Recently, I gave a workshop on mental training for climbing, using some of the constructs that Jeff Elison and I cover in our book, Vertical Mind. One portion of the workshop focused on mindsets required for climbing. In it, I broke out three distinct mindsets that we worked on:
- Pre-climbing mindset
- Mindset for delicate climbing
- Mindset for dynamic climbing
In this article I will focus on the pre-climbing mindset and cover the others in future articles.
Most climbers experience some sort of pre-climb anxiety before they get on a route that will challenge them physically and mentally. The severity of this anxiety can range from very mild to paralyzing. The pre-climb anxiety in most cases is due to fear of falling and fear of failure, and the severity of the anxiety is related to the experience the climber has with falling and failure. The more experience with falling, the lower the anxiety around falling is. The same is true for failure. Interestingly enough, from informal surveys I have done, fear of falling seems to be more of an issue for relatively new climbers, while fear of failure (performance anxiety) tends to be more of an issue for very experienced climbers.
I have coached climbers with severe pre-climb anxiety and a technique that I have found helps them is the use of a pre-climb ritual. Most of the climbers I have coached experience the highest levels of anxiety in the time between when they find they “are up” to climb and when they are engaged in the act of climbing. As such, the pre-climb ritual is designed to help them get through this brief but critical time. It is in this time that they had sometimes in the past opted to climb something easier or maybe TR the climb rather than lead it. The goal is to achieve a calm mindset prior to climbing and avoid a mindset that either causes avoidance or undermines the climbers ability to climb well.
There are four elements to the pre-climb ritual I have used with climbers:
The safety check – Having a sound safety check habit is not only a critical part of the pre-climb ritual for all roped climbers, it can also help put your mind at ease about any doubts about the system.
Deep, slow breathing – Mother nature has given us the gift of self-regulated breathing. We can alter our breathing patterns through conscious thought. If we slow our breathing, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which tends to calm us down and dampen anxiety. So, from the point when you “are up” to when you grab the first hold, work on breathing slow, deep breaths.
Thought replacement – Often the anxiety is made worse by thoughts of anticipated falling, failure, or difficulty. You can replace such unproductive thoughts with thoughts to help stay calm. My favorite thought is “I will focus on one move at a time.” After all, that is all that you can really do when climbing, right? I mentally repeat this phrase to myself as I put on my shoes, tie in, put on my chalk bag, and the other pre-climb preparations.
Trigger phrases – Using a trigger phrase just before starting to climb such as “It’s just climbing” or my favorite, “Alrighty then” can help break tension and put us at ease.
If you find that pre-climb anxiety has you either avoiding climbs you want to do or undermining your ability to climb well, you may want to experiment with a pre-climb ritual with the elements I described above. I have found that it works very well.
If I get good feedback on this article, I will do articles on mindsets for the other two climbing situations, delicate climbing and dynamic climbing.
I hope you find this article useful.