A few years ago, David Villegas, our Spanish trainer, and I were teaching clinics at Chacabuco in Chile. During our last clinic we heard a girl asking her belayer a question: “Is it okay to fall here?” She was traversing away from her last bolt, pumped, and facing a pendulum fall. David turned to me and said, “I guess you have another topic for your email lessons. How do we want to know if it’s okay to fall, by someone else determining it or by you determining it?”
Asking a question infers a decision needs to be made; we’re deciding whether or not to commit to action. Decisions separate preparation and action. We prepare by thinking about the risk, collecting information. We act by doing it, by climbing through the risk. The purpose of decisions is to weigh what we discover in preparation against our experience and take an appropriate risk.
What does it mean to take an appropriate risk? “Appropriate” points toward us, risks that push us out of our comfort zones, but also diminish possibility of injury. Pushing too far out of our comfort zones can cause injury, increase fear, or death.
So how do we determine what’s an appropriate risk for us? First, we evaluate if we’re in a yes-fall or no-fall zone. Yes-fall zones mean we’re likely not to get injured if we fall. No-fall zones mean we’re likely to get injured or worse if we fall.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. How do you know if you’re likely to get injured? The key word here is know. The Warrior’s Way® emphasizes that intellectual knowing is only the beginning. To truly know something we have to experience it. Therefore, to know what is an appropriate yes-fall zone means we have experience with the kinds of falls we’re facing.
Also, decision-making about what is an appropriate risk isn’t an analytical process, it’s intuitive. The decision includes more than an analytical assessment of all the past falls weighed against the current fall’s statistics. It also includes how often we’ve been practicing falling recently, what types of falls we’ve practiced, and where we practiced them. That’s too much information to weigh analytically.
Intuitively, however, we can weigh it accurately. We do this by paying attention to how much resistance we feel about taking the risk. If there’s too much resistance, it means the risk is too far outside our comfort zones. “Appropriate,” then, means risks that push us a little outside our comfort zones where we feel a moderate level of resistance.
Falling is the consequence of decisions we make in climbing. If we rely on others to make those decisions for us, then we’re likely to get injured because what is appropriate for others isn’t appropriate for us. We’ll blame others if we get injured because we relied on them to do our risk assessment instead of taking responsibility for doing it ourselves. It’s better to accept responsibility for our decisions and rely on ourselves to determine what is appropriate. Doing that retains our power and gives us direct information about the consequences of our choices. There’s no one to blame. We’re able to focus more directly on what we can learn from the outcomes we create.
If we have to ask someone else “Is it okay to fall here?” then we need to become aware. We’re giving our power to others and need to reclaim it. We do this by doing falling practice to gain experiential knowledge about falling, practice weighing risks against our falling experience, and paying attention to the level of resistance we feel about taking the risk. Doing this focuses our attention on us, on a process that will help us take an appropriate risk. It brings our attention back to us so we can build our mental power and know what is appropriate.
Practice Tip: Feel for Resistance
Decision-making isn’t an analytical process; it’s an intuitive process. Tune into your intuition so you can make appropriate risk decisions. Do this by paying attention to the level of resistance you feel (not think).
- High level of resistance: the risk is not appropriate.
- Medium level of resistance: the risk may or may not be appropriate.
- Low level of resistance: the risk is probably appropriate.
When you feel a medium level of resistance, find “little ways to engage” to help push the feeling closer to “high” or “low.”
The Espresso Lessons book goes into more depth for making intuitive decisions.