9 June 2012

If it wasn’t hard, it would be easy

...And we are looking for hard, aren’t we?!
On this blog I guess many of the posts are about finding and attacking weaknesses. Lots of people avoid them without realising it and hence the need to keep reiterating both the general point and the detail. But what of milking your strengths. Some strengths, like being a little stronger of finger than the next guy or being able to reach a bit further or being dynamic and confident enough to jump can only be milked so much. Not all strengths, or weaknesses are equal.
Someone recently asked me what my ‘secret’ was for climbing hard. I’m wary of oversimplifying or seeing a complex picture as black and white, but I’d say I have one strength that I’ve milked a hell of a lot, and fortunately it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I’m not good at climbing hard, but I like having a hard time. Simple as that really.
So why is that a strength? Well just think about some of the things that are ‘hard’ about climbing: Failing repeatedly and not having an immediate solution or avenue to pursue next. Nerves of anticipation. Fear. Even occasionally a little pain or self-discipline (these things are all relative). These are normally the things that make climbers outright give up an attempt or decide not to keep having attempts. Or it could be more of a subtle effect. Thee things might not make you give up, but just cause you to lift off the gas pedal slightly.
Revelling in the ‘hardness’ of hard climbing isn’t an easy mindset to adopt. What worked for me was simply to remind myself, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes directly, that if whatever I’m trying wasn’t hard, it would be easy. I’m not looking to do easy climbs easily. I want to do hard climbs easily. Every hard climb I’ve ever done has felt easy in the moment of success, but hard right up to that point. Therefore since 99% of climbing time is going to feel hard in all the forms that ‘hard’ takes, if you enjoy those things then you get on with the journey to that special moment of easiness quicker.
Some examples:
Bouldering - When holding a swing at the limit of your strength, you feel like you don’t have enough strength to absorb it and are going to come off. A lot of hard bouldering experience teaches you to ignore that feeling and keep pulling. A proportion of the time, despite your expectations, your feet will swing back and you’ll get to the top. All of this process of doubt and reaffirmation of belief happens inside a split second at the apex of the swing.
Sport climbing - Just because you tried the move for 300 times doesn’t mean you cant do it with your present level of strength. You might not have found the best way yet. Just don’t keep trying it the same way. Change something, however small, each time. Experiment systematically. You’ll learn that the available holds and ways to move through them have a lot more to offer than you could have imagined. If you do want to try it 300 times though, do your belayer a favour and learn to top rope self belay!
Trad - When you are dealing with something that is all in the mind, like confidence, recognise that you are dealing with the most complicated object in the universe. You might try to understand good and bad mental performances, but you will never be able to attribute them completely and correctly to the factors that resulted in the performance. Take what messages you can, use them and shrug off the negative or retrograde feelings with vigour. We feel amazing after a steady lead of a bold route because it is a feat that is extremely difficult to achieve. Don't be scared of mental blocks. Although they seem utterly impenetrable when you are up against one, they are ultimately just thoughts. 
Treat each climb as a worthy enemy. Expect it to lie down and it might be impossible, Expect to be tested and you’ll be ready for the test.

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