hand-968729I did an interview with Kris Hampton of Power Company Climbing recently. He said he really enjoys the learning process, but feels he might stay in it too long. He asked me how to determine when to “flip the switch” to shift into redpoint mode? I told him there’s a difference between practice and application. We focus on learning during practice; we focus on testing our learning during application. Practice narrows our attention to learn skills; application expands our attention to apply what we’ve learned. Our best performance occurs when we “flip the switch” and commit our attention completely to application. 

Practice is a divergent activity. We have one point of focus: we need to learn. From that one point, we diverge into doing various activities that support it. This is an analytical process. We analyze sequences, rest stances, and fall consequences. Our attention narrows, taking a tactical approach to break down the challenge, so we can analyze each specific part and learn it.

Application is a convergent activity. We have many points of information (everything we’ve learned) that need to converge into one point (performance). This is an intuitive process. We integrate what we’ve learned into the context of the larger situation. Our attention expands, taking a strategic approach, to determine how we’ll apply the skills we’ve learned to the whole route.

There are many unknowns when we begin working on a route. The practice process is a way to change unknowns into knowns, such as learning climbing sequences. We take a tactical approach by learning sequences on specific sections of the route. The more we refine these sequences, the more we change unknowns into knowns. This shift allows our attention to expand to larger portions of the whole challenge, which is necessary for applying ourselves to redpointing. Once we’ve done our tactical work, we can “flip the switch” and be strategic to achieve the goal. 

We need to know how to “flip the switch” from practice to application. We can escape the stress during practice. We cycle between comfort and stress, as we hang on protection and learn sequences. In application we don’t escape the stress. We commit to staying in it. 

Knowing when to “flip the switch” requires awareness of the mind’s strong draw to its comfort zones. If we love the learning process and never test ourselves, then we’re stuck in our learning comfort zone. If we stay in redpoint mode and don’t make progress, then we’re stuck in our achievement comfort zone. We find balance between the two by cycling between practice and application. Cycling in a timely manner helps us be aware if we’re simply drawn to our comfort zones or moving beyond them. 

Our redpoint performance will show us how much we’ve learned and whether or not we need to cycle back into practice. If we fall four times during several redpoint applications, then we may cycle back to the practice process. If we’re making progress by reducing the number of falls, then we may stay focused on application. In this way, our attention can narrow to do more tactical practice, or expand to strategically apply what we’ve learned to achieve the goal. 

By knowing there’s a difference between practice and application, we’re better able to use our attention. We can narrow it to improve tactical aspects that need to be learned and then expand it to apply the best strategy to achieve the goal. The mind will want to stay in its comfort zones by staying too long in practice mode or application mode. Awareness of this tendency helps us not fall victim to it. From that awareness, we can learn what’s needed, but then “flip the switch” completely into application. We achieve our goal when we converge all the analytical learning points into one intuitive application.

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