In my last blog I spoke about one of the biggest failures in a climber’s performance, the ability to “try hard”. Ironically, yesterday I found myself unable to push myself to the peak of my abilities, and having only just been writing about it a day earlier; I had to ask myself, why?
It was a very common scenario I found myself in, one that no doubt every climber reading will relate to. I had been working a project at Malham, the relatively new addition to the crag “Something for Nothing” (8c). In all honesty, I’ve had 2 days on the route so far, but as it shares ¾ of the same climbing as “Cry Freedom” (another 8c at Malham) with a different exit, it felt as though this had been a much longer affair. As I prepared to try the climb for what was my 3rd day on the new exit, I noticed I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing – my thoughts drifted to the upper crux from where I had fallen every time since I’d started trying the climb 2 days before. I knew I had it in me to climb it; I’d just have to climb well and try hard when it mattered!
I climbed the start smoothly, feeling relaxed and comfortable as I reached the mid-way rest. I shook out there for a minute getting everything back, and then suddenly whilst shaking out one hand, my foot blew off the foothold and I was flying off the route! A wave of anger and frustration suddenly overwhelmed me; I felt cheated out of my attempt when I had been doing nothing more than resting on a massive jug with my feet planted on big footholds. I decided not to let it get me down, so I just had a little working go on the moves, before coming down for an attempt later on in the day.
On my second attempt, I was moving through the lower crux and noticed too late that I’d missed out a crucial foot movement. Suddenly I was exerting a lot more force through my arms than I’d ever had to before and I had nothing to give, so I shouted, “TAKE!”. This pissed me off even more now! I had screwed up twice, and before these two attempts, I had never fallen off this lower crux! Why was this happening now? What was different?
It dawned on me then that I had made a huge mistake! In focussing so heavily on the upper crux, I had allowed myself to become complacent of the climbing before. I had figured that despite the climbing being hard down low, I could probably always get through it, and historically I had proven this theory, but today I had blown two attempts, one which was unlucky, and the other which was my own fault. Having thought about it some more, I realised that the first slip had caused me to get into a negative thought pattern – I just wanted to get up the thing, and this mind-set was what spawned the complacency, and thus my failure on the second attempt.
This negative thought pattern caused yet more problems afterwards as I found myself driving myself deeper into the depths of self-loathing with a negative feedback loop, thinking that I had somehow got weaker, lost my edge and perhaps couldn’t do the climb after all… Oh Robbie! What a mess you’ve got yourself in today 😛
Thoughts can be dangerous, but they can also be very helpful. I’m a very thoughtful person (about me things mostly), and although sometimes I lose my way, I usually find my way back, which luckily today I did. Following the second fail, I took out my iPhone and started to write up what I had learned on the climb today. I was surprised when after a good 10 minutes of writing, I was still writing! I very rarely do this, but when I do it’s never proven to be without merit. Even after having what I had thought were the worst attempts I’ve had on the climb to date, it became apparent that I had learned more about the climb then than on any previous attempts!
There’s a lot to be taken from this story, but the two lessons I felt were most relevant to my time on the climb were these:
- Don’t get complacent! It’s important to be able to relax and find the flow on a climb, but complacency and an expectation that if you’ve done it before you WILL do it again is the wrong attitude to have. Don’t expect that anything is ever a given.
- Look for the little victories in everything, even when it feels like there are none, you may be surprised. There’s always something to learn, so don’t let your failures define you; learn from your mistakes, your failures and even your successes!