One of the biggest challenges for staying focused is change. Situations are always changing, introducing unknowns we need to deal with. Fear occurs because of these unknowns. Or does it? Could fear be caused by how we focus our attention? Could there be something that doesn’t change, that is known to us? And, if we focus on this part of the situation, can we diminish fears?

Let’s look at end results and processes to determine what does and doesn’t change. End results are defined very specifically and don’t change, whereas processes, by their very nature, are constantly changing. The end result of climbing Devils Tower, for instance, is definitive and doesn’t change: we arrive at the top. Conversely, processes, such as breathing, are in constant movement and therefore constant change. Here, we’re defining end results and processes from an external perspective, both separate from us.

Looking at end results and processes from an internal perspective changes what is known. We personalize them; they aren’t separate from us. Now, we see the end result of climbing Devils Tower as containing many elements we will personally engage in. We’ll be climbing a specific route, have specific physical and mental struggles, and use specific gear. The end result of climbing Devils Tower will be very different, even if we climb the same route multiple times. Each end result will contain its own unique experience.

Looking at processes from an internal perspective converts a continually changing process into something fixed. Breathing, for example, when looked at as a complete process, is familiar and known. We’ve been personally engaged in breathing our whole life. We breathe in and out. That complete breathing process is known and doesn’t change. If we focus on the breathing process, then we don’t have our attention on unknown elements. 

To deal with change we need to focus on what doesn’t change. The external situation, such as a rock climb, changes from move to move. It protects at different intervals, has various falling consequences, and has difficult and easier sections. If we focus on these external elements, then our attention is on the unknown and what we can’t control. Rather, we need to focus on internal processes, such as breathing, so our attention is on what is known and what we can control. If we focus our attention on these processes, then we focus on what doesn’t change. This is what we teach in the Warrior’s Way clinics. 

Consider a wheel, like on a bicycle, spinning on an axle. Focusing on internal processes gives us a center that doesn’t change. We’re the stationary axle observing the wheel spinning around us. Change occurs on the periphery and tends to distract our attention. An interesting thing happens when we focus from the perspective of the axle: the spinning wheel begins to slow down. The external situation seems to change less because our attention is focused on internal processes. Eventually, with practice, the wheel stops spinning and there is no distraction of attention. With no distraction of attention, there is no fear. 

It’s important to remember that the only thing we can control is how we choose to focus our attention. Shifting our attention from the periphery of the wheel (the external situation) to the center axle (internal processes) grounds us in the known. The world may be spinning around us, but from our grounded perspective we can negotiate that spinning more effectively.

Practice Tip: Be the Axle

There are five internal processes for focusing your attention: resting, thinking, decision-making, falling, and moving. They are grouped into the three-phases of risk-taking: preparation, transition, and action. It’s important to be in only one phase at a time. 

  • Preparation (resting and thinking): When you need to think, stop action and think critically. Gather all relevant information. Also, gather energy by resting.
  • Transition (decision-making): When you’re finished thinking and resting, assess the information and make a decision.
  • Action (falling and moving): Commit to the decision and apply your energy to moving. If you fall then commit your energy to the process of falling. 

Cycle between these phases as needed.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Steve Angelini

    Focus on the axle, the center of the wheel. An interesting thought. Sometimes I look up at a route and, taking it all in at once, it seems overwhelming so I move on. The grade of the route has much to do with my avoidance of it. When I am fully “centered” I am tackling each move one by one. Often I am surprised by how manageable the route actually turned out to be when taken step by step. Falling is not failure. It is progress.

    1. Arno

      Nice awareness Steve, of this overwhelming tendency, and what you can actually do about it: small steps. Arno

  2. Steve Angelini

    Wow, Arno. Yesterday, after having read your advice about focusing on the center or basic element of the climbing process such as breathing, seeing what is immediately at hand, climbing in steps of incremental concentration (I think this was what you had in mind?), I had the best day in the gym I’ve had in a very long time. I felt young and alive and vital once again. Ignoring the grades I felt the opening holds and moves and, knowing that I could do that much, I set off up the routes one move at a time, focusing on breathing and relaxing, resting whenever I found a reasonable hold, moving quickly through the marginal holds. Four elevens in a row to what many say is 11c. I asked myself afterwards, what brought this epiphany on? All I could think was that it was your counseling. Thank you for the many years of inspiration.

Leave a Reply