A saying such as “Don’t reinvent the wheel” contains a gem of wisdom: don’t reinvent something that already works. But then someone comes along and says exactly the opposite, “reinvent the wheel,” and says it contains a gem of wisdom: question what works. Which of these sayings is correct? Or, is there wisdom in each?

In the 1970s, a new generation of climbers wanted to reinvent climbing. They thought the mixed-aid/free climbing of the previous generation was outdated. The new generation climbed ground-up, the same as the previous generation, but believed that free climbing, using only one’s physical and mental skill, was a better style. One climbed without pre-inspecting the route, creating an on-sight free ascent. This style of climbing evolved, until it became so strict that if one ever fell off a route, one could never go back to it. Falling was seen as a sign of failure.

In the 1980s, a new generation came along to reinvent climbing. The new generation valued the free ascent, the same as the 1970s generation, but questioned the on-sight, no pre-inspection climbing style. They preferred a performance-based approach, utilizing a new tactic called “hang-dogging,” which allowed them to hang on protection to pre-inspect the route and figure out the easiest way to climb it. They worked on the route until they could do it in one-effort, called a redpoint ascent. This performance-based approach changed how they understood falling. Falling wasn’t seen as failure, but as part of the learning process that was necessary for success.

The 1970s generation thought hang-dogging was cheating because it allowed one to rest on protection, making it easier to gain knowledge about the climb, thus diminishing the climbing challenge. The 1980s climbers thought their tactics simply redefined the challenge. Instead of the challenge being on-sight climbing where falling was considered failure, it was redefined as pushing past one’s limit where falls were part of the learning process. 

The 1970s climbers saw the wisdom of not reinventing the ground-up strategy of the previous generation, but wanted to reinvent the style of how they climbed. They embraced the stress of on-sight free climbing. Over time, however, what was once a desire to engage stress and learn new ways of climbing, turned into a desire to stay in the comfort zone of what they had learned. They didn’t want to reinvent climbing or themselves. 

The 1980s climbers saw the wisdom of not reinventing the one-effort, free ascent strategy of the previous generation, but wanted to reinvent the style of how they did this. They embraced the stress of falling and the work that went into climbing more difficult routes. Over time, they too resisted how climbing was changing. The next generation wanted to reinvent climbing in the gym and through bouldering. The 1980s climbers thought it was too easy to just go to a gym, or boulder, to climb. They latched onto the comfort of the climbing style they’d invented. 

The mind becomes nostalgic about how climbing was when we were elite athletes, instead of embracing new ways of challenging ourselves. We reflect on how much better (and harder) climbing was in the “good old days” than embracing the stress of how climbing is changing. This tendency, of course, is true for all generations.

There’s wisdom in not relearning everything that was invented in the past. We can stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and benefit from what they invented. There’s also wisdom in learning new ways to do things. We can build on what our ancestors invented and invent new things. Therefore, there is wisdom in both not reinventing and reinventing climbing and ourselves. There are also limitations, which manifest themselves when we allow the mind to latch onto the comfort of the past without embracing the stress of the future.

The challenge is to be aware of the mind’s tendency to seek comfort and not get drawn in by it.

What was once challenging can become a source of comfort, especially when we consider mental training. Unconsciousness surrounds this mental tendency so it’s critical to continually emphasize developing awareness in our mental training. 

The world is constantly changing as new generations are born and we need to evolve with them. We don’t have to reinvent everything previous generations invented. There’s some great value in it. We can use that knowledge and also seek new ways to reinvent ourselves. That’s a process that doesn’t stop. If we’re aware, we can continue to reinvent ourselves.

Practice Tip: Mental Flexibility

Mental training addresses the mind, it’s strengths and limitations. It also addresses the learning process. Therefore, mental toughness is not the approach the Warrior’s Way uses in mental training. To develop the mind and learn, we need mental flexibility. We need to bring awareness to the mind’s tendency to latch onto comfortable habits and beliefs.

What mental beliefs are you latching onto as a source of comfort? Do you think about how the “good old days” were better than how it is today? Do you get nostalgic? Stop! You’re allowing your mind to wallow in the comfort of how life was, not how it is today. Rather, what’s great about today? Focus on that. It’ll be a little more stressful, but that stress will reinvent you.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Gordon Grant

    I’ll utilize some of these worthy practices in a talk I’m giving to a local middle school today. Thanks, as always, for the philosophical insights and pragmatic applications of them to life.

    1. Arno

      Nice Gordon. Life seems like a dynamic balance, fluctuating between reinventing ourselves and establishing a secure base from which to do that. 🙂 a

  2. Jane Harrison

    I appreciate the reminder to embrace mental flexibility. I find this current life era stressful and it’s easy to look back on earlier times as desirable. And yet when I remember what is actually possible today, there is so much potential. Thanks for the lesson. I took your falling class at Triangle Rock Club Morrisville (near Raleigh, NC) some years ago and it continues to have a positive impact on my mental attitude in climbing and beyond.

    1. Arno

      Thanks for your perspective Jane. Life is constantly changing, isn’t it? Mental flexibility does seem to help us be adaptable, to seek the potential, as you note. Thanks for sharing and also taking the fall/commit clinic. We’re planning to schedule another one at TRC soon. a

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