Lesson #1: Growth Sometimes Requires Discomfort
Climbers sometimes find themselves unwilling to move from a “good” hold, one in which the hand grips easily or the foot stands comfortably, to a “bad” one. Eyeing the painful rock feature, they may linger in the luxury of an effortless position at the expense of completing the climb. In order to ascend, however, climbers must at times endure discomfort and use undesirable holds.
Stepping into uncomfortable arenas is sometimes necessary to pursue the life you desire; growth often requires some level of discomfort. For instance, to pursue higher education, students must often leave home to live with strangers. The move to college can be awfully uncomfortable, but usually results in tremendous growth. Furthermore, those “strangers” often times become friends. A previous blog entry highlighted the importance of leaving the comfort zone in the pursuit of growth as inspired by Ilgner’s The Rock Warrior’s Way.
Lesson #2: You Have to Let Go to Move On
If climbers refuse to release their hands or move their feet, they will not reach the top of the rock climb. Climbers must let go of the rock to move on to the next handhold and lift their feet to continue stepping up the climb. Many times climbers find comfortable rest spots that they do not want to leave. If wanting to scale the wall, however, the climber will have no choice but to let go and continue up the difficult part of the climb. Similarly, fear can cause climbers to rigidly cling to a rock face or stubbornly refuse to remove their hands. Again, in order to move upward, even the most terrified climber must let go.
Many life experiences provide opportunities to practice this lesson. For instance, one must often let go of fears, insecurities, regrets, present comforts, etc. to move onto the next chapter of life. Consider divorce. In order to heal from the relationship, one must let go of the possibility of reconciliation and engage in the grief process.
Climbers often make declarations like “this hold is horrible!” when faced with an impossibly small sliver of rock on which to place a foot or pull on with a hand. Similarly, one might hear a climber celebrate with a sigh of relief by commenting that “this hold is great!” In reality, holds are neither “good” nor “bad,” they exist as part of the rock. Holds just are. One may produce comfort whereas another may cause pain, but qualitatively neither is truly better than the other. Good, ethical climbers do not alter the rock to change the nature of a climb but instead practice acceptance of an unchangeable attribute of the topography. Such acceptance of rock features not only allows climbers to connect with nature, but also helps climbers move past difficult sections. Skilled climbers attempt to acknowledge the nature of the rock without judgment and adjust accordingly.
Parenting offers many opportunities to accept unchangeable environmental circumstances. For example, new parents face acceptance each time their babies cry in the night. The new parent may want more sleep, but accepts that babies wake when they do and provides them with needed nurturance. What unchangeable environmental circumstances could you benefit from accepting?
Lesson #4: Breathing is Key
Good climbers relax through intimidating sections by slowing down their breath. Commonly, folks on the ground yell “relax” or “breathe” to climbers stiffening with hesitation as they approach difficult moves. Beginners may argue then fall (“it’s impossible to relax!”); whereas experienced climbers may heed the advice, take a breath, and ascend. Of course, it does not work every time and not every experienced climber remembers to control their breath in the face of fear, but generally speaking, breathing under stress will improve your ability. Deeply inhaling while slowly exhaling will cause your heart rate to decrease, which can help with fear and/or anxiety be you on the ground or on the rock.
Self-talk refers to the language we use when thinking about ourselves, the world, and the future. It is a common concept used in cognitive theory that Ilgner explores with specific regard to climbing in The Rock Warrior’s Way. The author emphasizes the impact of the way we engage in self-talk. Consequently, when climbers think “I don’t want to” or “I can’t,” a fall can easily result, because such negative self-talk generally results in disadvantageous actions. Furthermore, certain questions perpetuate cycles of self-talk that often impede problem-solving; thinking something like “why can’t I do this” often results in a series of circular, negative self-talk.
While Ilgner does not overemphasize blind positivity, he does suggest moving away from negative self-talk and thinking in “how” and “what” questions. For instance, it does not benefit a short person to think “I can’t do this, I’m too short” or “why is that handhold so far away?” A more effective thought might include “how can I climb this route given my height” or my personal favorite “Lynn Hill can do it. There must be a way.” (For a blog I once wrote focused on a excerpt from Lynn Hill's memoir click here.)
Applying self-talk to a job interview, to think “I can’t get this job” or “why do I bother” will likely result in an unproductive interview. On the other hand, to think “I have a chance of getting this job” or “how can I best prepare for the interview” will more likely lead you down a road to success.
Lesson #6: Fear Produces Limits
In climbing and life, people often avoid reasonable risks as a result of fear. Because of fear, climbers sometimes do not try climbs within their range or avoid learning new techniques despite desires to do so. In life, numerous fears cause people to remain stagnant and avoid risks that could help them grow. Fear of rejection keeps people single. Fear of failure keeps people from pursuing more fulfilling jobs. Fear of pain causes people to avoid important emotional processes. Fear of things getting worse can keep people from trying to make things better. By recognizing the fears that limit your life, you take an important first step in pursuing goals and living a value-based life.
Self-acceptance is a colossal lesson climbers are forced to learn repeatedly. When on a climb, if you are not strong enough, flexible enough, or tall enough to do a move, nothing in that moment will fix it. Training may help you gain strength and/or agility. Effective problem-solving will help you compensate for height. In that moment, all you can do is accept your body and skill level and try to adjust. Using height as an example again, if a handhold is out of reach by 5 inches, no amount of reaching will change that. Everyone you know may be able to complete the climb with their feet exactly where your feet are, but you are not as tall as everyone you know. Eventually, you must accept your height and ask the question “how can I do this climb being the height that I am?” When you figure it out, you will be a better climber for it…and you will likely impress all those tall folk!
Outside of climbing, acceptance of personal characteristics also allows for growth. If you are trying to lose weight, it will only hurt you to hate your body until you attain a desirable weight. If you perform poorly in math, it will not benefit you to grow angry with your brain for making errors. If you are depressed, you will not heal simply because you wish you were not depressed anymore. There must be a certain amount of acceptance in order for you to start figuring out how to move on: “I am this weight and I will work toward being healthier by exercising and eating right,” “How can I set aside extra time to do my math homework given that this is a difficult subject for me?” and “I’m depressed. It sometimes helps to get out of bed and go for a walk even though I don’t want to. I’ll give it a try.” What are some ways you could meet yourself where you are?
Lesson #8: Look Down!
Ignore people who say “never look down.” Once the risk of falling minimizes, I find great beauty in looking down and recognizing my distance from the ground. The literal and metaphorical act of looking down allows one to embrace the risk and appreciate a new perspective. A beautiful viewpoint can be ascertained when taking a moment to fully engage in risk, as the risk is part of the climb. We too often appreciate moments in retrospect (e.g., “I’m so glad I did that!”) without realizing their value as they occur. Consider a difficult obstacle you overcame, a goal you achieved, or a beautiful moment. Did you engage fully in the experience or did you recognize the good of it in retrospect?
Rock climbing allows for a plethora of “life lessons,” and those listed above are only a few. Consider visiting a local climbing gym and contemplating the above points; you may even glean some lessons of your own.
San Diego climbing gyms to consider using when bearing in mind the above “wisdom”:
· Solid Rock Climbing Gym
· Mesa Rim
· Vertical Hold
If you do not live in San Diego, you can visit the following website to find a gym near you: