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Recently, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson succeeded in free climbing the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. In January, they committed to an all-out push, after seven years of effort. Tommy climbed pitch 15, one of the hardest pitches, but Kevin was thwarted by it for seven days. Kevin persevered and they finally succeeded after 19 days on the wall. How did Tommy and Kevin persevere against such odds?

Warriors need to demonstrate qualities in their climbing that give them the best chance of achieving their goals, qualities such as persistence, confidence, and commitment. How do they demonstrate these qualities? It has to do with intention. Intention is defined as attention focused in the direction of a choice. Warriors choose to focus their attention on processes that occur moment to moment along their journeys. Doing this creates an unbending intent to move forward, step by step, regardless how how small that step is.

Warriors want to be in the stress of experience; that’s where they feel alive. We need to examine how we deal with outcomes that fall short of our expectations in order to understand how to keep our attention focused on the stress. When we climb, we’ll either make it to the top or fall off. Reaching the top satisfies ordinary people’s motivation for achieving end results. However, we don’t achieve end results always. Most of the time, we fall or “take” hanging on the rope. To be effective in reaching our goals, and to enjoy the journey toward those goals, we need to pay attention to how we react to outcomes.

Kevin created many outcomes on pitch 15 that fell short of his expectations. These outcomes could create frustration and probably did to some degree. Frustration, however, doesn’t help us solve the problem; it distracts our attention. To succeed, Kevin needed to focus his attention on what he needed to do to climb. His intention needed to be unbending, focused on what he needed to do to climb.

Tommy’s intention needed to be unbending also. He had succeeded on pitch 15 rather quickly. He could have told Kevin to give up, so at least one of them could free climb the final difficult pitches before a winter storm moved in. Tommy could have gotten frustrated with Kevin, but he remained curious to possibilities for the team to succeed. Tommy’s intention was for a team free ascent. Tommy persevered, but in a different way than Kevin.

Ordinary people get frustrated when they don’t achieve their goals as quickly as they expect. Their motivation is toward making fast progress. When they fall off, they get frustrated. With enough frustration, their motivation diminishes and so does their commitment. Their intent begins to bend.

If Tommy and Kevin would have been motivated by achieving their goal quickly, they would have quit years ago. They persevered because they understood it would take a long time and they had a lot to learn. They also needed to be confident that they had the skills necessary to succeed. That confidence comes from developing their skills through the climbing experiences on the wall.

Warriors don’t get frustrated. Warriors understand that frustration is wanting something (achieving the goal) for nothing (no effort / no learning). Warriors know that achieving goals takes a long time. They’re motivated toward engaging a slow, stressful, learning process. When they fall off a climb, they’re curious about what contributed to that outcome. Something was lacking in their mental and physical ability that caused the fall. In other words, something still needs to be learned. Warriors remain curious so they can learn what is lacking.

Warriors also enjoy achieving the goal, but the learning that they’ll experience on their journeys is what’s most important to them. By being motivated to engage a slow, stressful process, warriors’ intent becomes unbending. It focuses their attention in the direction of engagement, on the processes that occur in the moments of their journeys. With unbending intent, directed to the actual processes that occur while climbing, warriors display all the other qualities that are important for achieving goals. They are persistent, confident, and committed.

We can’t sustain our motivation unless we also have unbending intent. We must desire to be in the midst of the stress. If we get frustrated because we aren’t progressing as quickly as we expect, then we slow our learning process. But, if we stay curious, if we’re warriors, our intent will be unbending. With unbending intend, we speed our learning and we’ll experience being alive during the journey that leads us to our goals.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Perhaps not how I would have phrased it, but I agree with your statement that being in a state of curiosity is necessary to sustain intention. I think your intention can evolve. Trying to maintain an unbending attitude leaves you blinded to feedback from your own processes as you work towards any achievement where you are stepping forward into your own unknown territory.

    1. Thanks for your comments Tom. There is a difference between unbending intent that is process oriented and unbending intent that is end result oriented. ww always emphasizes process.

  2. I also find the concept of curiosity to be very helpful, and employ it liberally throughout my life.

    I wonder at the idea that achieving goals takes a long time, and that we should be motivated toward engaging a slow, stressful, learning process. In my experience, sometimes the learning process is slow and stressful while other times it’s the opposite, and other times again it’s everything in between. I find it most helpful to not put any reference on the speed or ease of the learning process, and to simply do whatever it takes.

    Perhaps I’m taking you too literally!

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your questions. In general terms, we need to shift our motivation from making fast progress that’s focused on being comfortable toward engaging, willingly, a slower process that includes stress. In specific terms, each learning situation will be different, some more stressful than others. So, we can shift away from how fast or slow we’re learning to just being present for however fast/slow each particular learning situation is. a

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