Your mind will always look for ways to avoid discomfort or circumvent stress. It will seek to eliminate fear or climb the next grade without doing the required work. Your mind will do anything it can to keep from being fully present for the stress that is inherent in a climbing challenge. Even some common, well-accepted calming tactics are examples of this tendency to escape. For example, many people listen to music when exercising, stretching, warming up, or practicing. Some climbers even listen to music when redpointing a route. Doing this may calm and focus your mind, but it’s a short-term solution. If you want to realize your full potential, you will need to come face-to-face with the stress generated in the climbing experience. The only way to do this is to be present for it. By distracting your mind with calming “tricks,” you allow your mind to evade the growth process. If you use a trick to skirt the growth process, you don’t really grow; you just find a way to ignore the stress. Tricks can produce short-term ends, but they won’t help you learn. Learning is the means that allows you to reach your full potential.
Labeling outcomes is another limiting tendency of the mind. Your mind tends to label completing a route as good and successful. When you fall off a route, however, your mind tends to label it bad or failure. Doing this takes attention off the learning process and allows your mind to wallow in the trappings that come along with the label. You’re either lost in the label of success and therefore lose sight of what you actually did to create that outcome, or you’re lost in the label of failure instead of exploring what actually happened to cause the fall. When you operate from awareness, you are curious about what happened right at the moment you let go. Yes, not when you fell but when you let go. What thought was in your mind when you separated from the rock? Did your body or your mind let go? You don’t know exactly, and labeling it as failure won’t help you find out. If you keep your attention on how much your mind contributed to separating you from the rock, then you’ll stay excited about the climbing process and won’t allow your mind to trick you into hiding behind the comfort of a label.
All-or-nothing thinking is another tendency of the mind. When you push yourself on grades that are outside your comfort zone, your mind will resist by creating thoughts to lure you into escaping, or finishing quickly. Your mind seeks the greater comfort before or after the stress and wants to either rush through to the end when the stress is over (all), or not engage the challenge at all (nothing).
Understand and remember that these ignoring, labeling, and all-or-nothing tendencies are your mind’s natural inclination. Simply identify these thoughts when they happen, and use your awareness to deal with them.
This Post Has 16 Comments
One addition I’d like to make:
When we label an outcome as “bad” for instance, we take our attention off the learning process. This is why…
Learning is converting stress into comfort. If we label an outcomes based on whether or not they made us comfortable then we are focusing attention opposite of how learning works.
A “bad” outcome would be not getting to the top, for instance. Yet, something was lacking in us that caused us not to get to the top. That something points to learning we need to be attentive to.
Hi Arno, this article really identify a situation that normally occur in my daily life. But I have a question, as “mind tricks” are just short-term solution, how you can leave this mind tricks aside if you are already acostumed or you really rely on it?
Gracias for your comment and question. Yes, we are habituated to the mind tricks. How do we break out of these habits and tricks? Several ways:
1. Stop using words like good, bad, success, failure. This will force you to think consciously and objectively about the outcome instead of thinking habitually.
2. The previous lessons can be helpful:
*Questioning the status quo. In other words, look for ways to modify what you currently know rather than validate it.
*Difference between thinking and awareness. Realize your essence is awareness and attention, not thinking. Realizing your mind thinks for you allows you to let go of limiting thinking when it occurs.
*The mind comes forth. Your mind thinks a lot and without your conscious control. Stop the busyness of the mind by continually refocusing attention on your senses: breathing, seeing, hearing, etc. This is the only way you can enter the present moment and be attentive to it.
Does this help?
It happens to me that, not only climbing but in every day life, mostly in stress situations, I start thinking in negative things like accidents, roberies, etc. Many times I am aware of those thoughts but they keep coming to my mind. I have divided the thoughts in objetvies and subjetcives but most of the times I cant separate one from another. I would really like to stop those thoughts.
Hi Camilo, You cannot stop those thoughts. All you can control is attention. So, when thoughts occur simply redirect attention away from thinking and into your senses. Focus on what you can see, hear, feel, and your breathing.
Remember, what you focus on expands. If you focus on robberies, accidents… that is what will expand. Likewise, if you focus on what you can see, hear, and your breathing… that is what will expand. And, what expands is your present moment awareness of what is ACTUALLY occurring rather than your mind worrying about what might occur.
I do enjoy reading everyone’s experience here.
I am a psychologist, so here is something I teach: Think about the difference between the general concept of failure: “I am a failure for not completing that climb,” and the specific instance: “I failed to complete that climb”. Then break down the details as far as awareness to what caused the failure that offers a learning opportunity: “I was rushing and wore myself out too soon”. I am a relative beginner, so for me, there really are no failures; my ego (which leans a little on the side of needing to be perfect) knows I am new to this and tolerates errors pretty well, but I often observe folks who have been around longer feeling the need to make excuses, which to me is a very different process from the learning that is presented–“I was tired” vs “now I know how my grip strength changes when I have climbed for 4 hours”)
two more cents
thanks for this, Arno! great op to grow.
Hi Kira, Your comment: Then break down the details as far as awareness to what caused the failure that offers a learning opportunity.
Thanks for your description of failure. Our minds do tend to label outcomes as failures or success which do take attention off learning opportunities. By focusing attention on describing the outcome objectively we keep attention on what we did or didn’t do to create that outcome and also what we can then do to modify our next effort.
Thanks for your comments.
Arno, your post made me think about a couple concepts.
I tend to see labels as tools. Labels can be useful – for instance in grouping discrete bits of awareness or problem solutions to see a bigger principal or for faster memory searching to solve a new problem, but they can also be misused or abused.
I agree, one common misuse to just apply the label, then discontinue further inquiry and awareness. For me, labels also work well if I am procrastinating and don’t want to acknowledge doing so.
Years ago I really wanted to lead the second pitch of Blankety Blank at Taquitz Rock. I had done it 2 years previous and wanted the repeat. It has an un-protected steep section of delicate 5.10 b/c smearing right out of the second belay station to a small edge about 15 feet up. At the belay, I remember breathing to center my awareness, talking to my belayer and setting up for the catch. It was never a discussion about success or failure, but about what to do if…
I remember falling off 5 or 6 times before I completed that section – sliding fall right into the station. Each time I recovered, re-centered, re-focused my attention, readjusted my sequence and dynamic balance subtly. I seemed calm and intently focused, but when I got past the crux I remember letting out a yell – I believe releasing the tension of the moment.
“What thought was in your mind when you separated from the rock? Did your body or your mind let go? You don’t know exactly, and labeling it as failure won’t help you find out. “
I am thinking, I should try this because it might work and I am not going to be able to hang here much longer. If I came off, here it would be because my feet cut loose. Why? Each time explore what happened. Find some subtle adjustment and re-try.
I lead it that day, but also had times when I couldn’t lead it.
“Your mind will always look for ways to avoid discomfort or circumvent stress….If you want to realize your full potential, you will need to come face-to-face with the stress generated in the climbing experience.”
I don’t do it often, but I’ve used a technique we called “mindful distraction”; humming a jazz tune while leading is my most common behavior. Works for me when the commitment factor is high
Hi Thomas, Thanks for the in-depth comments. Your point is very accurate: sometimes labels can be helpful. It’s important to “never” think you should always or never apply something. All applications are processes that need to be modified and blended into each climber’s bodymind. When writing something like a book or article we do need to generalize a bit. I feel that we can always ask ourselves if what we do complements learning or just gets us to an end. Labels can aid learning, perhaps for the short or long term. Just make sure it modifies the status quo rather than validate it. I think this is what you are pointing out.
Singing a jazz song to deal with high commitment situation? You say it works for you. Consider what you mean by “works.” Gets you to an end or helps you learn? If it helps you learn…then please describe.
You say: “sometimes labels can be helpful”…
On the other hand, labels are the product of our mind conceptualizing our experiences and turning them into familiar “known facts” to be included into our comfort zone. We might be tempted to define learning as the process of gathering patterns from our experiences, knowledge being the state of “knowing”, the sum of all the acumulated concepts which can be reused whenever necessary. But a label is also a certitude, and questioning our status quo – thus starting the learning process – makes no sense anymore when we “already know”.
By labeling the outcomes of our past actions, we create certitudes which can be extrapolated to other future actions, with the sole purpose of shielding us against the stress of engaging into similar risks. Actually, by using our acquired certitudes for labeling the possible outcomes of our future actions, we try to escape the stress by faking the familiar. Creating this friendly “unknown in disguise” will loop into a vicious circle that will create a bridge between the “known” past and the “predictible” future, producing and reinforcing a habitual behaviour and diverting our attention away from the “here and now” of the learning process.
How have you been? Nice to hear from you again. I think much of what you describe is correct. We are probably describing this labeling process very similarly, yet there are some portions that need more clarification.
Take, for example, your comment: “We might be tempted to define learning as the process of gathering patterns from our experiences, knowledge being the state of “knowing”, the sum of all the acumulated concepts which can be reused whenever necessary.”
Moshe Feldenkrais (founder of the Feldenkrais body awareness process) as well as Daniel Siegel (his book called The Developing Mind) state that the mind’s job is to “order chaos.” There must be some ordering to all the stimuli coming into our experience otherwise we’d go crazy. The mind does this by developing patterns from experiences so it can anticipate the future. In other words, the mind learns from experiences by developing patterns that create expectations of how to respond to future situations when they occur. Without this ability of the mind we wouldn’t survive. We would keep touching that hot stove or gladly hug that grizzly bear.
The key to utilizing the mind’s intelligence and not falling victim to this “chaos ordering” tendency is to focus attention on processes rather than outcomes. A label of “I gave my best effort even though I fell” is different than “I failed because I fell.” The mind will use that “gave my best effort” label (pattern) to anticipate how to exert effort in the future instead of using the “failure” label to be discouraged to exert effort in the future.
What do you think?
“Singing a jazz song to deal with high commitment situation? You say it works for you. Consider what you mean by “works.” Gets you to an end or helps you learn? If it helps you learn…then please describe.
“Mindful Distraction” …Does it help me learn? In certain circumstances I believe it does.
In situations where there is a lot of NEW information to process – maybe some overhanging route which I suck on for instance, it is not a technique I would instinctively use. But for paddling up or across some hard slab it might be a choice I’d make. Maybe because the distraction does not come from an external source – I find the emotional aspects of my mind relax and I can concentrate more intensely. Perhaps here I am collating and synthesizing known engrams.
So where have I applied this mindful distraction? Once doing “I Can’t Believe It’s a Girdle at Joshua Tree” I hummed the opening bars of “Espana” – Chick Corea tune – as I led the crux pitch. Then again on the traverse of “Black Presidents” at the Tree and on the run pitches on “Fairest of All” at Tuolomne Meadows. Maybe in those circumstances it was an out. I was on Paradise Lost on Middle Cathedral in Yosemite year ago – pretty stressed on the route finding, small questionable gear and run out when John Bachar started playing his Sax down in the Meadow below. His Coltrane riff just settled me down and we completed the route without further incident. Rest of the time I am irritated by external input – boom box at the sport crag and so forth.
After many years of climbing I am still learning about this process works.
Hi Thomas, First let me say I don’t know whether humming a tune helps or hinders learning. Some thoughts come to mind like…
To learn we must convert stress info comfort. We do this by being present for what we are doing with our bodymind to process the stress in the given situation. Usually I think of bodily functions for doing this such as breathing, relaxing, proper posture, moving. Humming a tune? Possibly. The slab situation you describe has less unknowns than the overhanging situation so there’s less to learn, although slabs do create certain kinds of discomfort for you. Could it be helpful to not hum and just be with whatever fears/doubts come up? I think so, because fears/doubts come up for specific reasons. When fears/doubts come up we are at the edge of our mental comfort zone. To expand that zone we need to process new levels of stress. If humming distracts attention away from stress then I’m not as sure that it actually helps you learn. It may help quiet the mind and achieve the end, but…
Hope all is well my friend!
What is your take on the “quick excuse.”
By this I mean when almost before or as the climber is falling they are already calling out why it happened and maybe even how to fix it.
Does this show the involvement of the climber in the process or must there be time for reflection before.
I guess I relate this as a mind trick of “knowing” a bit to much in the situation and taking away from the commitment/action stage?
Hi Alec, Interesting example. Thanks for sharing it. When the climber gives such a quick evaluation it could be accurate, but a bit more time could be necessary to reflect on everything that occurred that brought about that outcome. In other words, climbers may jump to conclusions while in stress. Later, when out of the stress, climbers can reflect on everything that occurred at that transition moment to falling. What was their doubts in their minds or something physical like a foot slipping, or combination of both?
As a coach, you can notice what they are doing with their body at that moment. Watch intently as they climb, especially when they reach the crux or begin to hesitate. Use the BERP elements for assessing. Particularly their eyes and use of their body. First, are they falling while holding on with two hands or are they falling while committing–making a move? Holding on with two hand and then letting go indicates the mind has already decided it cannot continue. Second, are they looking down before they fall or looking down as they begin to fall? Attention goes where eyes look, so if they are looking down before falling, then it indicates the mind has already decided they cannot continue climbing.
Does this help?
OK great, thanks.
Yes it helps very good, especially the confirmation that it is OK to be intsinctivly watching what they are doing, as it makes them the observer of the climb. I will work on observing their states before the fall and/or release from the wall and judge their excuses/critiques openly.