Opinions on Motivation
(Getting your work done and still having a life)
Words by Joe Kopek
Contrary to what our peers have told us countless times, some things are best served for selfish reasons. That rings especially true in the climbing community at large. Sharing is not necessarily caring when it comes to motivation. (I do not recommend being the bad apple of the group. You leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth anyways.) The following are tactics that I’ve found helpful during optimistic lulls.
The Craft of Motivation
While your climbing partner screams something inaudible towards your fast twitching Elvis leg, you fall from the same place you’ve fallen for the past month now. This has happened to us all countless times and we have become accustomed to it in every way. So much so, that we become annoyed when we don’t hear words of encouragement from anyone nearby. The real question is, how much of a driving force is the dialogue from external factors verse the internal dialogue we struggle with that no one can see? As encouraging as it may be to stoke the fire for your bro or gal it may only amount to a hill of of beans, or a can of rancid cat food from the deep discount food market. (If you do show gratitude towards a fellow climber, do so with honest and sincere appreciation. Any form of flattery is generally frowned upon and is, for lack of a better term, shallow and self serving to a person who is supposed to give honest feedback to you anyways.)
The real meat or meat substitute of the issue is the voice inside our head. I’ll be frank, if it’s a constant conflict or drama driven like a bad episode of Beverly Hills 90210, and you can never imagine being friends, much less Facebook acquaintances with the tiny voice in the back of your gorgeous brain; it might be time for a trial separation. That’s right folks, what it really boils down to is mind over matter. As soon as you begin saying things like, “I’ll do that when I’m stronger,” “the route is too steep,” “this boulder problem is too hard,” or “the training too difficult,” you have already started your own self sabotage.
A better approach to this type of thinking is to train your thoughts to that of a professional. It is also something that should be practiced everyday. If you want to become a better golfer you go to the driving range and putting green. If you want to become a better painter you take lessons and practice the principles. Why should climbing or speaking to yourself in a motivational tone be any different. Instead of repeating negative conversations with yourself, change that voice to one of questioning. “How do I get to that next move,” instead of saying, “that hold is too far away.” The next time you are on the most difficult section of any climb and you find yourself paralyzed with fear; try moving just one move further, or slapping your hand just a little higher. You’ll find that this works to boost your self esteem no matter how incremental the progress.
Or perhaps, you are a person driven by planning. Setting goals of various levels (i.e. first, second, third tier goals) is a great way to quantify and even look back at progress. Also, being able to look back at your progression can be one of the greatest movers and shakers of motivation. You have been keeping track of all your training and performance sessions, right? Let’s think of it this way: First tier goal- climb 5.12 or V7, Second tier goal- climb three or four 5.11’s and/or flash up to V5, Third tier goal- forming a training plan for hangboarding more effectively.
Another format for planning or motivation could also include The Route Pyramid. This is a resume of your climbing progress. With routes or problems you can complete quickly situated on the bottom forming the base and more difficult routes stacked onto one another with the most difficult problems at the tippy top.
If you find yourself asking questions like “am I really a serious climber or is this just for fun?” Chances are you want to take it more seriously. Because the opposite of loving something isn’t hate; it’s indifference. The next time you stand below any problem or route, if you find your stomach racked with pain or anxiety the more sure you can be that it’s your inner dialogue fighting you with weights in their gloves ready to knock your teeth out. That means it’s time to focus all of your attention on the problem set before you and give it everything you’ve got.
“Learning over all else." I want you to repeat that after every “failed” attempt. Honestly, life is already hard enough without the expectations we place on our climbing performance. Going into battle with a mindset of learning and self reflection is more productive than one of conquering. After all, the rock isn’t going to change, but you can learn the subtle cues like body english and breathing properly while entering a crux to unlock the beta which works best for you.
We’ve all been at the crag/gym/boulderfield and heard it before; “I was pumped, stupid piece of shit climb, this climb sucks, why would someone do this anyways.” Hell, I’ve even been around when a climbing shoe gets lobbed through the air like a fresh fish at a Seattle fish market. Or Worse. Clearly, the shoes are not to blame and it’s not very flattering when you're screaming at a chunk of rock. Admittedly, I’ve done this, and can say with one hundred percent certainty, yelling and throwing my belongings into the next drum circle of nature lovers did not rectify my crappy footwork. I would argue that it’s an additional drain on your energy reserves that could be better spent focused towards maximum effort.
No one is expected to be able to climb V-double digit overnight that’s for sure. However, if it’s your goal to do so, use that to your advantage. When your partners can’t make it to the gym that night use it as an opportunity to climb on your own, and send your project without anyone else’s beta. After all, not everyone should have the same projecting goals or training goals.
Don’t be surprised if your friends and family treat you differently during this process. They may begin to ask questions like, “why do you take this so seriously, it’s just climbing,” or even go so far as to tell you, “you’re missing out on other things”. Don’t worry, they do it out of love, but also, because they want the dedication that you now possess.
If the next time you are training at the gym or huddled under a boulder just know that you will feel much better about your performance when you give it your all. Something that I have to constantly tell myself is, “no one is going to do it for me”. That should ring true in all aspects of our lives. No one does your work for you at your nine-to-five do they? What makes you think that someone else's belief in you is going to get you up a rock in the middle of the woods or a plastic problem at the local gym?
Everyday you can find yourself swiping one way or the other on your device. Not anymore. Now you are going to turn off the screen and ask yourself how this helps to move towards your goals. I even encourage you to stop reading this right now if you already have a climbing protocol in place. Consume things of entertainment value when your fingers are raw and your forearms have swollen to the size of Popeye’s.
It wasn’t long ago that I watched a video with proclamations of time saving devices. The one that stuck with me the most however was from financial guru Warren Buffett. It stated that you should make a list of your Top 25 priorities. From this point you should organize them down to your top five. Now, with your Top five printed clearly in front of you, don’t move onto the others until you’ve checked one off of your top five list. While this may seem boring or even square, keep in mind that most great climbers probably have a very similar method to this one. What if climbing doesn’t make it onto the list? That’s fine, and it probably explains why you’ve been stuck at the same grade for so damn long. Continue to narrow down that list until climbing can be a part of it. After all, why would you invest so much time into something and never improve?
Bear in mind these are techniques that have worked to keep the psyche for myself and what works for me may not necessarily work for you. With all of this knowledge, I feel like you now have many tools at your disposal to push past a plateau and confidently put your head down and do the work that is required to really reach your goals.
Anderson, Michael L. and Mark L. The Rock Climber’s Training Manual: A Guide to Continuous Improvement. Fixed Pin Publishing 2015
Ilgner, Arno. The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers. Desiderata Institute, 2006
Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. New York: Black Irish Entertainment, 2012