Mental Lies
The mind doesn’t like stress and will engage in thought processes designed to escape that stress. Often, these thought processes seem reasonable, but they have an ulterior motive of evasion. Many climbers have discovered this tendency of the mind. My first glimpse of it was many years ago as an intermediate climber in Boulder, Colorado. I was working my way through the climbing grades until I was able to climb 5.8s regularly. I wanted to push into 5.9s and had chosen one called Curving Crack on Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon. I was poised at a subtle stance below the last 15 feet, saying to myself, “I don’t think I can do it.” My mind told me to give up, but for no real reason I moved on anyway. Without thinking, I began stemming, laybacking, and jamming my shoes in the crack. I placed a nut and continued. The climbing was strenuous but doable. Stemming seemed to give me stability, and before I knew it, I pulled over the top.
At the time, I couldn’t believe it. I had felt quite certain I could not do the route, yet I had. I would later realize that almost every climber has had a similar experience. When you dissect these experiences, you find that your mind creates conceptions of situations that you haven’t yet engaged. Since the situation is unknown, these conceptions are not based on fact and often are false. Consider the magnitude of this realization: Your mind gives you false information prior to engaging a new situation. This false information is essentially a lie.
Realizing that your mind lies to you is a bit unsettling, to say the least. But how could it be otherwise? How can your mind know something before you actually engage? It can’t, and this realization is the beginning of understanding how your mind works.

AwarenessMental Lies

The mind doesn’t like stress and will engage in thought processes designed to escape that stress. Often, these thought processes seem reasonable, but they have an ulterior motive of evasion. Many climbers have discovered this tendency of the mind. My first glimpse of it was many years ago as an intermediate climber in Boulder, Colorado. I was working my way through the climbing grades until I was able to climb 5.8s regularly. I wanted to push into 5.9s and had chosen one called Curving Crack on Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon. I was poised at a subtle stance below the last 15 feet, saying to myself, “I don’t think I can do it.” My mind told me to give up, but for no real reason I moved on anyway. Without thinking, I began stemming, laybacking, and jamming my shoes in the crack. I placed a nut and continued. The climbing was strenuous but doable. Stemming seemed to give me stability, and before I knew it, I pulled over the top.

At the time, I couldn’t believe it. I had felt quite certain I could not do the route, yet I had. I would later realize that almost every climber has had a similar experience. When you dissect these experiences, you find that your mind creates conceptions of situations that you haven’t yet engaged. Since the situation is unknown, these conceptions are not based on fact and often are false. Consider the magnitude of this realization: Your mind gives you false information prior to engaging a new situation. This false information is essentially a lie.

Realizing that your mind lies to you is a bit unsettling, to say the least. But how could it be otherwise? How can your mind know something before you actually engage? It can’t, and this realization is the beginning of understanding how your mind works.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. the lie IS fear….

    1. Hi Theresa, thanks for your comment. I think I understand what you are suggesting, but… Please give some examples or explain more. We could understand fear as a resistance we feel that keeps us from taking inappropriate risks. With that perspective we see fear as kinda honest. More information or experience needs to be gotten before engaging, to keep the risk appropriate.
      Thanks, Arno

  2. I am organizer of a Rock Climbing group would like to post your web on my main page, would you allow me to do it?
    http://www.meetup.com/rockclimbers/
    Thank you and have a beautiful Holiday Season!
    Isabel

    1. Hi Isabel. Yes, that is fine. I remember you contacting me last year about doing clinics in CA. I’ll be heading there in 2010 and will be in touch. Arno

  3. Are there also positive aspects of the mind’s lying?

    For example, before getting on some climbs that I have never been on in climbing areas that I had traveled to, my mind has created a highly positive visualization of how I would climb the route. When I engaged the climb, the route was challenging but I had created a positive image of how I was going to climb and as a result, I committed to the cruxes of the climbs and was able to finish them (some onsight…..some after a fall!).

    Is the mind lying in these situations?

    Mike

    1. Hi Michael, How are you feeling? The way you phrase your question lead me to answer “no”. You cannot act effectively on a lie. However, visualization and using your mind’s intelligence is useful…very useful. We’ll be getting into that in later lessons. Here we are addressing developing awareness. Part of that awareness development is understanding our minds’ limitations and tendencies.
      Arno

  4. Are these Mental Lies an attempt by the Ego to avoid what it perceives as a diminishment of itself by keeping us on climbs that we won’t “fail” on. Keep up the good work.And I mean ego as the word is used by Tolle not Freud. Flash

    1. Hi Flash, I understand the ego as an identity we create that separates us from others and our world. This separation interferes with how effectively we can use our attention. So yes, our ego has this identity that it wants to protect. Engaging an unknown route where we may “fail” threatens the identity because the ego’s identity is tied very tightly to “succeeding.” Make it to the top and our ego validates its importance and identity; fall off and that identity is diminished.

      If you never engage the unknown then there is no threat to that identity. However, at some point the other part of us, call it the higher self perhaps, wants to grow and be challenged. And there begins the struggle between our desire for comfort (security) and desire to grow (learning).
      Arno

  5. Hello Arno,
    What a great reminder. I have your book and have been to your class but we quickly fall back into bad habits. I had a recent ACL injury and surgery so my confidence took a dip and I’m coming back but need to remember this lesson. So… I can only guess but do you believe this to be true? … “Perception is Reality” or “Reality is Perception”
    You are always such a breath of fresh air on ones perception. thank you Sandy Hedin

    1. Hi Sandy, How are things at Vertical World? I’d say you need to be patient and pay attention to your injury as you climb so you don’t injure it again. Just progress slowly through the grades again and strengthen your ACL.

      I’ve heard many authors state that perception is reality. Since we all have different perceptions and reality should be what is real and not made up, I think the statement doesn’t hold water. But, many times it is what we mean by the words that counts. Given that, you can understand “perception is reality” as: your reality, what seems real to you is how you perceive the world. In other words, the actions you take in the world will be based on how you see (perceive) it. Those actions are quite “real” aren’t they?

      So, it comes down to semantics. We could also say “perception isn’t reality” and mean that everyone’s perception is different yet they all hold some parts of reality, albeit somewhat distorted.
      Arno

  6. I suffer from this often – most days I climb, in fact. For me it’s generally associated with a difficult move, almost always a dynamic move, and a fear of falling. My mind will tell me that I won’t make it, that I don’t have the strength, that I’ll fall. I find it difficult to ignore this and carry on regardless.

    High motivation helps, but often external pressure has a greater impact – I find it much easier to overcome my reluctance if my belayer yells up at me to go for it. When I do “man up” and go for it I’m often successful, and even when I’m not successful I’m still glad that I tried rather than falling without making the attempt. I try to counter my thoughts of “it’s too hard, you won’t make it” by remembering that I climb for the challenge so doing easy routes that I think I can always do is a waste of time. I might not make it this time, or the next time, but eventually I will – but only as long as I try the route and accept that I might not make it up this time.

    I find it also helps to view hard climbs as a learning experience. As long as the pro is good, who cares if I don’t make it this time around? As long as I am working hard, learning, and getting stronger then the attempt has been worthwhile.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. Yes, the fear of falling is a big distraction and we’ll be addressing it as we progress through the Espresso Lessons book. Chapter 4 is the Falling chapter. We’re on Chp 1 now: Awareness. And, that’s the purpose of this lesson and the past lessons: developing awareness.

      One thing we want to become aware of is our minds’ limiting tendencies. Creating preconceptions of situations we haven’t engaged is a form of lie in that the situation isn’t represented accurately. Then we act on that misconception instead of the accurate reality of it.

      How do we deal with it? You don’t ignore it. If there is mental distraction or fear you need to investigate. Practicing falling is a way to investigate the fear of falling. With limiting mental dialogue, though, we simply redirect attention to the current task. There are two main tasks during climbing: stopping and moving. And, there are very specific things you do when you are stopped and different ones when you are moving. So, the first thing to do is identify those specific stopping and moving tasks. Then, simply redirect attention to those tasks. We’ll be getting into all of this soon in future lessons.
      Arno

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