Improvement Versus Enjoyment?

Recently, a reader contacted me wanting to know how he could regain his joy of climbing. He lamented that the pure joy he felt when he first started climbing had been replaced by a focus on his improvement that left him wanting. He wondered if it’s possible to regain his joy without sacrificing his progress. 

Do we have to choose between improvement and enjoyment? Initially our reader enjoyed climbing. He was a beginner with few expectations about how well he was supposed to perform. Most of us can identify with this “beginner’s mind” state. Our attention was free to flow with the activity itself. As we improved, though, a shift in our motivation occurred. We began creating expectations which centered around how quickly we were improving; rather than how much fun we were having. Goals became the new focus, instead of the effort itself. 

In general, enjoyment comes from wanting to be where we are. In Climbing, we enjoy relaxing on easier climbs, taking a break in our comfort zones to relax. We also enjoy challenging ourselves by pushing our limits. One gives us comfort whereas the other stresses us. They aren’t mutually exclusive when considering enjoyment. 

However, our enjoyment diminishes if we stay in stress or comfort too long. Consider the balance required between resting at night and being active during the day. If we rest too long we’re compelled to become active; if we’re active too long we’re compelled to rest. This same balance is required in climbing. 

We pay attention to how we’re motivated to shift between the two without forcing ourselves toward one or the other. If we climb easier routes too long, then we begin to sense a desire to challenge ourselves. If we climb challenging routes too long, then we begin to sense a desire to climb easier routes. We tune into our intuition to sense how we’re being motivated. Doing this allows us to enjoy where we are.

We immerse ourselves in whatever situation we’re motivated toward by finding ways to engage deeply in it. We do this by paying attention to the processes that occur in the moment. We don’t think about what we’re supposed to be experiencing; we’re aware of what we’re experiencing. Thinking is a filter that interprets what’s being experienced, and measures it against our expectations. Thinking interferes with how we’re being motivated, causing us to stay in comfort or stress too long, and become out of balance. Awareness connects us with the body, and our intuition, so we’re aware when it’s time to shift from comfortable climbing to challenging climbing or vice versa. 

The problem isn’t choosing between improvement and enjoyment. It’s allowing ourselves to shift between stress and comfort. We regain our beginner’s mind by diminishing our expectations that interfere with accepting where we are. Having a beginner’s mind helps our attention flow as our intuition moves us. We immerse ourselves in climbing, expecting to find something interesting in the present moment, not at a future destination.


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