I recently received an email from someone who read The Rock Warrior’s Way book. He said he took my suggestion about practicing falling to heart. He went to his local climbing gym, got above a bolt, gathered his nerve, and finally took a fall. He said he was tense before and during the fall but afterwards felt more comfortable.
This approach may diminish fear, but isn’t aligned with learning. The climber was focused on avoiding his stress with falling. Did he really learn? He didn’t convert stress into comfort. He was tense during the skill he was “practicing.” When you take on too much stress and focus on getting it over with, your body will contract in a protective way. This habituates your body to react and contract, making it difficult to respond to falling in an alert and relaxed way. The gym climber would need to unlearn his habit of contracting before he could learn to respond to falling in a relaxed way.
There are four elements that help you understand how your body is processing stress: how you breathe (B), where your eyes (E) look, how relaxed (R) you are, and the posture (P) of your body, using it appropriately for the task. I use the acronym BERP as a reminder for these four elements. When you are stressed, especially over stressed, you will tend to hold your breath, have tunnel vision, tense up, and create a concave, protective posture.
You know you’ve integrated stress when you can breathe without holding your breath, look at the current task, stay relaxed, and maintain proper posture, doing what you need with your body for the task. The BERP elements indicate when you can add additional stress. If you can BERP properly, then you are ready for additional stress.