We’ve read and heard a lot about how climbing improves our mental health, and as such we often assume that one would automatically become resilient after a number of climbs.

The idea is that the more you climb, there would definitely be an incremental improvement each time. However what if you’re stuck? With each climb you seem to face the same issues. You get frustrated and you find yourself on the brink of calling it quits? 

The familiar adage “never give up” comes to mind, or perhaps well-meaning friends will say that to you. But what if you just can’t relate to it? Everything in your body, your heart and soul screams “this is not for me, I don’t think I can do this anymore?” or “I am just not meant to climb!”

Here are some steps to get over the mind-block that prevents all climbers from moving into longer-term climbing. It begins in the mind and you need to enable yourself to be aware of what’s going on within, in order to change what goes on outside.

1) Be clear on your intention

Yes training in climbing techniques is important, but know that everything first begins in the mind. Always come back to your “intention”. Do you want to climb? The answer is actually simply a “yes” or “no”. 

For example, I want to climb, “but” I don’t think I’m suited for climbing, or I want to climb more, “if” I have time… come on, we know we never have enough time. So be clear on your intention – “buts” and “ifs” actually really mean: “no”. 

If it is your intention and interest to climb then make it a fixture in your activities. Put it into your weekly schedule. A firm routine of a weekly climb will definitely see you improving and getting past all the weak excuses.

2) Be aware of your self-talk

Through climbing, you will actually discover facets of your personality surfacing – and it won’t be nice especially if you are not at peace with yourself or if you are trying to please others.  

If you are impatient or competitive, you might find yourself facing much pressure – yet the pressure actually comes from within. Perhaps you desire perfection, or that you “must” continually see improvements with each climb – but is that realistic?

Do you end up comparing with others and berating yourself unfairly? Perhaps you need to treat yourself with a little more kindness and allow the little “failures” to be part of the experience.  

Unrealistic goals to catch yourself on (for the competitive person):

– I must improve this round 

– I must reach the top at least X times

– I must have some results today (what if you have none?) 

– Since I am already climbing for X years, I should be able to succeed today

– I cannot look weak/tired/fearful (it’s ok, we have bad days sometimes!)

On the other hand, if you are typically the people-pleaser, you’d want results in order to please your family or friends. Sometimes not making any headway might cause your inner self-talk to go ballistic, and you start labelling yourself negatively as “not good enough”. Don’t. As soon as you hear your negative inner voice saying things to you, catch yourself and stop listening to it.

Unrealistic goals to catch yourself on (for the people-pleaser):

– I must look good when I climb today (is your mind on the climb or what others think of you?)

– I want to have a beautiful climb (so is an ugly move bad?) 

– I want to look like it’s effortless (focus on your techniques first!)

– I am not good at xxx so I will avoid doing it. 

– I would like to train on xxx but I think I should just stay in the safe zone with what I can do.

Whatever personality-type you are, it is bound to surface during the climb. It is sometimes distracting, and might ultimately affect your abilty to stay in the sport for the long haul.

Watch yourself if you are frustrated by your own thoughts, and give yourself space to free your mind from them. Define and stay focused on your real goal – which is to climb – and even as you strive for improvements, make sure you are having fun and are being open to setbacks – these are all part of the journey.

3) Understand what it takes towards Climbing to Mastery

The next step towards improving mental strength is consistency. You might be climbing for 1-2 years and find that you’re still not anywhere near where you want to be. However others may have been climbing for 5-10 years and still finding new things to learn.

Put your mind in perspective. Are you in it for the true enjoyment of the sport? Do you believe that with each climb it in itself is an experience? (with or without positive results)? 

Sometimes it takes months of drudgery before you make any kind of breakthrough. The persistence to hang in there is also part of the mental training that you will receive – when you simply continue doing what you do week-in and week-out. 

In David Merriman’s article “follow the curve”, we can relate well with his crudely drawn graph for business startups, which is also applicable to the climbing journey.

After a long period of being in the “Trough of Sorrow”, you might find yourself reaching the turning point towards the “Climb to Mastery”!

Read “Follow the curve” by David Merriman

Finally, even if climbing is only a leisure sport for you, mental training is still possible – when you are simply open during each climb to discover how your thoughts emerge or conflict. This awareness will set you up on the path to conquer negative self-talk and combat fear (for the newbies).

And before you know it, all these essential skills you’ve gained during climbing will start integrating well into the other areas of your life too.

Wishing you the best in your next climb!