Mental training is simple. We need to keep attention in the moment focused on the task. Climbing is also simple. We begin on the ground and climb to the top. We make decisions along the way about placing protection, falling consequences, and climbing plans. Mental training and climbing become complicated when we involve too much thinking.
Any risk consists of three phases: preparation, transition, and action. Each phase is important and requires unique ways of using attention. We prepare when we stop and think. We transition when we make a decision. We take action when we move and climb. Visually it’s very easy to see these phases in climbing. Thinking and preparation occur when we stop. Climbing and action occur when we move between stopping points. Decision-making occurs between stopping and moving; between thinking and climbing; between preparation and action.
We focus our attention in the mind when we stop. We think to gather information. What’s unique about this phase is that we can rest at stopping points so it’s easier to focus our attention in the mind to do effective thinking. Then we focus our attention on the decision-making process. What’s unique about this phase is we aren’t gathering information anymore; we’re weighing that information against our past experience and making a decision. Finally, we focus our attention in the body to climb. What’s unique about this phase is that we’re moving our bodies through the stress by focusing our attention on somatic activities such as breathing and moving.
The simplicity comes from understanding that we must be in only one phase at a time. From this foundation we simply identify which phase we need to be in and then focus our attention on that phase. The mind will distract our attention away from this foundation, focusing our attention on thinking and climbing at the same time. We begin over-thinking and creating complexity. This manifests itself as hesitation. Climbers hold on with two hands, not shaking out to rest and not moving. They are caught between resting and climbing. Part of their attention is in the mind thinking, wondering if they should continue, and part of their attention is in the body engaged in climbing.
Attention, to be effective, must be committed to one or the other, either stopping to think and rest, or moving to climb. If we find ourselves hesitating, then we need to commit to stopping to think or moving to take action. We must choose and then commit to that choice.
This is one of the main areas that The Warrior’s Way material is different than other mental training methods. We don’t take a cognitive, intellectual approach to mental fitness. That causes overthinking and makes mental training complicated. We know the essence of being mentally fit is keeping attention in the moment focused on the task. Therefore, by simply knowing what tasks make up each phase, we simply help students keep attention on those tasks. We don’t dwell on why attention is distracted; we simply redirect it to the task. That’s simple, but not easy. It takes a lot of practice. So, be patient; be attentive.
Practice Tip: One Phase at a Time
You use attention very differently when you think, compared to when you take action with your body. Therefore, you must commit to thinking or taking action. Thinking occurs in preparation. Then you make a decision. Finally you climb to take action. Here are the tasks for each phase. Keep it simple, but remember it’s not easy. Commit to only one phase at a time. Choose and then commit.
- Preparation: Think about the end result, the consequence, and the plan.
- Transition: Weigh the information against your past experience and make an appropriate decision.
- Action: Engage your body, focusing your attention on breathing, staying as relaxed as possible, and moving. Act out the risk.
More in-depth information of this method is covered in my second book Espresso Lessons.