Working hard at concentration while climbing the classic Pancake Flake on The Nose of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA. McCallister photo.

The author climbing the classic Pancake Flake on The Nose of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA. McCallister photo.

Where your mind goes, energy flows. Beat these six enemies of concentration to bring your best focus to the rock, so that you can keep your eyes on the prize until the very end. 

(This article was originally published in August, 2016.)

Researchers have compared successful and less-successful performers, and determined that the ability to maintain concentration is a primary discriminating factor. The best performers were less likely to be distracted by irrelevant stimuli or to succumb to worry and outcome-oriented thoughts. So in your quest to improve concentration–and increase climbing performance–a good first step is to raise your awareness of the enemies of task-relevant focus as well as common targets of misplaced concentration. Following are six common concentration killers or targets of misplaced focus.

1. Focusing on mechanics of well-learned skills

Skills and climbing moves that you’re highly competent in (autonomous learning stage) should be turned over to the preconscious mind. Focusing on execution of well-learned movements often results in mechanical, lower-efficiency movement and diverts concentration from other task-relevant targets.

2. Dwelling on internal feelings and sensations of fatigue

While you must monitor internal conditions by occasionally turning your focus inward, dwelling on such internal feelings will rob external focus and inhibit performance. A common trait of hardworking climbers is the ability to dissociate from the fatigue and pain of an exhaustive workout or climb. It’s a fact that in focusing on the strain and deepening fatigue during a hard climb, you magnify these feelings and open the door to powerful stopping thoughts. Dissociating from such non-injury-producing “good pain” and dismissing phantom stopping thoughts empowers you to transcend previous limitations and achieve greatness.

3. Entertaining nonproductive self-talk

Vocal and subvocal self-talk is an inherent and almost ever-present feature of our conscious mind; however the nature and quality of this self-talk is not always in our favor. Negative self-talk is a powerful concentration and performance killer, because it directs attention inward to fretful or fearful thoughts. Therefore, it’s essential that you direct positive, productive self-talk that helps maintain focus, aids execution, and sustains motivation. Strive to direct positive self-talk in all you do, and it will become a powerful ally in your toughest times.

4. Focusing on the past

The essence of effective concentration in sport is being fully engaged in the action of the moment. If you look into the rearview mirror and engage in thoughts of past failures, or other irrelevant events, it will quickly diminish or derail your performance. So in engaging the vertical extreme, it’s essential that you remain in the present and only reflect on past experiences as is briefly necessary in strategic planning and managing risk.

5. Focusing on the future

Projecting into the future and pondering a possible performance outcome will thwart task-relevant concentration and impede your performance. Worse yet, in entertaining future-oriented thoughts of failure you generate pressure and anxiety that makes this unwanted outcome more likely! Controlling concentration and climbing your best therefore demands that you detach from outcome-oriented thinking and engage the moment completely.

6. Visual and auditory distractions

We live in an era of ubiquitous distractions, rampant ADD (attention deficit disorder), and almost unlimited potential for electronic and social engagement. Possessing a quiet, in-the-moment mental state can be exceedingly difficult to attain and maintain if you allow all this interference to reach your brain. The first step to developing better concentrative skills, then, is to endeavor to systematically eliminate distractions in all aspects of your life. In climbing, strive to eliminate possible distractions before you engage the route, and aspire to become a master at blocking out distracting people and sounds as you climb. As a final note, I want to stress that your mental state can benefit greatly by eliminating some of the things that hinder concentration in your nonclimbing hours. What electronics can you turn off (or discard) and what other actions could you take to reduce non-task-relevant stimuli and other distractions? The payoff is the gift of improved mental clarity, concentration, and self-awareness.

What Are Your Concentration Killers?

List the things that commonly disrupt your concentration on everyday activities and in climbing. If necessary, close your eyes and visualize yourself in a recent climbing situation in which you struggled to remain focused and in the moment. What thoughts, sensory stimuli, people, or other environmental conditions made it hard for you to maintain focus? Strive to eliminate or decrease the influence of these concentration “disrupters”–improved concentration will reward you richly!

For more, read this: 5 Strategies to Sharpen Concentration and Climb Harder!

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