30 November 2007

Fear of Falling

One of the main things I hear again and again from climbers I coach or climb with is that they are limited by fear of falling. In fact I’d say that maybe 2 out 3 of these climbers could walk out and climb their short-medium term goal routes tomorrow if they could eliminate this excessive fear in their heads. What a waste of ability.

Let’s take a look at the issue.

When we talk about fear of falling we often deal with the concept of our ‘comfort zone’. Climbers with a performance crippling fear of falling often believe that confident climbers are happy to be outside their comfort zone all the time.

This is incorrect.

The reality is that their comfort zone is just bigger. They ‘suffer’ being outside their comfort zone every so often, in order to enjoy being inside it most of the time (because it’s getting bigger all the time).

Each time you opt to stay inside your comfort zone and avoid the unpleasant feeling of fear of falling, your comfort zone gets smaller. Falling off becomes less and less familiar, and backing off becomes more familiar. The most basic training principle is “What you do, you become” So you are practicing reverse training.

Down the line, the end result is that there is almost no comfort zone left to crumble, and just being on a cliff feels too close to the edge of your comfort zone. Climbing often feels unpleasantly scary, and unrewarding. These climbers often give up eventually, or keep going with a perpetual undercurrent of frustration about their climbing.

The flip side is to step briefly outside of that comfort zone every so often, say maybe every 5th route, or maybe once in the climbing day or week. You feel the pain of fear of falling and suffer it briefly. And you realise it’s not so bad. Your comfort zone grows a little. The rest of the time, routes that were once barely comfortable are now totally comfortable – happy days!

It carries on and you suffer a little fear again, comfort zone grows a bit more… and… you get the picture…

So, trying to stay comfortable 100% of the time results in that comfort being harder and harder to find. Accepting the pain of facing fear 10% of the time means total comfort on 100% + of what used to feel unpleasant.

Scare yourself a little, in order to be comfortable and free from fear more than before.

Unfortunately there is no other way.