Climbing consists of stopping at rest stances and moving between them. We need to think with the mind at stopping points; we need to trust the body to move when climbing between them. One of the most difficult times to stay mentally focused is during stressful climbing when we need to trust the body. How do we trust the body and diminish mental interference? We’re intentional with how we choose to use our attention.

We begin by understanding the importance of shifting attention between the mind and the body. We use attention differently when we think with the mind, as opposed to when we take action with the body. Therefore, committing attention to thinking or doing, mind or body—not splitting attention between them—is important.

For example, we teach a block of movement exercises to develop trust in the body and awareness of the mind’s interference. The intention for these exercises is to tap into the body’s innate knowledge for moving. If the mind is thinking when we move, it will interfere with the natural movements of the body. Attention will be split between the mind and body, diminishing the body’s commitment to action.

The first movement exercise is called “Follow the Eyes.” Our eyes shift up and down automatically as we climb, to grab and step on holds. We instruct students to grab/step on the first hold their eyes see, instead of “shopping” for holds. The first hold their eyes see indicates the hold the body wants to use. The second, third… hold the eyes see, indicates the mind’s desire for a bigger hold.

We have students do the exercise on toprope to eliminate the falling consequence. This diminishes fear of falling and helps them commit to doing the exercise as intended. However, the students’ minds still interfere with the intention for the exercise. Even though we instruct them to grab/step on the first hold, they still tend to “shop” for bigger holds if the first hold is small. This “shopping” tendency happens primarily for handholds rather than footholds. Initially, they think the intention for the exercise is to use the first hold their eyes see, only if it helps them climb and not fall. To them, it doesn’t make sense to grab a small hold when a larger one is close by.

As instructors, we clarify the intention for students. The intention isn’t to climb and not fall; it’s to develop awareness of how the mind interferes with the body. Students learn how to clarify the intention in several ways.

  1. Clarify motivation
  2. Distracted attention
  3. Experiential knowing

First, we expect students to begin with a tendency toward desiring immediate improvement. We shift their motivation toward valuing learning as we progress through the four movement exercises. This shift can’t be made intellectually alone; it has to include the experience of doing the exercises.

For example, we begin making this shift in the debrief for the first movement exercise: “Follow the Eyes.” The debrief includes the intellectual understanding students had prior to the exercise, the experience of doing the exercise, and the synthesis of the two as we field their observations and questions. Students become aware of how the body directed them to grab and what actions they actually executed. Did they grab the first hold their eyes saw or did they allow the mind to look for bigger holds? Why didn’t they use the first hold? After all, they were on toprope where the fall consequence was eliminated? The body looked at the first hold for a very specific reason. That reason is the body innate need for balance. Becoming aware of how the body directs us helps us trust it.

Second, the mind distracts attention from the present moment. For example, when students see that the first hold is small, the mind judges it. The hold is still in the future before the hand grabs it. The connection between the hand and the hold occurs in the present moment, when the hand grabs the hold and uses it.

When they execute the action of grabbing the hold they usually find that they don’t fall. The body automatically adjusts its balance so the hold can be utilized. Using smaller holds also expands the mind’s experiential knowledge of what holds are usable. Students miss learning opportunities by allowing the mind to distract their attention.

Third, we know something when we experience it, not before. Students learn the importance of experiential knowing, rather than simply intellectualizing about what’s possible. We only have intellectual knowledge prior to actually grabbing a hold. Grabbing the hold is the experience. The hold will either be usable, allowing us to climb, or it won’t, causing us to fall. We know the usability of the hold based on that experience, not the mind’s intellectual thinking beforehand.

Clarifying our motivation, becoming aware of distracted attention, and the value of experiential knowing gives us a solid foundation for working with the mind. These are important discoveries and insights into mental training. These realizations help students develop an appropriate relationship with the mind, knowing that it gives us incomplete information before we experience an event. This knowledge helps us detach from the limiting ways of the mind, question it, rather than believe everything the mind tells us.

Intention is powerful. It’s defined as “attention focused in the direction of a choice.” We choose to focus our attention on trusting the body when we move. By becoming aware of the mind’s interference, we improve our ability to trust the body. We don’t let the mind interfere with how we choose to focus our attention. We learn to commit our attention completely to the body when we move.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Angelina

    Arno, I’ve tried to follow the body and took the first hold, primarily foot hold. But sometimes because the foothold wasn’t so good, I exerted more energy then necessary to stay on. It felt better if I can find a better foothold nearby the first hold I saw. I knew this by first tried the first foothold I saw, then moved to the better foothold. I have not tried with hand holds but probably would be similar. What would you advise in that case?

    1. Arno

      Hi Angelina, It’s a bit difficult to understand the intention for the exercise without having you actually do the exercise, share your observations, and me give feedback. But, I’ll give it a shot. The intention for the exercise is not to climb more efficiently, at least initially. Eventually, as we go through all 4 movement exercises, you do end up climbing more efficiently. But, initially, the intention is to do mental training, not technique training. Mental training means addressing the mind’s judgement of holds your eyes direct you to. So, it’s because a hold is small and requires more energy hold use that we’re satisfying the intention of doing mental training. The first hold you see if based on the body’s knowledge of movement and balance. And, this is the goal: to climb in a way that trusts the body, without the mind interfering. What you’re describing is your mind judging the hold, engaging in thinking, and then shopping for holds, when attention should be focused in the body. This shopping is due to the mind’s motivation for using a more comfortable hold. It motivates you away from learning, which requires stress. Using that small hold that requires more energy IS the learning opportunity. It’s difficult to explain all this in words; easier to understand it by doing it with a ww trainer guiding your understanding of it. I encourage you to find a clinic to attend to learn more.

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