Don’t climb because it’s good for you; climb because it gives you a feeling of being alive. This phrase gives us a basic understanding of motivation that we need for sustaining us when climbing. We don’t climb because we benefit by the physical and mental exercise; we climb because it makes us feel alive.

Our lives are an expression of our energy. Motivation essentially is our energy flowing through us. We need to live our lives through some activity that gives our energy expression. For many of us that’s climbing. Through climbing our energy can flow.

Chris Sharma is someone who seems motivated this way. When he talks about motivation, he says that he doesn’t force it. He pays attention to how he feels about climbing. If he doesn’t feel like climbing then he doesn’t go. If he feels like bouldering then he’ll go bouldering. He doesn’t force himself to climb. His energy can express itself in a timely manner through climbing. 

I mentioned Rainer Rilke, the German writer and teacher, in the last lesson. He told his confused student to “Write only if you have to.” His answer to the student instructs us to identify what activity resonates within us so our energy can be expressed. We write only if we feel we have to in order to live a fulfilling life. 

I’ve used a key word in the previous paragraphs: feel. If we determine our motivation by logical thinking, and can verbalize it, then our motivation tends to be focused on end results. We’re motivated because we think about achieving a specific difficulty grade or specific climb. If we don’t know why we want to climb, we just feel we have to, then our motivation tends to be focused on processes. We’re motivated because of the climbing process itself. 

Understanding the distinction between thinking- and feeling-based motivations is important. Thinking-based, end result motivation is achieved after stressful climbing. Therefore, it’s comfort based. Feeling-based, process motivation is achieved during stressful climbing. Therefore, process motivation values stress. Our motivation must move us into and through stressful climbing. If we’re motivated by attaining an end result then our motivation won’t be as powerful as it would be if we’re motivated by the climbing process itself.

So how do we know when motivation is process- or end result-based? And, does end result motivation play any role that is beneficial? First, identifying specific end results helps guide our actions and the application of our energy. But, the end result needs to primarily motivate us because of the challenge it provides, and secondarily motivate us by achieving the end result. This hierarchy positions process motivation as more important than end result motivation and allows our energy full expression. 

Second, we need to pay attention to our resistance to stress. Do we resist engaging stressful climbing due to the mind’s thought-intensive mental activity, or is it more feeling based, which originates from the body? The mind tends to circumvent stress and seek comfort. This tendency manifests itself in thought-intensive dialogue. One part of the mind is thinking about engaging stress and one part of the mind is thinking about resisting it. 

Resistance originating from the body is based on our past experience as weighed against the level of stress we now face. Too much resistance means we’re pushing too far into stress and we need to pay attention to it for taking appropriate risks. 

Finally, we need to understand that motivation is cyclical. Even when we’re motivated by feeling-based processes, we don’t stay motivated all the time. Going sport climbing may be appropriate when viewed in the context of an appropriate risk, but we may not enjoy it because we’ve been doing it too long. Life works in cycles and when we sport climb exclusively we begin to get burned out and miss other types of climbing.

If Sharma feels motivated to go bouldering, then he goes bouldering. If his motivation shifts toward sport climbing, then he goes sport climbing. He’s paying attention to the cyclical nature of his motivation and the need for his energy to express itself.

When you understand your motivation and your energy this way you’ll enjoy climbing more. You’ll also feel alive because your energy is being expressed through an activity you’ve chosen. You can’t explain why you’re motivated one day and not the next. Rather, you pay attention to how your energy is directing you on any given day.

Practice Tip: Don’t Burn Out

Are you losing your motivation for climbing, or an activity you’ve chosen for the expression of your energy? Consider these questions to allow your energy to flow:

  • How long have you been doing the activity?
  • Have you cycled between the activity and time away from it?
  • Have you stayed within one discipline, such as sport climbing or bouldering, too long without cycling into a different discipline?
  • What do you feel like doing today?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kai Ewert

    What is your take on motivation coming from the enjoyment of a certain degree of mastery, maybe an unconscious drive to look for the flow state? I have experienced both the motivation by end results and by the challenge and the process, but I also feel that just the pure enjoyment of climbing is something that at times is the main motivator…

    1. Arno

      There are these two basic motivations, for achievement and for the joy of doing something. We actually need both. The goal we want to achieve gives us inspiration, vision, and direction. Then the joy of doing it keeps our attention in the moment as we move in the direction of our goals. I think the main point is making sure we’re motivated per where we are: before action, when we think of inspiring goals; during action when we enjoy the engagement for its own sake. a

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