Cultivating Mindset

How do you think about developing an optimal mindset for climbing? How do you define an optimal mindset?

What tools and tactics do you utilize to reflect on progress? Do you have particular cues that you use for reflection?

It’s been on my mind a lot recently as I think it’s the thing that was holding me back the most all winter. I teach outdoor education, so I’m sometime gone for a week or longer at a time without climbing and trips can be physically and emotionally demanding so it’s not exactly like just taking a week off. I basically thought to myself “going on trip so much is going to yank me for hard climbing” and it was a self fulfilling prophecy. Though I did send one hard route in the fall, I wrote off another project that I was really close on. If I had said “ok, all I need to do it try really hard for one go and I’ll send,” I probably would have. Instead I thought “I’ve been on trip for the past two weeks, my fitness is gone, so I’m just going to arrive at the move tired no matter what I do”

Often these thoughts are not even really conscious. I just started rereading “Rock Warriors Way” and I’ve been trying to read it really slowly and reflect on each section with a little depth before moving on. Definitely think I’m back on track!

Curious to hear what everyone’s practices are!

Great timing! I’m currently trying to go from climbing 7a to 8a in a single year. I’ve divided the year into phases, and I’m currently in the mental phase.

I have a background in cognitive psychology and did some extra courses to learn about sports psychology, so based on that I tried to define which mental skills I’m already quite proficient at and which ones I’m not. I’m really good at mental imagery (some call this visualisation), self-talk, focus and discipline. I had loads to gain in terms of fear of falling, and the ability to climb relaxed and in the flow.

I worked on the fear of falling by taking loads of falls (big surprise). However that didn’t solve everything. My fear of falling turned out to mainly be a fear of losing control, so I had to get used to climbing while insecure (and accept that I don’t know the outcome as I go for a move). I tried several things for this, like forcing myself to always have 1 limb moving, singing to distract myself, but eventually the exercise that worked best was having a cue to remind myself to breath properly. This last one is a trick from martial arts, I tightened my chalk bag strap right below the belly button so that I would have a constant cue/reminder to keep breathing with my belly. This made a HUGE difference! Video in case you’re interested: Conquered my fear of falling with this trick! Transitioning from bouldering to climbing. - YouTube

I’m mainly a boulderer, and trying hard is somehow quite easy for me. Easier than climbing efficiently anyway. I’ve noticed on sport climbs that after a crux, I’ll be pulling really hard even on jugs. So I’ve been working on an on/off switch so I can decide if I want to pull hard or climb efficiently. Psyching myself up (short powerful breaths) gave me +15% pulling power, whereas calming myself down (relaxed and deep belly breaths) gave me a huge advantage in terms of endurance. So the fact that I can now switch between these modes means a whole bunch of new routes just opened up for me. Again, video in case you’re interested: Mental skill for climbers: On/Off switch (Yerkes-Dodson law) - YouTube

As for strictly mindset, in Japanese martial arts they have defined a few that I think are extremely relevant:

  • Mushin (no mind): not being distracted by your own thoughts, 100% in the moment and acting/reacting as things come your way. In the flow.
  • Shoshin (beginner mind): open to new ideas, ready to learn from everyone.
  • Fudoshin (immovable mind): nothing will stand in the way of you and your goal.
  • Zanshin (remaining mind): it’s not over till it’s over, so don’t celebrate right before the end because you still have to be in the moment to finish the climb.

I think I’m a very curious person so I have Shoshin. However, because I have such a huge goal now I’m trying to plan when I have this mindset, then having Fudoshin the rest of the time. I have a moment of reflection every 2 weeks, this is when I try to apply everything I’ve learned in the last few weeks (from others, from my coach, from podcasts etc. etc.) But after this I will be in a state of Fudoshin for 2 weeks and won’t deviate from my plans or goals. Fudoshin: plenty of times I’ve realised I could be climbing with friends in the gym; where it’s dry, it’s heated, and there’s drinks afterwards. But I’d be climbing laps on an artificial wall in the freezing cold because that brings me closer to my goal.

As for reflecting, I have a few stats that I keep track of (see amirnickname.com) such as falls taken, aerobic meters climbed, how hard I can pull now, how many hours I did what kind of training and how I felt. I’ve also written down some core values: health, virtue, resourcefulness, transparency, and growth. And every 2 weeks I will look at the stats, think back of what I did, think of my goal and think of these core values. For me this is a great way to reflect and stay on course towards my goal, without losing the things that are important to me (such as my health).

Finally, I’ve recently found out that I’m too hard on myself. It’s easy for me to critique myself after a climb, then look back and try to improve. I want to keep this ability, but maybe add some more positivity as well by also trying to point out all areas of improvement.

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Pretty cool! Thanks for sharing!

It’s really interesting to hear perspectives from different sports and activities. Before climbing, I was a competitive swimmer, a musician, and I loved ice skating and playing hockey.

Each of those things taught me something different that I’ve brought to the way I think about climbing.

Swimming was all about flow. I loved long endurance races so the best thing to do was get in the flow and dissociate. This has continued to be something I try to access in all the activities I do.

Being a performance major in university taught me how to work on perfection as well as how to deal with nerves before a performance.

I learned to skate when I was 22. It was such a good exercise in practicing beginner mindset.

Climbing has been able to test and develop all of those things for sure! Though I think I go through phases where different part of my mindset are stronger and others are weaker. I really like the 4 mindset model you reference from martial arts; I’ve never heard of that before. I think it’s probably a good way of diagnosing what areas are strength and which are weaknesses.

Most recently I’ve been trying to just be aware of where my mindset is instead of trying to control it. Just noting what my expectations are, positive or negative without judgement on that thought process. Even just by trying to be aware I think I’m accessing my try hard space more often, sending more second tier boulders, and accomplishing more in limit bouldering sessions.

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I’m not sure I can really take credit for my mindset. Some of it was forced upon me as a teenager living on my own, but I’m not entirely sure where the core of it comes from.

Ultimately, I enjoy the puzzling more than I enjoy the solving. I like the idea of “beginner’s mind”, but that term isn’t quite right. At this point, it isn’t being open to everything. That’s a key part of improvement and becoming more efficient - recognizing the affordances and avoiding the deadends, rather than being wide open as a beginner is. Generally speaking, I turn every boulder - even the easiest ones - into more complicated puzzles - often looking for surprise deadends in relatively easy terrain - because that’s the part of all of this that I enjoy most.

As for cultivating it, I’ve tried a lot of things, but none of it has overridden my normal process. I constantly interrogate, and I’ll go hard in that interrogation, but I don’t take any of it personal. I can let it go instantly when needed. That’s 100% a survival skill from childhood.

I also ALWAYS allow myself room to explore. Whether that is in new ideas, skills, or whatever, or interrogating an old one isn’t really important - what I believe is important is that I engage in this interrogation daily. Sometimes too often, as it can wear on other people (which @powercoinfo and @njdrolet will probably attest to).

@AmirNickname I’d be careful about considering any of these mental skills (or any skill for that matter) as on/off switches. Dials might be a more appropriate imagery. I’d argue that there’s almost never a time when you want any of it switched off entirely.

All that said, I firmly believe that the only way to improve mindset is to interrogate it - which is exactly what you’re already doing @iansiess and @AmirNickname .

The search for answers is often more important than the answers themselves.

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Do you think that your music has impacted your mindset?

I was having a conversation with the music teachers at the school I teach at yesterday at lunch. I actually studied music performance in university and we were talking how similar musical and athletic mindsets are for those who are the most successful.

In my case, I think climbing has been an opportunity to fix some of the challenges I faced as a performance major. There was so much competition and pressure for perfection, it really killed the things I loved about music—challenging myself, flow state, self expression.
I think that because climbing has been something I’ve only ever done for myself, it’s allowed me to reconnect with those same things that I once loved about playing music.

Curious if you’ve made any connections!

Yes and no. For me it was there pre being focused on music, coming, I believe, from growing up in the situation I grew up in. On my own at 16 and bouncing between places to sleep, I learned to interrogate everything and to have conviction in my decisions while being open to better solutions.

It’s still a tough thing to parse out, but easier after 30+ years of practice.

But there are definitely connections to the music and everything else I do.

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