One of our biggest challenges in mental training comes when we’re progressing quickly. Our strategy for improving is working. We have plenty of external evidence of progress, so we aren’t interested in improving our mental game or changing our strategy. This works for us until it doesn’t anymore, like when we hit performance plateaus. We speed along until we completely stop.
Strategies have time limits. At some point they lose their effectiveness. In order to break through performance plateaus, one has to slow down and go deeper. Once we’re there, we can learn new skills to speed our progress. We slow down to speed up.
For instance, when we practice the skill of falling, we may begin with a strategy that’s based on external evidence of our progress. The bigger the fall we take, the more progress we make. However, at some point, the distance of the next fall will be out of our comfort zone. We might power through to get it over-with, or we might remain fearful, fail to learn the skill and shut down our progress. When we base our progress on external evidence we build a shaky foundation that doesn’t support our future growth. If we want to make real progress, we’re going to need a solid foundation that comes from within.
Look for Ways to Slow Down
Instead of speeding up the process just to get through it, look for ways to slow it down. We slow down by shifting our attention down, out of the mind, and into the body. We become interested in our internal evidence of progress by going deeper within ourselves to find the edge of our comfort zones. We ask ourselves: “What length and type of fall am I comfortable taking?” Then, we take small steps into stress, by taking slightly longer falls. We don’t practice to get the fall over-with; we’re motivated to process the stress, of slightly longer falls, into comfort. In order to do this properly, one must develop subtle awareness.
We pay attention to the subtleties of how we’re breathing, where we’re looking, and our falling posture, during the fall.
- Are we holding our breath or exhaling during the fall? If we’re exhaling, then are we extending the exhale throughout the fall?
- Are we looking at the rock or looking down into the fall zone? If we’re looking down, then are we seeing what’s in the fall zone or is our attention focused in the mind, thinking about what we’re doing?
- Are we tensing the body and holding the rope, or do we have proper falling posture? If we’re falling with proper posture, then are we moving into the fall from our center or not?
Such inquiry allows us to dig deeper into the subtleties of how we’re falling.
We focus our attention on the body, sensing how we’re breathing, where we’re looking, and our body positioning as we practice. We pay attention to the feeling of becoming more comfortable. If we feel comfortable, we have evidence that we’re falling correctly. Then, we can take a longer fall. That process focuses our attention on the body, not the mind.
Mental training requires us to become more aware of our motivation. Are we motivated by achievement, taking a big fall, or are we motivated by learning how to fall? The former keeps us on a performance plateau because we don’t learn how to fall or diminish fear of falling. The latter allows us to learn a skill and diminish a fear, which are requirements for improvement. Understanding the limitations of achievement motivation allows us to shift how we’re motivated. We understand that a slow, incremental learning process is what ultimately speeds our progress. We slow down to speed up.
Practice Tip: Motivated to Process Stress
All climbers have some degree of fear of falling. How much fear do you have? What length or type of fall are you comfortable taking? Find the edge of your comfort zone and then slow down to speed up.
Slow down by going deeper. Shift your attention out of the mind and into the body. During falling practice, pay attention to how you’re breathing, where you’re looking, and your falling posture. Make sure you’re exhaling throughout the fall, looking down, and positioning your body with your arms/legs shoulder-width apart and bent. You’ll have evidence that you’re falling correctly if you’re becoming more comfortable. Then you can add more stress by taking a longer fall.