In climbing we have to trust a lot of things: ourselves, our minds, our bodies, our equipment, the guidebook, our climbing partners, the weather, to name a few. And then if we choose loftier climbing ambitions we have to trust the process, the ups and downs of a long term climbing goal, which we may or may not achieve.
Some of these things are controllable, some are not. As humans we like to know the outcome in advance before we commit. In this way we set goals, take on training plans and buy better and shinier gear (all important, but not exclusively the answer). For many of us too, our lives are so busy that outlets in our spare time like climbing are so important, where so much value is attached, it’s hard when we don’t see obvious rewards for our efforts.
But if we hold on so hard and only focus on the controllable, there is no space for freedom, lightness and creativity. If we cannot learn to trust and be ok with uncertainty, we’ll find it hard to let go of a certain outcome. And when things are really out of control – we have no capacity to deal with it. Whilst these concepts on the surface are bigger than climbing, the fact is our habits will be really apparent when in the middle of a crux on a climb or dealing with failure and injury.
Lately I’ve been reading the “Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallway. In it the author talks about the act of ‘letting it happen’. He is referring to hitting the ball while playing tennis but the crossover with climbing is obvious. Top British climber Hazel Findlay refers to this too when she says ‘let the body climb’. When we let it happen, our body moves with total freedom, spontaneity, we remove judgement of whether we are doing something well or badly, and our inner critic stays quiet.
But there is one crucial element that has to be in place in order to let anything happen or flow. And that is to trust. As Gallway says in order to let it happen, “The body is trusted, without conscious control of the mind.” What does it really mean to trust? Gallway describes self 1 and self 2: When ‘I’m talking to myself’, I (self 1) is the conscious teller, myself (self 2) is the conscious doer. When you think about yourself, what is this relationship like? Is it kind? Is it critical? Is it curious? Is it judgemental? Gallway asks “What are the stories we tell ourself”. And the bottom line is does self 1 trust self 2? Because at its core, if it doesn’t, we will never get the best out of ourselves and our bodies.
If I’m really honest I’ve had to reflect over recent years how little I’ve really trusted myself in the past, particularly my intuition, in both climbing and life. Mostly I never spent enough time, purely in my own company for long enough, to allow this to happen. In western culture, we don’t value this as much as other parts of the world. But if we can’t learn to truly sit with ourselves, listen without judgement to the voices in our head, the feelings in our body, our gut, how can we really trust ourselves to make the right decisions when we’re climbing?
Recently Emma Twyford made an outstanding, groundbreaking ascent of the ‘Big Bang’ 9a in Wales. Not only has she forged British female climbing standards, but this for her was a long term project, which she had to balance with the rest of her work and life. In a recent UKClimbing interview she said “I think if you want something enough all you can do is try to get there at your own pace”.
Crucially here I think she’s saying you have to understand you and what your pace is, no one else’s and when you understand this, stay committed and trust.
I challenge you to do three things:
1. Next time you’re faced with a tricky climbing move, notice what your first instinct is for your foot or hand move. Did you second guess yourself? Were you right the first time? If you hesitated, if only in your head, repeat without hesitation or try out your first idea. What happens differently? Try not to be judgemental and just be curious.
2. Next time you’re faced with a difficult decision, be that about friends, family, work, whether to move house, take on a new job or course, sit quietly for a few moments (maybe with a cup of tea!). Listen carefully. What does your instinct, intuition, gut tell you? Trust it.
3. What conditions do you need to allow yourself to trust yourself – is it peace and quiet, is it supportive friends, is it time?
Notice these things about yourself. When you can really trust yourself, you are really able to let it happen. And who know what will unfold then!