Three years ago I stood at the bottom corner of a five story parking garage and imagined myself climbing to the top. The corner was littered with fingertip holds and intermittent metal structures. I closed my eyes and placed myself at the top of the building with my toes shoved into one crack and my fingertips in another. I imagined the moment when I would have to release my right hand, clinging by only my left finger-tips and my toes. I stuck the tips of my right fingers into the final notch and pulled myself up over the edge. I lived into that feeling of accomplishment. I felt that deep guttural sigh as a wave of relaxation flooded over my body. Then I pictured what I would do if something unexpected happened at the top and I had to drop to the railing that stuck out a story below. I wondered how I would react in the moment if things didn’t go according to plan. I tried to visualize it without feeling fear, but my palms began to sweat as butterflies fluttered in my stomach. I shook it off then continued my regular training. At the time, this climb was a mental monster. I was almost convinced I would never do it, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about it… a lot. I visualized it when I was lying in bed or driving in the car listening to music, and I would visualize it every time I passed by.
Four years later, I found myself five stories up, clinging to the face of the wall with my left hand in one notch and my big toes shoved into another, as I reached for that final hold. I felt the grit of the corner dig into the flesh of my fingertips; I had made it. The tension of the whole climb released from my lungs into the deepest sense of calm. I looked down at my teenage self all those years ago, who had only dreamed of being where I was now. It felt incredible and you can experience this moment from the first person perspective in my latest BakerBlog Episode below….
This was a great experience, but I’m not here to brag about it. In fact, this example illuminates a weakness in my training that I would like to share with you. The fact is, I could have done this climb years ago. All I had to do was start taking steps to make it happen. Instead, I would just visualize it or I would do the first part of the climb, then hop into the first level of the garage. The funny thing is, the first part of the climb is by far the most difficult from a technical perspective, but I cut myself short every time because I had this idea that I wasn’t ready or that there would be a perfect day to do the whole climb. That day never came and the truth is, it never will. It is never the perfect day to do something big or important. You can always find an excuse and cut yourself short if you choose to do so and it is just as common in daily life as it is in training. For example, you might say, “I want to travel” and yet, two years later it still hasn’t happened. Why? Because you are waiting for the perfect day. You say things like, “once I have a bigger buffer in my savings account,” or “once I’m out of school, I’ll have more time to do stuff like that.” The only thing holding you back is the idea that it has to be the perfect timing and all you need to do to overcome it is to start moving in the direction that you want to go; even if the steps you take are extremely small.
So what helped me the day I decided to do the climb? Did I stretch the night before, eat a well rounded meal and get a full eight hours of sleep? Nope. Did I even intend on doing the climb that day? No; in fact, I was kind of tired, it was at the end of my training day, and I was actually on my way back to my car. I had no expectations, which allowed me to do something I should have done many years before. I looked at the climb with tunnel vision instead of thinking about the whole climb. I started with the first level and I told myself that once that was completed, I would at least get out on the ledge and study the second level. I didn’t commit to the whole climb. In fact, I only committed to a hold at a time. Once I was on the second level, I stood out on the railing and grabbed the first hold. It felt good, so I went for the next hold. I did the same thing for each level. I would make the commitment to myself to try the first hold at each level. Nothing more. If I didn’t like the hold, I could go home at any point. As you already know, I found myself at the top,
What is the lesson here and what does it have to do with overcoming fear? It seems that one of the biggest components for me in making big progress is the ability to cycle between extreme perspectives. If I fall into a pattern of training baby steps towards an undefined goal, I lose interest or don’t progress. If I fall into a pattern of imagining a bunch of intense lines and don’t take action on them, I feel inspired, but also paralyzed. I personally tend to fall into the latter mindset. I once spent an entire two week period wandering around, imagining very difficult lines and didn’t do a single movement aside from walking. Yeah I know, I’m a weirdo.
I’m no saint, but I have improved my mentality a lot, especially in the past year by making one simple commitment to myself: never just imagine a difficult line or movement; always take steps to make it happen, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Sometimes I forget this commitment and the climb I described above is a great example of that. Nonetheless, I have become much better at asking myself, “how can I make this thought into a reality?” This question often scares people because imagining a challenging line or movement is non-committal in nature. The second you start taking steps to make it happen, it feels like you are obligated to complete the goal. Most people don’t want to spend time working towards something and end up backing out or failing, so they direct their attention towards the goals they know they can achieve. I try to do the exact opposite whenever I can by intentionally working towards goals that I think are probably unattainable. More often than not, I fail to make them happen.
The truth is, I have obsessed over hundreds, if not thousands of lines and movements that I never ended up doing and spent countless hours working on progressions that never got me to my end goal. Was I wasting my time? Do I feel bad about having so many ideas that never came to fruition? No! In fact, I have found that by considering something that was out of my grasp, it gave me the confidence to complete something that was possible for me. Think of it like driving on the highway. When you go from 0mph to 60mph in a few seconds, it feels like you are going really fast, but if you are going 100mph and you drop back down to 60mph, it feels like you are going slow. You can use this concept to your advantage in your training (details below).
If you are still with me, I have two exercises that I would like you to try. First I want you to identify which perspective you tend to use the most in your training. Are you more the type that goes to a spot and trains slightly more and more difficult things (baby steps) or are you more likely to come up with big goals and then not take action on them? Be honest with yourself and let me know in the comments if you feel so inclined. As I said above, I personally tend to fall into the latter category.
Second, next time you go out to train, find something that seems physically possible, but is mentally monstrous. It should make your feet tingle and your palms sweat just thinking about it. It doesn’t have to be at height. It could be a scary flip or a far jump that you find scary. Regardless of the challenge, it should push your comfort zone quite a bit. Then start working through the details of how you could make it happen. Don’t just think about it. Start doing similar movements nearby and work through all the pieces. Ask yourself these questions: What technique should I develop more before doing this? What would I do if my intended move failed? What are some feasible and safe bailouts? Are the obstacles involved safe, grippy, etc.? Walk around and feel all the surfaces involved. If it’s a wall, rub your feet on it. If it’s a branch or bar, hang from it. Maybe do an easier movement on the structures involved, if possible. Get really comfortable with the area. Part of what makes you afraid of a movement or line is unfamiliarity with the environment, so become as familiar with it as possible. Now vividly imagine yourself performing the move and just as thoroughly imagine yourself doing the bailouts you thought of. At this point, you may have figured out that this idea is actually within your grasp. If so, by all means, go for it. However, the purpose of this exercise is to push your mind further than you normally do, so that when you get back to your regular training, it feels like going from 100mph to 60mph. If you do the exercise exactly as prescribed above, everything else you do that day should feel mentally easier, comparatively. Many of my students have had great success with this one and I hope it helps you too. I personally try to do this exercise at the beginning of my training sessions to recalibrate my mentality for the rest of the day. Give this a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.
Good luck and happy training!