We’ve learned that the mind avoids stress, seeks comfort, and plays tricks to skirt stress. Knowing these mental tendencies allows us to notice when tricks occur, stop such thought processes, and redirect attention in ways to deal with the stress. Recall that learning is converting something stressful into something that becomes comfortable. This conversion cannot occur if we give into the mind’s tricks to skirt stress.
In The Journeys of Socrates, Dan Millman describes the learning process that Socrates goes through. Serafim, one of his teachers, teaches Socrates the art of fighting and how expectations can interfere with preparation and action. Serafim’s teachings on expectations are similar to the story of the old master teaching the art of fencing. The master tells the student to do her daily chores and be prepared to respond to attacks whenever and wherever they occur.
The student might be going around a corner expecting the attack to come from the front so she prepares for it, yet the attack comes from behind. She goes around another corner expecting the attack to come from behind and gets attacked from the front. The student is in a constant state of tension and expectation. This tension and expectation interferes with her ability to prepare for an attack that comes from any direction.
When the student expects an attack from one direction, her attention is directed only there. Meaning, she can’t be attentive to all directions. When she learns not to expect an attack from any particular direction she is attentive to all directions. Serafim instructs Socrates similarly to “Expect nothing, but be prepared for anything.” This is really a metaphor for being attentive to everything that is important in a given situation without allowing expectations to narrow our focus. By eliminating expectations we can focus attention on preparing for any possible outcome. With expectations we miss important elements in our preparation.
In climbing we need to prepare well so we can take appropriate risks. We need to expect nothing, yet be prepared for anything. How can we do effective preparation if we don’t expect anything? We can also rephrase this question by asking: How can we do effective preparation if we do expect something? Either question will shed light on the role of expectations on effective preparation. So, what are your thoughts on this?

Expectations_PreparationWe’ve learned that the mind avoids stress, seeks comfort, and plays tricks to skirt stress. Knowing these mental tendencies allows us to notice when tricks occur, stop such thought processes, and redirect attention in ways to deal with the stress. Recall that learning is converting something stressful into something that becomes comfortable. This conversion cannot occur if we give into the mind’s tricks to skirt stress.

In The Journeys of Socrates, Dan Millman describes the learning process that Socrates goes through. Serafim, one of his teachers, teaches Socrates the art of fighting and how expectations can interfere with preparation and action. Serafim’s teachings on expectations are similar to the story of the old master teaching the art of fencing. The master tells the student to do her daily chores and be prepared to respond to attacks whenever and wherever they occur.

The student might be going around a corner expecting the attack to come from the front so she prepares for it, yet the attack comes from behind. She goes around another corner expecting the attack to come from behind and gets attacked from the front. The student is in a constant state of tension and expectation. This tension and expectation interferes with her ability to prepare for an attack that comes from any direction.

When the student expects an attack from one direction, her attention is directed only there. Meaning, she can’t be attentive to all directions. When she learns not to expect an attack from any particular direction she is attentive to all directions. Serafim instructs Socrates similarly to “Expect nothing, but be prepared for anything.” This is really a metaphor for being attentive to everything that is important in a given situation without allowing expectations to narrow our focus. By eliminating expectations we can focus attention on preparing for any possible outcome. With expectations we miss important elements in our preparation.

In climbing we need to prepare well so we can take appropriate risks. We need to expect nothing, yet be prepared for anything. How can we do effective preparation if we don’t expect anything? We can also rephrase this question by asking: How can we do effective preparation if we do expect something? Either question will shed light on the role of expectations on effective preparation. So, what are your thoughts on this?

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. steve munsell

    Arno- are you coming to Prescott on your S.W. tour?
    Do you want to?
    Maybe you could do a guest speaking day at the college for some
    of the classes? Whole Athlete or Rockclimbing.
    The YMCA tore down the climbing wall !
    Nice work with your Website
    Steve Munsell
    Adventure Education

    1. Arno

      Hi Steve,
      I was considering Prescott. I do have a new presentation based on my new book that the athletes and climbers would probably enjoy. Details? Email me directly at: arno@warriorsway.com.
      Thanks, Arno

  2. Grammy

    Hi Arno!

    I used to fall into this trap every time I went out, but have to admit that now (after reading your book and participating in a few of the group discussions) I am better at approaching each climb with an open mind and with few expectations…trying to stay present and focused on the movement, breathing, balance, etc… and my climbing has improved tremendously, and I am having fun climbing again. For me personally, this has been both the greatest challenge and greatest piece of information that I could have received at the time..when nothing else seemed to work. The mental game is a tough one for me…but it is encouraging to see the growth.

    Chris

  3. Arno

    Hi Grammy, The mental game is challenging, yet we can take small steps to meet that challenge. Here’s a small step: expect to exert effort; don’t expect to send.
    Arno

  4. Grammy

    Right on!
    Thanks Arno!
    Grammy

  5. Robby

    Arno
    Isn’t life funny. I was asked to teach my yoga class (me?) tomorrow evening, and the meditation chat I planned at the end of the session was the basic rain good/bad example. This small but important idea helps me to stay open, not judge either from the past or the future, and helps me to define why I am taking on a certain task. Do I love what I am doing, what are my long term objectives, how can doing this task be beneficial for my life?
    Drives it all home for me, so to speak!
    Regards

    1. Arno

      Hi Robby, Life can be very serendipitous when we allow it. Arno

  6. Eliza

    Hi Arno,

    I love your espresso lessons. Currently I am recovering from a torn rotator cuff surgery and am not climbing but I use your lessos when I teach my yoga classes and it ties over quite well! Thanks.

    1. Arno

      Hello Eliza, Thanks for your comments. Sounds like patience and attentiveness are needed. Expect to be patient. Arno

  7. Paul Sweatman

    I was/am a sabre fencer for over 15 years. The lesson of expect nothing/prepare for everything was well learned. Sabre fencing allows your opponent to use both the edge of the blade as well as the point. Most people rely solely on the edge and rarely use the point. Because of this, so many sabre fencers expect an edge attack. So, when I started using the point as well as the edge, many victories were achieved. Of course, other people learned to do the same thing to me; going from expecting an edge attack only to learning to deal with both was… interesting.
    You touched on expectations in your espresso lite course I took. Since then I’ve been working on applying it to my lead climbing. I find that it has made a great difference in how I start and complete the climb.

    1. Arno

      Hi Paul, Nice example of how our past learning can interfere with current challenges. “Edge” experience is helpful but too much reliance on it makes us unaware of responding to “point” experience. We do need to learn from past experience; it’s how our mind organizes the chaos of the world. We just need to know how to keep those expectations on processes that we learned rather than some label. “I learned how to calm myself down by breathing, so I expect to do similar this time” (process expectation) rather than “I succeeded on the last 5.11 I did, so I expect to climb this 5.11” (end result expectation). As we shift our frame of reference, from ends to processes, we refer more often to past processes we’ve learned instead of past end results we’ve achieved. Processes keep our attention flexible to respond to the “new chaos” in a situation without reacting to it.
      Arno

  8. Zach Anaya

    The whole idea is to expect nothing and be ready to learn from the climb. However, going for an on-sight attempt or even a redpoint attempt we must travel with knowledge/ expectation we have from ground observations/ rememberance from the last attempt of a redpoint. Nonetheless, we must also be flexible with our plan and be ready to incorporate new information as we ascend. What are some good ways to stay vigilant and explore new methods of a sequence without wasting energy and detracting attention from our environment and where we are headed?

    1. Arno

      Zach, Great question. First consider that on-sighting and redpointing are two very different stress situations. In on-sighting you have limited information, which you will modify as you climb. Your plan (from the ground or a stance) must be flexible so modification can occur. In redpointing you have a very accurate plan and you need to stick to it. I go into a lot of detail in the Espresso Lessons book about the difference between these and how to prepare and act out each one. Remember, our minds will tend to look for ways to escape stress. The stress in on-sight climbing is the many unknowns. Our minds react to that stress by looking for security within those many unknowns, such as latching onto our initial plan–validating it–instead of being flexible and modifying as needed. Conversely, in redpointing, the stress is not the unknowns of the climb but the unknowns of how well we will be able to exert effort in a high stress situation. Our minds will look for ways to escape that stress by modifying an already “worked out” plan, such as new sequences rather than sticking to the ones we’ve already worked out. I think your comment about “travel with knowledge/expectation” is correct if we apply it properly. I’ve outlined a bit of this process in my reply to Paul’s comments: travel with knowledge/expectation of processes, not ends.

      Now to your question: “What are some good ways to stay vigilant and explore new methods of a sequence without wasting energy and detracting attention from our environment and where we are headed?”
      You are describing an on-sight situation. There is no need to explore new sequences while redpointing. In on-sighting, make sure you gather objective info for the next section. What is the POLR (path of least resistance) through to the next stance? Look for general features, while at your stance. Then, engage. You climb those features and if your plan was accurate you’ll arrive at the next stance. But this will rarely be the case. So, you’ll probably run into some block: what you expected turns out to be different. You need to adapt quickly to something else…if that works fine, go with it. If not you may need to climb back down to the last stance to rest and reassess. What you have essentially done is probed into the situation to gather experiential knowledge, which alters your “intellectual knowledge” plan. And that is essentially what occurs with an on-sight plan. It is an intellectual plan that needs to be morphed into an experiential plan. In redpointing you have an experiential plan because you’ve worked it out already.
      One important “way” you can use attention effectively is to tell your belayer to remind you to: “Modify it” if you are on-sighting; or “stick with it” if you are redpointing. Your belayer is out of the stress and can help keep your attention on the type of stress you are facing.
      Does this address your question?
      Arno

  9. Robert

    Its kind of funny I get your newsletter today. I’ve been project this 5.11+ plus here at my local gym in Logan, UT. I can climb it nice and solid all the way to the crux and then wham it hits me. I either fall trying to clip or just fall right when I clip in. Scary stuff! I’ve climbed it clean a few times, for sure. I have yet to redpoint it though.
    I think its my expectations that are getting in the way of accomplishing my goals.
    Thanks for this newsletter.

    1. Arno

      Hi Robert, What do you mean by: “I’ve climbed it clean a few times, for sure. I have yet to redpoint it though.” Seems contradictory. Anyway, you may be expecting the crux to be hard or that you will need to rest after getting your pro clipped. Identify processes you can do such as breathing, relaxing (lowering heels and loosening grip) and keep attention on these as you climb. Tell your belayer to yell ONLY these reminders to you as you climb. See what happens.
      Arno

  10. Alec Solimeo

    OK…this is all great…really some great replies and answers here.

    so for a coaching younger people, what would one do preclimbing to properly prepare climbers for the fear they will be encountering wether leading 5.13 or toproping 5.6.

    If you know that fear plagues the climber but they want it are there any good tricks (address it or no?) before they get on the wall?
    or
    If you know that the ego plagues the climber, obviously they wany it, again preclimbing options for putting it all out on the table and releasing the climber of this burdensome fear?

    1. Arno

      Thanks for your question Alec. You asked: How to prepare climbers for the fear they will be encountering, and dealing with ego issues that could distract climbers.

      Honesty is important. If ego plagues climbers then tell them up front that their ego might get in the way. And, what to do when they notice this happening. Coaches can prepare climbers by giving a honest reminder of this tendency and giving climbers tools to deal with it. Those tools are always the same: get attention on the current task. There are only two types of tasks: thinking and doing. To think, they need to use their minds to do the “lookings” as described in the Espresso Lessons book. To do (take action), they need to immerse attention in their bodies via the BERP elements: breathing, looking at the next hold to grab without looking away until they have it, alway relaxing, and using proper posture and moving continuously. We practice much of this last year.

      As a coach, you can ask: “Are you resting or climbing?” This forces climbers to choose between thinking and doing. If they are stopped they think by doing the lookings and resting. If they are climbing they apply the BERP elements: continuous breathing, looking at the hold until the task is completed, loosening grip/lowering heels, and continuous movement.
      Arno

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