'Fear is the mind-killer.'
Any Bene Gesserit knows this. Indeed most people are aware of the difference between rational and primitive thought and of the need to think clearly in times of stress. Unlike the Bene Gesserit few I've met have bothered to cultivate their ability to control their thoughts and mentality.
Some climbers, happy refining their technique and tactics and throwing laps on the wall, don't see the point of mental training. The irony is that it is your brain that enables them to improve technique, develop tactics and push to new levels of performance... if it can help progress in all those areas isn't it about time climbers dedicated some training solely to this most amazing of organs?
I've experienced plateaus in my climbing and for all my love of movement drills and training plans it was mental training that lifted me from the severest of these periods of self doubt. Once I'd discovered and understood the benefits of a mental training regime in my own climbing I shared it with my fellow climbers and the students I coach. In their climbing I've once again seen the benefits, but in this article I will talk only of my own experiences out of respect for my clients' privacy.
In this article I'll share three exercises to help you begin your mental training. The exercises in the second article will build on your mastery of these initial exercises.
How you view your own climbing is a key influence on your performance. Having grown up multi pitch trad climbing I'd love to hold the award that allows me to instruct people in just that, coincidentally it is also the highest qualification for rock climbing - the Mountaineering Instructor's Award - and I am closer now than ever. It is ironic that pressure to perform rarely produces good performances. Whenever I've headed to the crag thinking 'I must log a route for my MIA' I inevitably feel shaky once I've started. On the other hand all the better-performing climbers I know climb simply 'because its fun' and love to trade stories about their adventures. Now whenever I climb I go out to enjoy a route, to savour the experience, and I remember all the positive experiences climbing has brought me. As a result my manner is noticeably more confident and my movement more assured (and the routes for my MIA are getting done, but that's not the primary reason for me being there). In order to re-wire your brain into a more positive perspective try the following exercise...
I mentioned earlier that thought can be both rational and primitive, at any given moment how aware are you of which thoughts are dominating your actions? Primitive, emotion-driven responses can often be the wrong response. There have been times on trad routes, far above the last piece of gear and looking at a ten metre drop, that fear has gotten the better of me. I have started shaking, hesitated, tried moves but failed to commit, pulled myself in close to the rock, all actions driven by fear inhibiting my decision-making and movement. I've moved on a lot since then... I understand a rational response to a dangerous situation allows me to think objectively and the actions that follow therefore become more decisive, more effective and as a result I reach the top in better fashion. The key to increasing control of your mind is first to become aware of it, this awareness is called metacognition - 'the act of thinking about what you are thinking about'. Try the following exercise...
Your physical and mental state are linked. Try cracking a smile at someone and see how it changes your mood. Similarly try holding a scowl and experience the down-turn in emotion. Your breathing too has a tangible effect on your mood. Try several fast breaths and feel the agitation start to creep, or several deep breaths and the calmness rise. Through physical rituals you can use this link to exert control over your mental state. This exercise focuses on developing a type of breathing that you can use to relax your body and mind. In the next article this breathing will be utilised as part of a pre-climb ritual, or even during a rest mid-route!
I hope you've found this article useful. If so and you're intending to read and utilise Mental Training for Climbing pt. II your training starts with the exercises above. Mastery of your mind begins when you start training it, but even before the drills remember to adjust your perspective...
'The best climber is the one having the most fun!'
Love climbing and not sure how to progress? Take a look at our Courses page for ideas. Or alternately get in contact on the Bookings page. You can also like our Facebook page for regular updates on new articles.
All articles are written from a humble and deeply personal perspective. Where facts or recommendations are given these are taken from research and experience. We hope these articles help you in your quest to enjoy the mountains and that they portray our passion for what EA Mountain Skills does.