Sunday, March 2, 2014


Ever feel like your actual climbing performance isn't matching your potential climbing potential? Yeah, we all have felt that way. Most climbers try to close this gap by training more, buying new ("better") equipment, or other similar efforts. There's nothing wrong with doing these things, but you are probably completely overlooking a more basic problem that doesn't require anything other than some mental effort.

The Power of Your Mind

Everyone has heard sayings like "negative thoughts lead to negative actions," or "the body can't go where the mind hasn't already been." And every climber knows that it is very easy to let negative thoughts get the best of you while on a hard or scary route. But not many climbers seem to do anything about it. I think this is because (obviously) stopping your thoughts isn't possible, but yet there isn't much info out there about how to not fall into the trap of negative thinking, especially in climbing. Two psychological concepts provide a simple way to not let negativity determine your climbing performance.

Self Talk

For our purposes, "self talk" is basically the conversation you have with yourself, the "words" that go through your mind when you are doing or thinking about something. It is more than just our thoughts, it is literally the inner dialogue you have with yourself. Sometimes, self talk is actually said out loud (talking to yourself). In climbing, examples of self talk often include statements like "wow that hold is small," or "I'm getting pretty pumped," or "oh man that routes looks pretty hard." There is nothing at all wrong with self talk, but the problem is that usually it is negative. Negative self talk easily leads to negative performance, sometimes even convincing yourself you can't do a route before you even get on it.


We cannot simply turn off our self talk. It is an automatic response to a situation. But, we can work on "reframing" the self talk to ideally something positive, or at least not negative. Reframing is a technique to change how we understand or interpret a situation. Instead of saying to yourself "I'm feeling pretty tired today, I don't know about this," you could say "This is going to be a good challenge for me today," or "This is going to be good training for me to work on pushing through when I'm tired." Importantly, reframing self talk has to be reasonable and accurate. You cannot trick yourself. For example, instead of saying "that hold feels tiny" you can't say "that hold feels huge" because you know it isn't true. But you can say "I know that hold is small so I need to move off of it fast so I can get to a better hold."

Reframing Your Self Talk

When working on this, at first you will probably catch yourself saying something negative and then having to reframe it to something not negative. Eventually though, the goal is that all of your self talk (and yes, even outside of climbing) will become non-negative - maybe even positive! - and you won't have to reframe any of it.

For many climbers, a huge amount of your actual performance (not potential performance) is directly related to your emotional and mental state. Focusing on your self talk can really help keep your actual performance at the level of your potential performance. To start reframing, first just be thinking about your self talk and notice when it is negative. Actively work on immediately reframing it to a positive, or at least neutral, statement. With some dedication soon you will find yourself having non-negative self talk without thinking about it!

P.S. Here is a link to another blog post that offers related, inspiring advice: Shut Up and Get It Done

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