The 3 Questions That Hold Me Back


I first tried rock climbing in September 2011 after I had been insisting to my husband I was NOT interested in trying.  What changed my mind?  On a camping trip up north we saw climbers on Palisade Head.  We also did some rock scrambling by a waterfall and the experience intrigued me.  My husband has talked at length about his progress from the perspective of being a climber who is disabled, I haven’t shared much from my nonathletic-kinda-afraid-of-heights-I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this perspective.

We started climbing more regularly in November, just 3 months ago.  In the gym, I’ve been climbing 5.7s and trying 5.8s here and there.  (non-climber?  see this explanation of climbing grades)  As for bouldering (short, un-roped routes), I can usually get most V0 problems after a try or two (or 5, but who’s counting) and I’ve started working on a V1.

While I’m not the most physically fit person, it doesn’t seem to be my fitness that’s holding me back.  It’s my mental game. I’m plagued by 3 internal questions.

What if I can’t?

Bouldering at the Climbing Gym

When I reach a section of a route or problem that I haven’t gotten past before, I feel the anticipation building and I doubt I can do it.  When the doubt sets in, I hesitate, miss the hold and fall.  It’s a huge barrier to giving 100% and committing to my moves.  When I focus on what I think I can’t do, it cheats me from the possibility of what I could do if I gave it my all.

During some climbing sessions I get discouraged by the lack of progress from my holding back, and I proceed to sit back and watch my husband and son climb.  Watching my son requires effort to make sure he doesn’t get in the way of other climbers, and it makes the perfect excuse.

What do people think?

Unfortunately this is a question I’ve had to deal with in other areas of life, and for the most part I’ve squashed it.  Except when it comes to climbing.  I find myself self-conscious and hoping others aren’t watching.  When the gym is busy I find I’m less likely to jump in and climb since there are more people to see my lack of skills.  I try to remind myself: You’re new at this.  You are still learning. However, as a recovering perfectionist my little pep talk doesn’t usually work.  I was naturally inclined to do well in school as a child, going on to become the valedictorian in high school.  Life doesn’t hand out “A’s” as often as I got used to receiving them, and I don’t like appearing as the “D” student of the gym.

What if I fall?

This is a question I deal with more in bouldering.  I’ve only had one bad fall in the gym when my foot got stuck on a hold, but it successfully embarrassed me, startled me and ended my climbing for the evening.  Even on roped routes when I look over my shoulder and see how high I am, I can feel my heart rate increase.  Confession: sometimes at the top of the wall, I have to tell myself to let go.  Even then sometimes one hand still has a white-knuckled grip on the last hold for a few more seconds.

Answering the Questions

So what am I doing about these questions?  I’m trying to think less when I’m on a problem to combat #1.  I slow down when I over think and then I do poorly.  I’m also trying to draw on my musical background and think of the rhythm I create in moving to make it more consistent and less hesitant.  Possibly next week I will climb with @eliz_rocks (check out her blog!) so someone will see me climb and I’ll have to get over myself. 🙂  As for the fear of falling . . . don’t all climbers continue to deal with that to some degree?

It never ceases to amaze me how climbing can have such a direct correlation to other areas of life, possibly even exposing thoughts and attitudes we believe we’ve successfully overcome.  Have you had to deal with any of these questions, in climbing or other areas of life?  Please share your insights in the comments.

100 Miles in 2012 and Other Updates

Warming up with hot chocolate

During our period of mild weather in Minnesota, I had suggested we take a longer hike to test our junior hiker and train for our upcoming vacation.  We ended up suffering through experiencing refreshing 15 degree weather for 2.5 hours to cover 3.7 miles, bringing our total to 6.2 miles for the year.  It was the quickest pace we’ve ever had on a hike!  The wind picked up about half way through, which encouraged a fast pace back to the truck.

Are you on Facebook? If you haven’t already, you can check out our Facebook page.  And until next time, climb on!

Categories: 100 miles in 2012, Climbing, Insight | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The 3 Questions That Hold Me Back

  1. Great post, Jessica! One of the great things about climbing is that it is also a great tool to give us insight into our mental processes. I definitely deal with all three of those questions on a regular basis when I climb (and in life in general), and I love how working through them in my climbing transfers to the rest of my life as well. Good stuff.

    We’re excited to climb with you next week!

    • Thanks! It has amazed me how much insight climbing provides to life in general, especially when it comes to fear and insecurity.

      I’m excited too! Looking forward to it!

  2. tjebe

    Great post, and welcome to climbing!
    Those are good questions with somewhat complex answers. But I’ll add my $0.02 here anyway.

    Climbing is a very social activity, so talk to the other climbers — become friends with them. It’s a little less stressful to fail in front of friends, and as friends they’ll be encouraging. But to be brutally honest, in the gym (even amongst friends sometimes), other climbers are primarily interested in the ego-centric view of how you compare to their climbing. I say this to take some of the pressure off. Other climbers aren’t studying your climbing skills; they’re just quickly comparing experience levels.

    There will always be climbs beyond your current ability, but you can always enjoy the challenges those climbs bring. It wouldn’t be as much fun if you could climb everything you jumped on. Just keep trying and climbing. And if you feel frustrated, instead of sitting back and watching, work on specific skills: footwork, balance, body-position. There are a ton of drills and techniques to practice.

    Have fun with it!

    • Thanks! I appreciate the $0.02. I can be very introverted. I’ve struck up conversations a few times with other climbers, but sometimes it’s hard to get past how shy I am. Thanks for the honesty and tips for working on skills. I’ll have to remember that the next time I hit the gym!

  3. I can relate to a lot of what you said and I’ve been climbing for 4 years! I think that what draws a lot of people to climbing is not just the physical challenge but the mental one. It’s uncomfortable to face your fears or make judgement calls and what constitutes acceptable risk to one person may not be the same for another!

    I still have days where I feel like a crappy climber or feel like I should be able to climb things I struggle with. Just remember that everyone goes through the same emotions regardless of what level they climb. I don’t think anyone in the gym judges – if anything they probably want to share words of encouragement but don’t want to be intrusive! If I had any advice it would be to push yourself only as far as you feel comfortable. It’s ok to be scared and rewarding to push through the fear but it’s still an activity you’re choosing to do on your spare time so you deserve to be happy doing it!

    • I love how you put it: “It’s still an activity you’re choosing to do on your spare time so you deserve to be happy doing it!” That is so true! I was recently at the gym and there were competition routes that had been put up, but they were not graded. I found that it was more fun for me to focus on climbing rather than judging my ability by what grade I was climbing.

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