Over the past 6 weeks I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. It sounds so cliche, and has been written about time and time again. From A Walk in the Woods to Wild, the theme of pursuing new challenges with self-reflection is enough to makes some of us want to vomit in our mouths.
But for those of you that are still reading this blog, maybe you are feeling a void, or overwhelmed, or at times just uncomfortable in your own skin. And for you, maybe there is a little space for compassion, learning, and change.
After my send of China Doll this summer, a 14R trad climb in Boulder Canyon, I went into a bit of a funk. I’d describe it as a “post-send depression.” For over a year, every day and night I’d obsessed over the climb. All of my physical and mental energy poured over the ascent. After my big goal was accomplished, I felt kind of lost. What do I do now?
I didn’t have the mental energy to project anything. Having focused for so long on such a big goal I had to learn how to love the process again.
It’s normal to feel weak after working on the same rock climb over and over again. After 70-ish burns on China Doll I was really strong but only for very specific moves on that particular climb.
I went back to the gym and (naturally) I felt pretty weak.
I started getting so frustrated with myself, I am a professional rock climber, this is my job- and I’m failing at my job. I felt this deep sense of self-loathing. At the darkest times I hated myself- I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, pretty enough.
Nothing was enough.
Deep down I knew these feelings were irrational, but I couldn’t help them from bubbling to the surface when my climbing performance wasn’t up to par or when I was just having a bad day.
Two months ago at the OR show in SLC, Arno Ilgner, of Rock Warrior’s Way, approached me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working with him. I’d read his book years ago and it really resonated with me. I remembered him talking about the ego in a way I’d never heard before- that me being “hard on myself,” was simply a manifestation of the ego.
We spoke briefly about his goals to write a book for more advanced climbers on mental training, and my goal to help let go of expectations, frustrations, and negative self-talk with climbing. It could be a give and take relationship in this way- he picks my brain on mental processes involved in projecting hard routes, and I’d be guided to having a healthier relationship with myself and climbing.
I didn’t really know how much I could learn from Arno. People would say to me, I think of you as mentally strong, you are a warrior. Or they’d ask, “Doesn’t he just work with fear of falling? You don’t have a problem with that.”
But I never really believed what people told me. Sure I could have moments of mental strength, but it could collapse and be followed by frustration and self-doubt. I wasn’t a warrior. I was just a girl wearing a cheap plastic ninja mask.
And so the journey of introspection began. Like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, I began my attempt at getting acquainted with my true self.
Instead of hiking the PCT, the first step for me was talking to Arno and re-reading his book. I realized that the ego was behind my negative self-talk. As he describes, it’s easy to visualize the ego when talking about someone cocky, but the same beast is behind the self-doubt. It’s a 1000-headed dragon that pops up when you least expect it. It sits on a fancy throne, and loves when you feed it. For example, that China Doll send? Straight to the stomach of the beast. All those mighty ascents, those successes in my life- the ego wants to cherish those moments and value them high up on a pedestal. These accomplishments were the basis for comparing to others, cheap feelings of self-worth and gratification.
Not to say these accomplishments aren’t valuable, but the ego throne is made with a flimsy stalk, and at any moment (like when you can’t send your next project or someone else is much stronger or smarter or prettier than you), it can be dis-mantled. You are left feeling as crumbled as the throne carrying all your “prized possessions.”
The focus needs to be away from the dragon and re-directed. It’s normal to have thoughts of all kinds passing through your head, how do we feel more true to self and let go of all the rest?
With climbing (and in normal life) re-directing our focus to the task at hand and pursuing learning is one way to slay the dragon.
For example, on Simply Read I was falling at the same move, a dynamic pop to a small crimp ¾ up the climb. I fell there 6 times. It would have been easy to get frustrated and say to myself I was not strong enough.
With each fall I felt a moment of frustration, but the difference from my past was the ability to get back on track quickly. I didn’t allow the frustration to take over me. It’s important, however, to recognize the feeling rather than suppress it, but then from an observer standpoint step back and label this as an ego-driven thought. It’s not your true-self. Instead of allowing my ego to take the driver’s seat with negative self-talk, I quickly shifted into the gear of curiosity. By being curious and asking the questions “why did I fall?” and “what can I do better here?” I was able to continue enjoying the process. Sure, maybe I wasn’t as strong as I could be, but at that given moment, there was nothing I could do about that. I couldn’t just start finger-boarding at Movement. I’m in Rifle Canyon, hanging on a draw, and the only benefit is to ask “what can I learn from this experience right now?”
Learning is a key motivator for me in climbing, but it’s easy to let the ego take over and get in a funk. These “funks,” like negative self-talk and wobblers, are what Arno calls Power Sinks. They are not benefiting you in any real way. Instead, directing your energy to learning can keep you focused on the challenge at hand.
I’m certainly no expert at all this, but I’m excited to be on a healthier path with climbing and in life. And although I’m excited to have Simply Read be my quickest (and, more importantly, least frustrating) 13d tick, I also realize there is no end-goal- there will always be more projects and processes along the way.
What I do know is, every day is a learning process. And if you are able to keep this as your motivator, I’m certain you’ll have more fun at your favorite sport AND in normal life. It may be a simple concept, but it’s incredibly challenging…and oh so empowering.
The “bat hang” rest. Attempting to direct my focus to breathing and lowering the heart rate rather than the blood rushing into my head:) Photo: Dave Wahl
There are many opportunities on Simply Read to utilize technique, particularly knee-bars which I love. Photo: Matt Corinth
Isabelle and Charley enjoying camp time. It’s important to have supportive partners when pushing your mental and physical limits.
Rock climbing can be incredibly creative in its movement. Photo: Dave Wahl