I did a teaching tour to Uruguay March 2016 with our Spanish trainer, David Villegas. We had a free day to do some climbing so our host, Santiago, took us to Canteras, a small crag within the city of Montevideo. He showed us a climb called Baño es El Nombre, one of their harder routes. I worked on it and finally figured out the sequence, which included a dynamic move from a painful finger jam. Then David worked on it, figured out the sequence, and quickly did a redpoint ascent. I thought, if David can do it, then I should be able to do it also. It took me three efforts, but I finally achieved the redpoint.
Working a route gives us the opportunity to learn. We experiment with different ways of using holds, applying our skills, and searching out new solutions. We fall and modify our sequence until we find one that works for us. It’s easy to see how we learn from stressful climbing and improve. We fall and there’s a reason for it: we did something or didn’t do something that caused the fall. This is what I did. I experimented to find a sequence so I could do the dynamic move from a painful finger jam.
However, we can also learn from situations that create comfort for us. Achievement gives us a feeling of comfort. Our egos tend to equate achievement with our importance. If we achieve, our egos feel important; if we don’t, our egos make excuses to maintain its importance.
For example, I was there with David, a young, strong climber, one of my trainers. I’m supposed to be the master, continuing his training with The Warrior’s Way®. Yet, he succeeded on the route quicker than I did. Taking longer to succeed on the route can make my ego feel less important than David.
The ego can be devious. It can make excuses for taking longer to achieve the redpoint. “I’m older and don’t climb or train as frequently as I did when I was as young as David.” The ego can also wallow in the comfort of achievement. “It took me longer, but at least I was able to achieve the redpoint.” Either way, the ego seeks reasons for maintaining its importance.
The facts the ego uses are true. I am older than David; it did take me longer; I did achieve the redpoint. The point isn’t whether these facts are true or not. The point is that they are not relevant for improving performance and learning. Our attention is focused on the needs of the ego instead of learning and enjoying the climbing experience.
We need to be vigilant with the ego. The comfort of achieving goals creates associations that strengthen the ego and mask important learning. Equating our importance with our ability to achieve goals is a losing proposition. If we succeed in achieving a goal, then we’ll need another achievement to continue feeling important. If we fail to achieve a goal, then our attention is distracted toward frustration and justifications to maintain our importance. Either way, our ego’s attachment toward achievement makes us feel dependent on continually achieving, distracting our attention from learning and enjoying climbing.
To be effective with how we use our attention requires awareness. First, we realize that our egos are never satisfied, no matter how often we succeed. It always needs to achieve another goal to feel important. This need to constantly achieve creates a feeling of anxiety. Second, from a pragmatic basis, we realize that the ego distracts our attention from learning. If we do want to achieve goals, then it’s important to have our attention focused on learning. This will help us learn more quickly so we can achieve our goals.
The outcomes we create may be stressful or comfortable. We act with awareness to stressful outcomes by focusing our attention on learning. Each outcome gives us important information. Therefore, we stay curious about what we can learn from outcomes that fall short of our expectations.
We also act with awareness of comfortable outcomes, such as when we achieve our goals. Each achievement gives us opportunities to notice the ego’s need to feel important and become attached to continual achievement.
Should I be able to do a route just because David did? Maybe or maybe not. What’s important for becoming mentally fit is noticing that the question originates from the ego. It’s a distraction of attention from learning and enjoying climbing. We notice such ego thoughts and bring our attention back to what we need to learn from the outcomes we create. Doing that will help us learn more quickly. And we’ll enjoy our climbing more.
Practice Tip: Vigilant Observation
How aware are you of your ego? The ego will look for reasons to justify its importance.
Notice thoughts your mind creates after an effort. Did you achieve your goal or not?
- If you achieved your goal, does your ego use that evidence to validate its importance?
- If you didn’t achieve your goal, does your ego make excuses to maintain its importance?