Life isn’t about sitting inside the comforts of our homes, looking through a window at the activities going on outside. Warriors want to experience being alive. That experience translates to opening the door, stepping through it, and participating outside. Stepping through the door engages us in the stress of experience. 

Ordinary people are unconsciously motivated toward comfort. Warriors are consciously motivated toward stress. This doesn’t mean warriors want to be in stressful situations continually. It means they cycle between being in their comfort zones and their stress zones. They enjoy comfort, but when it’s time to act, they desire to engage stress. 

When facing a stressful situation, ordinary people tend to focus on all the stress. This leads to “all/nothing” thinking. They focus on “all” the stress and do “nothing.” They think they have only two options: engage all the stress or none of it. If there is significant stress, then all/nothing thinking keeps them from taking action. Warriors are aware of this tendency and chose a third option: finding little ways to engage. With a smaller increment of stress, warriors are able to engage and do something.

An appropriate example of choosing this third option is Todd Skinner’s team free ascent of the Great Trango Tower in the Karakoram of Pakistan in 1995. This ascent would create the world’s first Grade VII free climb. They accomplished their goal after a continuous 59-day push during one of the deadliest seasons in the Karakoram. After he returned, Todd began giving presentations to corporations, sharing lessons he’d learned that helped him in climbing, that corporations could apply to their businesses.

Todd would often be asked how he dealt with such a big objective, specifically how he dealt with doubts. Todd’s team was high on Trango Tower, experiencing storms that would choke the cracks with ice and snow, making them difficult to free climb. If they fell victim to unconscious all/nothing thinking, thinking of all the stress separating them from the summit, their minds would create doubts, resulting in doing nothing. Yet, if they chose the third option, finding little ways to engage, their minds would think of options so they could do something. 

A typical question/answer session in his business presentations went something like this:

  • “What if you didn’t think you could climb to the top?” 
  • Todd: “Then we’d focus on climbing to the next bivy site.” 
  • “But what if you didn’t think you could climb to the next bivy site?” 
  • Todd: “Then we’d focus on climbing the next pitch.” 
  • “But what if you didn’t think you could climb the next pitch?” 
  • Todd: “Then we’d focus on climbing the next move.” 

Todd knew the quote—“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”—from the Tao Te Ching. To intellectually know this quote is one thing. Todd knew they needed to experientially know it, to apply it. They were motivated to be in the stress of the experience and being there they naturally focused on how to stay engaged. By constantly making the stress increment smaller, they were able to formulate an actionable step they could take. 

All/nothing thinking focuses our attention on the end result and all of the stress. Combine this with an unconscious tendency to be motivated toward comfort and ordinary people never engage big objectives. Warriors want to be in the stress of big objectives so they can hunt for power. They enjoy the engagement. They naturally focus on the process because engagement consists of processes. This positions them for finding little ways to engage the stressful experience. By being engaged, they experience being alive.

If we’re unconsciously motivated toward comfort, then it’ll be difficult to take the first step on a long journey. We’ll stay in the comfort of our homes, looking through the window at others participating outside in the stresses of life. We’ll focus on all the stress, stay inside, and do nothing. But if we’re consciously motivated toward stress, then we’ll take the first step. We’ll open the door and step through it. We’ll understand we have a third option. The first step will lead to the next one, as we walk a long journey, participating outside, in life.

Practice Tip: Finding Little Ways to Engage

Identify a big objective you want to accomplish. It may be climbing the next difficulty grade, winning a climbing comp, or climbing a specific route. This big objective provides a lot of stress. Being motivated by comfort will prevent you from taking action. So will all/nothing thinking. You’ll think of all the stress separating you from your objective, causing you to do nothing. 

Rather, be motivated by stress. Break the big objective into smaller increments. Identify the smallest step that’s necessary for taking action. Take that step, and then identify the next step and take it. Your journey toward accomplishing your big objective will manifest itself step by step.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Eva

    The idea of working on small parts of project route thats way above my redpoint level makes it fun to experiment with new movement patterns. It it easy to feel motivated to continue on a challenging route if I work it in several minor Sections. right dose of stress to promote learning and tolerate the frustrasjon on the journey.

    1. Arno

      Nice points Eva. An important part of our life (and climbing) journey is enjoying it. What you describe points us in that direction. a

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