Hanging on the rope with pumped forearms may be an all-too-familiar situation, especially if you are passionate about pushing your limits on the rock. And, given that your failure on the rock always seems to involve a lack of physical strength, it’s easy to become obsessive about strength training. In the long-run, however, you will only be able to realize your true potential when you come to recognize and act on the many non-obvious factors that contribute to muscular fatigue and lackluster performance.
These vital performance-limiting factors include: poor economy of movement (bad technique and control), overgripping (emotional anxiety), missed holds and rests (due to inflexible thinking), and shaken confidence (due to “fearful thinking”). All these mental issues produce premature fatigue and likely drain your energy reserves by 50 percent or more. Therefore, learning to think and act more effectively could very well double (or triple!) your apparent strength on the rock.
Let’s examine four areas where mental training could help you unlock a higher level of performance.
1. Strive for Flexibility of Perspective
The first key strategy is flexibility of perspective. To breakthrough a sticking point on a climb, you must get outside your current mindset. Detach yourself from the situation and visualize it from a perspective outside yourself. View yourself attempting the climb from a dissociated “on-TV” perspective, and see yourself climbing bottom to top as well as downclimbing from the top to the ground. It’s also a good idea to visualize how some great climber you know would attack the route—what tricks and tactics would he or she employ to send the route? Maybe dynoing past a long reach, searching a hidden hold, or inventing a clever rest position. Make a game out of trying to transcend the block. Be creative and have fun, and all of a sudden, the moves will begin to reveal themselves to you. You might not send the route that day, but you’ll be making progress towards your goal.
2. Become a “Reverse Paranoid”
The second shift in thinking is to become what I call “reverse paranoid.” No matter what problems you encounter, believe that the route wants you to succeed (even if you are currently flailing miserably). In this way, view each failed attempt as a signpost directing you toward a better course of action instead of becoming obsessed with a single way the route must be done. Many climbers fail on routes they are physically capable of doing because they ignore the feedback the route is giving them. Don’t fall into this trap—embrace the feedback of your setbacks as clues toward your inevitable success.
3. Leverage a “Mental Scrapbook” of Past Successes
This third strategy is extremely powerful and it’s fundamental to achieving high levels of success in any field. Create a mental scrapbook of past successes that you can review on demand to fortify your confidence and persevere in the face of apparent failure. Relive in your mind’s eye the process of some of your greatest accomplishments, both climbing and non-climbing. Make these mental movies vivid and get inside them as if they were happening again at the present moment. Feel the exhilaration and joy of the accomplishment, then take that emotion and apply it to the difficult situation with which you presently faced. Forge ahead wearing the “mental armor” of your past successes and a whole new level of performance will begin to be revealed.
4. Strive to Develop “Hanging-On Power”
The final strategy is what I call “hanging-on power.” Hanging on power is an attribute that all great climbers and high achievers (in any field) possess, which enables them to persist beyond ordinary limits. Sometimes winning or succeeding isn’t a matter of having more absolute strength or skill than others possess, it might just come down to being able to hang on and persevere longer.
Hanging on power is an ability you develop from progressively subjecting yourself to greater and greater challenges that require higher levels of stick-to-itiveness. Just as in strengthening the muscles of your body, you strengthen mental muscle by challenging it in an incremental, progressive way.
The bottom line: while some climbers give up at the first sign of adversity on a route (or after just a single day of failed attempts), the best climbers keep coming back and hanging on—mentally and physically—until they succeed. Foster this mental skill and you’ll outperform the masses in anything you do!
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