that last move several times, and each time, I have simply let go.
And each time, I’ve kicked myself for not at least going for it. If I miss, so what? I’m falling anyways.
This has been a pattern of sorts lately – trouble committing to big moves. The other occasion that sticks out in my mind was in Yosemite on Hammerhead, which I wrote briefly about here. I’m still quite disappointed that I couldn’t bring myself to do that move.
These two instances illustrate something about climbing that is extraordinarily important, but perhaps sometimes overlooked when talking about training, progression, etc., and that’s the mental aspect of our sport.
It’s easy for us to overlook how much our minds play into our climbing – after all, it’s such a physical pursuit, we’re usually focused on how many moves we can do in a row, or the grade we boulder, or the time we can hold a lock-off. But our minds are an incredible tool – it can push our bodies to and past physical limits; it’s how we decipher sequences and figure out cruxes; it can also be the reason why we fall.
I’ve learned lately that I need to do more to keep my my head in shape. Even when my head is “strong”, as in I don’t hesitate to commit, I sometimes lack mental “endurance”, or the focus to sustain that intense level of concentration for the length of a sport climb or for multiple projects. Then there are times where everything is out of shape, and my mental game is completely shot. Those times generally coincide with two things: poor performance and a plateau.
Looking back, I can see that I reach plateaus when I begin to settle for where I’m at and no longer push myself as hard as I can. My mental game is best when I’m working hard – constantly striving towards something greater. When I’m truly focused on improving, that’s when I’m most focused and I fall into an acute state of mental sharpness.
But when I begin to settle for where I am – not driving myself towards the next big “thing”, whatever that may be – that’s when I start seeing my mental game decline.
When you’re putting yourself out there on climbs that are maybe a little over your head, the only way you’ll get through them is by just going for it. You may not do some of the moves. That’s alright – the important part is that you try. When you’re making yourself project hard, when you’re trying things that are over your head, that’s when you need to commit. That’s when you need to just do it.
For me, when I stop trying those gnarly projects and settle for sending comfortably just at or below my limit, that’s when things go downhill. Once I’m in that type of cycle, then my body becomes stagnant – I’m not building any more power, I won’t progress past that point. That makes it harder for me to work more difficult routes, which then creates a plateau. When that happens, my mental state diminishes and I begin doubting myself and my abilities, which leads to an inability to commit. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most climbers go through this – periods of time where they’re not climbing as hard as they can, when they begin to doubt themselves, and they begin to falter on some routes. It’s something we all deal with. How many times have you stared a dyno in the face and just dropped off, called “take”, or let go because you didn’t want to commit to the move?
But here’s the really important question: how do you move past this? Or how do you learn to commit in the first place?
The answer will probably be different for everybody, but for me, it’s all about being psyched on climbing. When I’m stoked from a trip or a competition, my mindset is always fresh and motivated. I’m ready to get on the wall and go go go!
I began writing this article right after I returned from California, before I got back in the gym. Leading up to my trip, I wasn’t really pushing myself anymore. I had sent some hard projects, but then I was really just being lazy – I couldn’t find things to get motivated on, and I was beginning to notice some sharp performance declines. Since I returned though, I’ve gotten back in the gym, and I can say that I’ve moved past that time of self-doubt and settling. I’ve found that I can commit to things on the wall again.
After getting my butt kicked outside, coming back into the gym was pretty fantastic – I came back in to brand new problems in the cave because of the ABS competition, and I’ve had plenty of fun working through them and projecting some of the harder climbs. Beyond that, I got back on routes for the first time in a week or two, and I felt so comfortable and relaxed on the sharp end. I pushed myself hard and am looking forward to getting on some of the new hard routes that have gone up lately. While I haven’t gotten back on the route that thwarted me, I’m anxious to give it a go and see what happens.
Here’s the long and short of it, in my eyes: never settle for where you’re at in climbing. Always push yourself to achieve something greater. Set goals and have your eyes on where you’re going next. If you can stay motivated, stay psyched, and step out of your comfort zone from time-to-time, you’re going to have no problem with your mental game on the wall.
Apologies for rambling on a little bit with this one. This topic incorporates a lot of different thoughts and concepts.
Most importantly though, I want to hear from all of you. Do you ever struggle with commitment? What about settling? What do you do to move past it? Any advice, thoughts, or opinions? I’m curious to hear all of them. Leave it in the comments below!
Stay stoked and climb on!