15 January 2015

And another point about fear of falling

I’ve posted on this blog several times about fear of falling, and of course written a whole book section on it in 9 out of 10. But further elements of this complex issue of mental training continue to challenge so many climbers, certainly if the number of emails I get on the subject is anything to go by.

One aspect that just came to mind while reading another of these is the issue of focusing your mind too much on the problem of fear of falling in the process of trying to address it.

So the problem of excessive fear or anxiety in leading may arise subconsciously.  By the time you realise that it is actually a big limitation with your climbing, it may already be quite a large and engrained issue. So you need to stare it in the face and look at the roots of it to first understand its origin and then change your habits to reduce and eliminate it.

But the subtlety of how to approach this effort seems to be important. I notice that some climbers seem to view their fear of falling as a foe in which they are in a constant battle with. Given the time and difficulty involved in overcoming fear of falling for a proportion of climbers, I can completely understand why it must feel like this. Nevertheless, viewing it along these lines could become self-defeating.

Fear is a healthy and and entirely natural human emotion. Again we have to go back to the difference between the actual risk, and the fear we produce from it. Sure, we can swallow fear in a moment of truth. But this is not a training strategy. The training strategy is to alter the inputs that result in the fear. You’re not trying to squash the fear, you’re trying to change how you think, plan and act on the rock so the fear needs not arise. The fear inputs can be reduced either by resetting your sense of what is actually fearful, such as by gaining familiarity with practice falls, or by reducing the sense of uncertainty about your position on the rock, by learning all the countless tactical tricks of leading.

Although you must face the problem directly to get to this stage, you must be careful to maintain attention on the pleasure and satisfaction of leading, as opposed to a constant battle against fear. When people have asked me about the boldest leads I have ever done, I’ve always come back to the same basic idea that the desire to experience and complete the climb simply overwhelmed any fears I had, no matter how serious they were.

You must give active energy to thinking about why you are motivated to have the experience of leading difficult rock climbs. What positives are there. When these elements are front and centre in your mind, the fears are naturally pushed to the side, or rather put in their place.

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