best-practice-1078383_1920In the last lesson we learned that we can measure progress quantitively by the goals we achieve, such as climbing a harder grade, achieving a redpoint ascent, or being able to do a 5.13c crux sequence. Measuring quantitive progress is obvious: we know we’ve progressed if we achieve the goal.

We also learned that we can measure progress qualitatively by improving processes, such as climbing efficiently, resting effectively, or changing our thinking. Measuring qualitative progress is more subtle. For example: We climb a certain rate between stopping points on a route. If we climb too slowly, then we could use up all of our energy and fall; if we climb too fast, then we could make a mistake, like placing a foot in the wrong place, and fall. We measure progress with processes by refining the best pace to climb a particular section of rock that is an optimal blend of our skills and what the rock requires.

Quantitive progress is not within our control. Achieving a redpoint ascent exists in the future; we can’t control the future. Qualitative progress, though, is within our control. Processes, such as refining the pace of climbing through a section, exists in the present moment; we can control what we do in the present. It’s important to understand this distinction so our attention stays focused on what we can control.

Motivation is key; it drives what we focus on. If we’re primarily motivated by making quantitive progress, then we’ll focus our attention on the future goal and get frustrated when we don’t achieve it as quickly as we expect. If we’re primarily motivated by making qualitative progress, then we’ll focus our attention on the present process and remain curious about what we need to learn to improve.

Next, we identify processes that we focus our attention on. There are thinking processes we do with the mind and doing processes we do with the body. There’s also a process for observing our attention. There are six foundational processes. All other processes are just variations of these six.

  • Two mind processes: Thinking to collect information; decision-making
  • Three body processes: Moving; falling; resting
  • One observing process: Setting intentions and observing when our attention is distracted from the task

Our practice should include these processes so we make qualitative progress with them. We improve the quality of these processes by focusing our attention more completely on them. It’s more difficult to use the mind to think and make decisions when we’re under stress, so the quality of using our attention diminishes. It’s more difficult to use the body to move, fall, and rest when we’re under stress, so the quality of our attention diminishes. Therefore, being attentive to the quality of how we practice, especially as stress increases, is extremely important.

Qualitative practice requires that we develop the ability to observe what we’re doing, moment to moment. We may relax into a difficult rest stance in one moment and in the next moment we tense by over-gripping or flexing our arm. We may commit to climbing efficiently and succumb to rushing ourselves, creating inefficient movement, when we get overwhelmed by stress. Observing when stress causes our attention to become distracted from resting effectively or moving efficiently gives us the option to redirect it to the task.

Qualitative practice begins by being intentional. For example, we set an intention to rest. We choose to focus our attention on the process of continuously relaxing our grip. This is not a one-time event; it’s an on-going process. We relax our grip, moment to moment, as stress increases, causing us to over-grip. We also set an intention to climb. We choose to focus our attention on the process of moving efficiently. This too is not a one-time event; it’s an on-going process. We’ll have a tendency to rush through the stress, which creates inefficient use of our energy. We notice this rushing tendency, moment to moment, as stress increases, causing us to rush. Setting intentions helps us act consciously to direct how we choose to use our attention.

We set a general intention to help align our motivation: To remain curious to improve processes. If we’re curious, then we’ll be interested in how to change the way the mind thinks when collecting information and making decisions. If we’re curious, then we’ll be interested in how to engage the body to rest better, move better, and fall better. Curiosity helps us observe the body and the mind and changes the quality of our overall climbing experience.

We shift our motivation so we’re primarily motivated by engaging processes. Doing this assures us that we’re focusing our attention on what we can control. We set an intention to remain curious about the quality of how we do each process. Finally, we observe when our attention is distracted toward frustration and redirect it to remaining curious. By practicing this way we take charge of our attention, our climbing, and our lives.

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