Who Am I?
Your mind is where thinking occurs. But there is a part of you that is aware of the thinking. The essence of who you are and where you need to operate from, is that part. It is awareness. Awareness is the field or space where thinking can take place.
You can focus awareness on what you intend to do. This is attention: the intentional directing of awareness. Attention is really all you can control. The physical characteristics of the route, and even internal processes within you, are out of your control. Even thinking is out of your control. All you can really do is direct attention to manipulate your thinking. For instance, you can focus attention on obstacles and difficulties, and defeat your effort before you even begin. Or, you can focus attention on possibilities, and helpful “possibility thoughts” are generated. This is how biofeedback works for other bodily processes. By focusing attention on slowing your heart rate, for example, it slows down.
If you don’t operate from awareness, you get lost in thinking. You will think about skirting stressful situations and seeking comfort. Your mind’s comfort-seeking tendency will direct how your attention is utilized. Instead of letting your mind have its way, you need your attention to direct your mind’s thinking processes.
Beliefs, values, and prejudices are all wrapped up in how you think. These concepts are dear to you and make you feel secure. To consider that they are “not you” is threatening.
But fear lies within those thinking processes. This fear is not a logical, intelligent caution in the face of danger, but rather simple fear of the unknown. To break free from this fear you need to see thinking as something you do, not something you are, or even something you completely control. All you can control is how you focus attention. Fear is about what might happen, not what is happening. And “what might happen” originates not from the situation, but from your thinking mind. When you operate from awareness instead of your thinking mind, there is no space for fear.
Understanding the difference between thinking and awareness is the foundational step to increasing mental fitness. Your essence is awareness, and if you operate from that essence you feel a power that the mind’s thinking processes can never attain.

1-a1-who am I

Your mind is where thinking occurs. But there is a part of you that is aware of the thinking. The essence of who you are and where you need to operate from, is that part. It is awareness. Awareness is the field or space where thinking can take place.

You can focus awareness on what you intend to do. This is attention: the intentional directing of awareness. Attention is really all you can control. The physical characteristics of the route, and even internal processes within you, are out of your control. Even thinking is out of your control. All you can really do is direct attention to manipulate your thinking. For instance, you can focus attention on obstacles and difficulties, and defeat your effort before you even begin. Or, you can focus attention on possibilities, and helpful “possibility thoughts” are generated. This is how biofeedback works for other bodily processes. By focusing attention on slowing your heart rate, for example, it slows down.

If you don’t operate from awareness, you get lost in thinking. You will think about skirting stressful situations and seeking comfort. Your mind’s comfort-seeking tendency will direct how your attention is utilized. Instead of letting your mind have its way, you need your attention to direct your mind’s thinking processes.

Beliefs, values, and prejudices are all wrapped up in how you think. These concepts are dear to you and make you feel secure. To consider that they are “not you” is threatening.

But fear lies within those thinking processes. This fear is not a logical, intelligent caution in the face of danger, but rather simple fear of the unknown. To break free from this fear you need to see thinking as something you do, not something you are, or even something you completely control. All you can control is how you focus attention. Fear is about what might happen, not what is happening. And “what might happen” originates not from the situation, but from your thinking mind. When you operate from awareness instead of your thinking mind, there is no space for fear.

Understanding the difference between thinking and awareness is the foundational step to increasing mental fitness. Your essence is awareness, and if you operate from that essence you feel a power that the mind’s thinking processes can never attain.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Robin Fieldhouse

    Hi Arno

    I attended one of your courses about 6 years ago, and have (independently) stopped climbing about 4 yrs ago – no connection!

    Good to still receive your newsletters, though. The content is very reminiscent of Acceptance and Committment Therapy, one psychotherapeutic approach to treatment of depression/anxiety. Books such as “Get out of your mind and into your head” and “Avoiding the happiness trap” (I forget the authors) illustrate and explain exacrtly your point about the difference between thoughts/thinking (mostly involuntary) and awareness (controllable).

    Keep up the good message

    Robin

    1. Arno

      Is this Robin or Zoe? I remember both of you. We were at the Red. Thanks for the book references. Stay in touch and see you sometime when I make it to the UK.
      Arno

  2. Robby

    Great topic Arno
    I like the idea of “thinking is something you do, not something that you are, or even something you completely control.”
    I have become aware in the last few climbing seasons of how self talk about my own thoughts has been detrimental to my climbing performance. While in the past I made statements such as “I don’t see where the route goes,” and “I can’t find any good holds,” now my attention is focused on “What are my possible route lines?” or “I wonder if there is another hold over this way?” It took me a while to learn, and after some reading and lots of practice, even practice falling, the awareness is coming more quickly, and the attention directly in line to ask what I can do, and not define my future performance before I even give it a go.
    This awareness and attention has brought me to lead climbing, an idea I thought at one point in my life would never be a part of my climbing experience. So attention happens on a route during the climb itself, it can happen days before a climb, and I believe it can happen months or even years before an expereince. I really like the word focus too. I can focus my attention on the negative, or I can focus my attention on the positive. Learning the positive has helped me tremondously in more then just climbing.

    1. Arno

      Hi Robby, Thanks for sharing your comments. I taught some kids from the Adrenaline climbing team (near Atlanta) yesterday. Kids can tend to desire quick results. I emphasized that the learning process is slow and actually NEEDS to be slow. If you integrate new ways of thinking and using your body too quickly you don’t allow enough time to create quality in how you use your mind or body. The slow learning process is important. It allow sufficient time for the transition from conscious practice to unconscious competence to occur.
      Arno

  3. Roberto Reinoso

    Hi Arno,
    thanks for clarify to my “conscience” about the only thing that I can control: Attention!, I need to read it so my mind could understand! Most of the times when I’m crossing difficult times I just get involved on fear or doubt but really without reason, it’s something I just let happen. But I would like to change my situation because it’s truly uncomfortable and frustrating having everyday the same “issues” breaking down my balance. How could I control my thoughts when all have fullfield my attention leting not even a small space to handle them?
    Eventhough, for the last month when I’m climbing I’ve been really aware of some changes on my behavior when I’m passing a crux, but sometimes I just realized that I haven’t feel anything on that situation, it’s like I just block fear, not handle it or trying to manage it, just abandon feelings, how could I have a certain idea of what is really happening: i’m really developing my thinking control or just leaving feelings away?

    1. Arno

      Hola Roberto, Do your best NOT to make it an intellectual exercise for getting rid of the issues. Rather, focus attention on breathing and relaxing your body to process yourself through the stress. This will allow you to go through the stress instead of your mind intellectualizing the issue, which will tend to go around the stress. You must go through and breathing/relaxing will help.
      Adios,
      Arno

  4. Tressa Cherry

    Hi Arno!
    I LOVE your Warrior’s Way eLessons and spend time meditating on your comments. In this particular lesson, I found two profound jewels. First, staying in the present by focusing attention on awareness on the present moment (simple in concept but challenging in practice). In my study and practice of meditation, I am aware that thoughts drive the conjuring up of the “past” and “future.” I’ve read about focusing on awareness in the moment many times and how to non-critically be aware when thoughts creep in and then to simply let them pass on, returning my focus to awareness. However, your presentation of “attention” to awareness struck me far deeper than “focusing” on awareness. This shifted a long-held concept for me. I’ve always “driven” focusing on awareness by thinking about it, like flexing muscles consciously, muscles that grow tired over time. However, the idea of “allowing” for attention to awareness to occur feels like a natural opening of space in my mind/body, relaxing that thinking muscle.
    Secondly, I’ve never considered thinking as something I do when compared to believing it is something I am, “my essence,” just as you stated it. When I read those words, I had to pause and let the amazement flow through me as to how liberating and healing that idea was.
    Thank you. I truly enjoy contemplating your thought-proving ideas.
    Tressa

    1. Arno

      Hi Tressa, How have you been? Seems like a long time since I saw you at Fosters. Yes, considering thinking as something I do, rather than who I am, was an idea that struck me also when I first read it. Eckhart Tolle stated in “A New Earth” something to the effect that attention is our essence, not thinking. And, attention is simply focused awareness. So awareness, some may call it consciousness, is our essence. Understanding this allows us to see thinking that our mind does and doing that our body does as things that are part of us but not things that control our lives. We can use our minds to think and our bodies to do, directed and controlled by our attention. Definite shift in how I understood my world.
      Arno

  5. Kyle Ricketts

    I exist, I am in this moment, here and now. If I can try and keep this mantra going, it helps greatly. But then again, that is still in the mind. Have you heard of Ramesh Balsekar?
    Kyle

    1. Arno

      Hi Kyle, I have not heard of Ramesh Balsekar. Tell me more. Arno

  6. Louisa Cilenti

    Hi Arno
    Having recently embraced yoga to complement my climbing, i can see the parallell’s between what you are saying and the principles that underpin yoga (in fact much Eastern)philosophy. You have managed a tremendous feat in summarising a very complex concept, (attention – who is paying attention) in a powerful and engaging way, that gets you thinking beyond the surface of things. I get it more and more. Whenever my body is close to its physical limits, i’m now aware of my mind’s pattern, it starts to freak out, there’s a quiet voice saying “you can’t hold this, you’re done in. Don’t blame me if you carry on climbing, take a harder fall and hurt yourself.” I usually hesitate and fall, disappointed. I’m slowly learning to train my mind to watch out for these thoughts and not to take them literally, as real, not to allow myself to be intimidated and give up. On a recent onsight (one of my most satisfying of last season), as the pump set in, i was able to stay concentrated. I smiled to myself, took a deep breath and told myself “Come on Lou, don’t give in, you’re bang on solid, fight for this, its in you, look at the moves, you can do this, just move, ready….” I know it won’t always work this way, i have a strong tendency to tame, but slowly slowly as i pay attention and come to know my thoughts better and their traps, i feel a confidence growing that i can stay in control when i get scared. I can choose not to pay attention to my doubts, to remain detatched and focus on positive thoughts. I’m also honest with myself now about how much energy and effort is required to do this when onsighting at the extreme end of / beyond my comfort zone (eg first route at a new grade). I have made a New Year’s pact with myself only to get on the route if i’m really motivated by the line and willing to give it my all. Its also got to be a route where there isn’t an obvious ground/ death fall potential (as long as there are gear possibilities, even if marginal, i will trust the quality of my placements).

    Daily yoga and meditation practice is a great help in bringing clarity to my separate Self, to help me detach from my random and negative thoughts, still my mind, and focus on my intentions. I have no boubt about the cross-over benefits to climbing. Its a shame that the UK climbing walls are slow to offer yoga classes tailored to the climbing experience. Would you consider offering a yoga/climbing camp?

    Best wishes,
    Louisa

    1. Arno

      Hi Louisa, Thanks for your in-depth comments. I agree with the yoga/meditation cross-over to climbing. I do some of both and have seen the benefit.
      You are describing the “dissociate to redirect attention” in your comments about talking to yourself. This is an excellent way of self coaching so do continue to do that.
      Concerning trusting your placements… build some experiential trust in your gear by falling on it. But (BIG BUT HERE) make sure you place plenty of back up pieces so if the piece pulls you have sufficient back up.
      Yoga/climbing camp? I’ve thought of this and actually scheduled one with a climber who has a yoga studio but there wasn’t enough interest. I think we didn’t market it well. I’m open to it and will look for such possibilities in the future.
      Now I just need to make it to the UK…
      Arno

  7. Brenden

    Arno,

    A great post to start the new year and good instruction to help shift focus and get out of our habitual processes.

    Best,

    Brenden

  8. Richard Squire

    This is Great Stuff Arno. You have done a wonderful job getting to the “center” of fear and overcoming it. Thank you.
    Richard

  9. Louise

    Hi Arno. Excellent forum – your books have really helped my climbing and self-coaching but I have far to go! I currently have an immature habit of comparing myself to another climber at the gym. My mind creates a state where I admire their excellent climbing but then get anxious about following (and not climbing so well) the same route. I make excuses as to why they can do it and I probably can’t (I rarely pluck up the courage to follow unless they are not around). I try to not watch them if they are at the gym at the same time as me and to focus on my climbing but I usually give in! It’s not a crush ; ) I am by nature pretty competitive which is linked to a perfectionist streak – I am aware of and try to manage this. Although I am aware of what’s going on I am finding it frustrating to not be able to change my thought patterns and focus on with my training. Any advice gratefully received!

    1. Arno

      Hi Louise,
      Your comment: Although I am aware of what’s going on I am finding it frustrating to not be able to change my thought patterns and focus on with my training.

      Don’t focus on changing thought patterns. Simply do this:
      1. When you notice the negative thoughts, say “Stop!”
      2. Shift your attention to your breath and your senses.
      This will shift attention out of your head and into your body. Then do whatever task is next.
      Arno

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