The biggest breakthroughs in climbing performance (and life) almost always come from elevating the quality of your thoughts. Learn 10 mental strategies to achieve extreme success!

The quickest way to enhance your performance in almost anything is to improve the quality of your thinking.”
– Eric Horst.

Mental fortitude in climbing is equally as important as physical strength. Great performances often begin with bulletproof confidence, singular focus, positive emotions, and a tough yet agile mindset. While strength training and technique are crucial, your biggest breakthroughs during a climbing season will come from flexing your mental muscle. The bottom line: By employing just half of the mental-training techniques detailed below, you’ll likely discover an increase in climbing performance and quality of experience. And, if you can make all ten skills a long-term habit, then you’ll likely achieve beyond your expectations in the years to come!

1. Separate your self-image from your performance.

If you’re reading this, climbing likely plays a major role in your life. Disassociating your self-image from your performance on the rock is crucial. You’ll perform your best in a process-oriented mindset, where you do not anticipate the outcome. Strive to focus only on things immediate to the act of climbing  (i.e. your warm-up, mental rehearsal, gear selection). When climbing, focus only on the move and sequence at hand; Never project ahead. Accept the feedback the route gives you without frustration or judgment and from there, liberate yourself to try new things, take chances, and fall. By applying this process-oriented mindset and detaching your self-image from your performance, you’ll reduce pressure and anxiety and ultimately climb better!

2. Surround yourself with positive people.

As with anything in life, your thoughts and actions will affect the thoughts and actions of those around you, and vice versa. Another way to summarize this powerful concept is that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Consider this when deciding who you will train and climb with. Spending time with excuse-making, low-energy or negative individuals will adversely impact your climbing–both your enjoyment of the process and ability to improve and achieve. If you’re looking to optimize your mental state, vow to either train/climb with energetic, positive individuals…or go it alone. Both approaches can be hugely rewarding.

3. Stretch your comfort zone.

To improve in anything, you must be willing to push beyond your comfort zone. In other words, you must be able to climb onward despite physical and mental discomfort. Challenge your fears head-on by doing what you fear and trying what seems impossible (based on past experience). Through this process, you’ll stretch your abilities to a new level, redefine your belief system, and reshape your personal vision of what is possible.

4. Anticipate and proactively manage your risk.

Climbing risk comes in two forms: physical and mental. As you desire to climb harder, you often take on more risk in the process. This can come in the form of obvious, physical danger, or as less tangible mental risk like opening yourself up to failure, criticism, and embarrassment. Be aware of all potential risks before starting up a climb, and anticipate how you’ll respond to new emerging risks as they present themselves.

5. Fortify your confidence.

Your self-image primarily dictates your degree of self confidence and the thoughts you possess daily. Peak performers consciously narrow their thoughts and focus onto things that will fortify and build confidence. If you want to fortify your confidence as a climber, take mental inventory of past successes, review and believe in your skills and strengths, and acknowledge your preparation and investment in training. If you can do this, you’ll emerge more energized and confident on the rock, and likely climb your very best!

6. Use visualization to foster a peak performance zone.

What is a peak performance zone? Well, it’s a state where everything comes together for a perfect ascent that seems almost effortless and automatic. The trick is to be able to create this state on demand, despite stressful conditions. Use visualization to reenact the positive feelings of a good performance. Try and create about a sixty-second mental movie of this past event using all your senses. Now you can begin a mental rehearsal of the upcoming climb. Close your eyes and climb the route in your mind’s eye–feel the moves play out successfully to create a mental blueprint for action. Now, you’re ready to take on the route in real-time.

7. Use pre-climb rituals to create an ideal performance state.

The things you think and do minutes and moments before you climb form the foundation onto which your performance is built. Thus, a solid pre-climb ritual gives birth to a solid performance. Your pre-climb ritual can be anything from visualizing the route and warming up to dialing in your breath work and final thoughts. Develop your rituals based on past experience. What did you do before some of your best ascents in the past? What was your diet and sleep schedule like? What key thoughts help narrow your concentration? Once your rituals become tried and true, stick to them!

8. Control stress and tension before they control you.

This strategy is essential to climbing your best, because tension kills performance. Here are two ways to control tension and stress on the fly. First, direct your thinking away from pressure-producing thoughts and focus only on the process of climbing. Stay in the moment. Second, use rest positions to direct your thoughts inward for a tension check. Take a few slow, deep breaths; return to center; and then execute!

9. Engage in positive self-talk.

Controlling inner self-talk is fundamental to controlling our attitude and climbing our best. Inside our heads, each of us has a “critic” voice and a “doer” voice. The “doer” voice compels action, keeps us positive, and helps us perform effectively. Ideally, the “doer” voice occupies your brain 95 percent of the time or more. If not, eliminate any self-destructive internal dialogue. Strive to heighten your awareness of your self-talk, and make sure the doer voice is doing most of the talking. Turn useful critical thoughts (not trash talk) into positive statements. If you direct such positive self-talk on every climb and throughout your daily routine, you’ll notice a drastic improvement in your overall performance.

10. Love climbing, no matter what. 

Climbing is about the journey, not the summit. Vow to love the process of climbing and all it entails, whether it is a perfect send or a painful struggle. At the end of the day, it’s on the arduous journey that you actually become a better climber and grow as a person. The bottom line: Love climbing unconditionally and you will always have a great day on the rocks!

Copyright © 2000–2021 Eric J. Hörst | All Rights Reserved.

Related Articles:

5 Strategies to Sharpen Your Concentration and Climb Better!

Vodcast: The Power of Proactive Positive Thinking