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iamthewallress


Sep 2, 2003, 6:31 PM
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The Emotional Link
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I took up climbing when I was at personal low point in my life. Just trying this scarey and burly sport made me feel mentally and physically stronger. From that time on, my climbing and my self-esteem have been pretty tightly linked, which so long as I was improving or happy enough to just be out there trying, seemed like a good thing.

However, as I've continued to climb I've gone through lows in my climbing that have translated into personal lows and vice versa. Lately I've been climbing pretty well, but still have found that climbing failures will leave me feeling bummed out and like I personally am a failure. Although this sort of negative irrational self-association with a climb passes pretty quickly, it seems that it is my default state when things go wrong.

My boyfriend even suggested this weekend, that I would climb much better and my meltdowns on lead would be less frequent if I didn't have such a direct channel from my climbing performence to my emotions. Part of me does not like the idea of trying to emotionally distance myself from my climbs b/c the high that I get from pushing through something really difficult or scarey is beyond compare. Still, part of me feels like a more even keel might net me the most happiness in the end by smoothing over the ugly parts and helping me to climb more safely.

Have any of you been through this? How do you train yourselves to keep an emotional distance from your climbing? Has it helped to make you happier and/or a better climber?


unabonger


Sep 2, 2003, 6:47 PM
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First, what you describe is not self esteem. Self esteem is not linked to short term accomplishments. Self esteem is a state that results in living according to your values, among other elements. Do not confuse self esteem with self confidence or satisfaction obtained from a minor accomplishment. If it is true that you posess self esteem, you would not lose it because of something so trivial as attainment of a climbing goal.

Self esteem cannot depend on attachment to singular worldly pursuits, or when those pursuits are taken from you by circumstance, self esteem would disappear also. Self esteem depends on far more complex constructions and beliefs. Concepts such as values, honesty, integrity, compassion, industry, thrift.

True, emotional detachment from the attainment of your climbing goals will free you to climb purely for the love of movement or other values you hold regarding climbing. Achieve this, then climbing goals you thought impossible will suddenly become easy.

Once you learn this about climbing, you can apply it to other areas of your life.

I strongly suggest you read "The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Nathanial Brandon, and furthermore, that you get counseling. Overcoming a lack of self esteem is difficult and can be facilitated greatly with professional help.

Good luck.

The UnaBonger


dalguard


Sep 3, 2003, 7:52 AM
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Hey Melissa,

As you know, I have this problem too. I especially hate it when I don't do well with something and then pitch a temper tantrum on top of it. Then I'm pissed at myself on two levels. There have been times when I've thought I'd be a happier person without climbing. Then I think, more content, yes; happier, no. It's what you said about the good times being worth the bad ones. And when I think about not climbing anymore because of my fears or my inability to handle setbacks emotionally it gets me to crying as hard as the setbacks do, so I can't win.

It gets better, I think. Dumping the spotlight online persona has helped some and accepting that my whiz-bang start isn't going to translate into climbing genius for my entire career has helped too. I'm never going to be non-competitive (self-competitive). It's just the way I'm built. But I'm learning to take it in stride more.

The thing that helped with my lead head trouble the most and has gone on to help with my over-reaction to failure somewhat was Theresa's "I'm strong, I'm confident, and my gear is good" mantra. Not so much for the affirmation I don't think as because it's aniti-dramatic. No more spectacular public meltdowns 50 feet off the ground, just a quiet, boring monologue between me, myself, and I. Once you start getting dramatic it has a tendency to snowball, don't you think? Until you can't back off short of total meltdown and you can't go forward because you're hysterical.

And you know the BF thing doesn't help. I'll bet you get a lot less emotional after "failures" with other partners.

Dawn


maculated


Sep 3, 2003, 9:07 AM
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I don't think I can really relate to the emotional blow up but in the beginning when I was climbing, I was climbing with two very good guy friends. One was very accepting, and the other . . . was very, very, infuriatingly competitive with me. Whenever I 'failed' at a climb the other two would send, I would get emotional. I'd not show them, and feign being ill or something. Tears would well and I'd have to sit back and take a break.

I'm not sure if it is my competitive friend's exit from my life, my gaining confidence in my ability and being comfortable with whatever I'm doing, or what . . .

But, that said, i think the boyfriend might be part of it. That friend and I were kind of in a psuedo relationship and I knew that he'd spray to my friends that he was better than me. Doesn't mean your beau does, but it does reflect on how you perceive yourself in his eyes.

That, and confidence issues. You might be pushing yourself too hard while you acclimate to climbing. I get frustrated bouldering because I am bad at it. I say I hate it, but really, I hate that I'm bad at it. Then one day I said, "Screw this, I'll have fun" and got up any V0 I could find and forgot the V1's & 2s and since then I'm a much happier boulderer.

Maybe just take some steps back and get really good at leading 5.6 and 5.7, etc and your confidence will soar.


the_pirate


Sep 3, 2003, 9:18 AM
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The Tao of Pooh... read it.... be the uncarved block. It's a journey and a process.

The best thing I ever did for my climbing was to stop taking it seriously. You get dinked on a climb, don't start cussing and swinging, getting yourself even more worked up. Laugh. Laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Flip yourself upside down while hanging on the rope and laugh your ass off. Then get back on your route.

The rock has been there for millions of years. It doesn't care. The people watching might care at the moment, or might just pretend to care. But in the long run, it still doesn't matter. Climb long, easy routs with spectacular views and enjoy the serenity.

Hope this helps..


positivethoughts


Sep 3, 2003, 12:45 PM
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Hi Melissa,

The first time I read through your post, I thought I knew exactly what you were talking about. Then I read it again, and decided that I wasn't sure.

I keep thinking about all the different times that I've exploded emotionally while climbing. Some of those are bad, no question, but other times, I think I'd be giving up something important if I could train myself not to feel that way.

One example: My partner and I went up on the Nose for a day of practice aid climbing. The idea was to work on our systems and moving quickly, practice short-fixing and that sort of thing. I 'called' the first pitches, thinking that even if my partner would probably be able to free them, I would at least be able to French free through pretty quickly and not waste too much time. Then I found myself doing the full-on aid thing, inching my way up the rock thinking about how he would be doing this so much faster, about how much I was slowing our team down, about how much I sucked at this... crying and cursing (need that be said?). I don't remember what Tom said to calm me down eventually (probably something along the lines of "Calm down, stupid, remember this is just PRACTICE" -- except nicely) but the amazing thing was that after I stopped the crazy negative things from running through my head, I actually started moving faster AND having more fun.

I think that kind of negative meltdown is bad news. There are all kinds of sports psychology articles out there about using positive mantras and self-talk. (BTW, Dawn, I'm totally gratified that something that I said helped you out. My new mantra (because I'm CONSTANTLY having to work on this sort of thing) is "Strong. Strong. Sticky. Sticky." which has a good rhythm, and makes me laugh, which I figure is a good thing.)

On the other hand, I like investing myself in climbs. One time I hiked for 5 hours to the base of something (having gotten lost, scratched and bruised) only to realize that I no longer had time to actually CLIMB the route. So, I plunked myself down on a rock and had myself a serious heartfelt cry. Kinda freaked my partner out. I didn't have all the negative thoughts though, too slow, bad route-finding, or whatever, I was just upset that I didn't get to do the climb.

Or, another example, this spring I had the chance to hang out and watch a world-class climber on one of his projects (y., Melissa, you know who I mean). Normally ultra easy-going and cheerful, I was impressed to see his intensity on the route. When he fell he'd let out this bellowing snarling string of invective that spanned three if not four languages. And when he finally got a hard move he'd been working he was shouting and laughing and literally jumping up and down with joy (in the way that a person hanging from a one inch sloper with his feet not touching the rock jumps...) Not that you have to invest like that in every climb you do, but searching for that amazing thrill, means risking the terrible dissappointment. I'm neither Tao-ish or Pooh-ish enough to laugh when I feel disappointed like that - but the plus side makes it worth it for me.

So, um, even though I'm not sure what you were talking about, that is what I think about it. :?

T


unabonger


Sep 4, 2003, 5:14 AM
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In reply to:
Or, another example, this spring I had the chance to hang out and watch a world-class climber on one of his projects (y., Melissa, you know who I mean). Normally ultra easy-going and cheerful, I was impressed to see his intensity on the route. When he fell he'd let out this bellowing snarling string of invective that spanned three if not four languages. And when he finally got a hard move he'd been working he was shouting and laughing and literally jumping up and down with joy (in the way that a person hanging from a one inch sloper with his feet not touching the rock jumps...)
T

That's just ugly, selfish, needy behaviour. In the long run it's probably self-defeating. It sounds to me like he just wanted attention.

I assert that the best climbing performance happens with calm, focused energy, not screaching like an obnoxious child on success or failure.

Disappointment on failure or pride on success is normal and acceptable and may be channeled to higher motivation on subsequent efforts. Screaming profanities and ruining other's concentration or experience is not acceptable.

Another thing: Affirmations or mantras have limitations. Mainly they are useful for regaining focus and inducing a calm state of mind. Telling yourself "I'm good enough" only works if you already know you're good enough but have lost concentration or lost control of your emotions.

The Zen UnaBonger


dalguard


Sep 4, 2003, 8:23 AM
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We're not all you, nor do we all want to be.


unabonger


Sep 4, 2003, 8:32 AM
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We're not all you.

Resistance is futile.

The UnaBorger


iamthewallress


Sep 4, 2003, 11:46 AM
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In reply to:
Or, another example, this spring I had the chance to hang out and watch a world-class climber on one of his projects (y., Melissa, you know who I mean). Normally ultra easy-going and cheerful, I was impressed to see his intensity on the route. When he fell he'd let out this bellowing snarling string of invective that spanned three if not four languages. And when he finally got a hard move he'd been working he was shouting and laughing and literally jumping up and down with joy (in the way that a person hanging from a one inch sloper with his feet not touching the rock jumps...)
T

That's just ugly, selfish, needy behaviour. In the long run it's probably self-defeating. It sounds to me like he just wanted attention.

I assert that the best climbing performance happens with calm, focused energy, not screaching like an obnoxious child on success or failure.

I guess this is where I was meant to understand something that you were not. The person to whom Theresa was referring is not only one of the most unselfish, mellow, giving, kind climbers that I've ever met, but he is also one of the least attention grabbing although he could well be the best free climber in the world. I think that the point was simply that even the best loose there zen now and then, yet they remain the best.

As for mantras...I don't think that anyone is strictly self-confident or strictly self-defeating. We all have a little of each. If I approach a climb brimming with self-confidence, I usually climb better...unless something happens on the climb to kick my psyche into self defeating mode. If mantras will help get my head back to where it needs to be, then I'm all for them. Do you have any others, T?

Part of the point of my original post was that the way that I have allowed my emotions to be so tightly linked to my climbing performance seems to allow me rapid access to the self-defeating place when things go wrong with my climbing in addition to getting a big confidence boost when things go well. J's suggestion was to take the entire self part out of the climbing (i.e. like T's sticky, sticky mantra) so that it becomes a more objective, less personal experience. Ultimately, I'd love to be able to just focus on the rock and keep the focus (positive or negative) away from myself when I'm climbing. Since that is no more likely to happen on it's own for me than I am likely to do one arm pullups just because I'd like to, I was asking for mental training suggestions.

Dawn, your comments about backing off a little on the amount of mental energy spent on climbing (i.e. this web hoo-ha) also rang true for me as a potentially good way to make each climb a little bit less personal. I am curious...do you feel like you are actually climbing better now that you've backed away a bit, or is it that you are pulling off the same tricks with a littlel more emotional grace? For me, I think that a little more peace and sense of belonging on the rock would be a victory on it's own. But of course, be self-competative as I am, I'd like to climb harder too. Since there's a big gap between what I can lead and what I can follow, I hope that chilling out a little would help be to mentally take on the stuff that I know that I can physically already do. Thinking about it this way seems like it might be off track though...Like when I quit caring about climbing harder I will or something like that.

Unabonger, stronger self-esteem would probably help too. I don't feel like mine is especially weak, but I know that there is always room for improvement.


unabonger


Sep 4, 2003, 12:33 PM
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I guess this is where I was meant to understand something that you were not. The person to whom Theresa was referring is not only one of the most unselfish, mellow, giving, kind climbers that I've ever met, but he is also one of the least attention grabbing although he could well be the best free climber in the world. I think that the point was simply that even the best loose there zen now and then, yet they remain the best.

He may be. His behavior, which sounds obnoxious, was discussed with admiration. And to me, character is more important than how well one hangs by the fingertips. If indeed he is as you say, then simply pointing out that "snarling bursts of invectives" are inappropriate at the crag will be accepted graciously.

In reply to:
As for mantras...I don't think that anyone is strictly self-confident or strictly self-defeating.

I agree. Self-esteem levels are variable for a person. But we all have a "disposition" of self-esteem, and that is what is important. Mantras won't change one's disposition--more fundamental techniques must be practiced to do that. They are powerful tools, though, for inducing productive concentration.

Back to your original post, then. If you suffer longer than you want when you fail on a climb, perhaps redefining what failure means might help. For example: Not gaining the top is not failure, if you learn something.

Exercises to help you define your values regarding climbing might help:

What is important to you about climbing? What is important to you about a specific climb? What is important about getting to the top of a climb? The answers may or may not be something you want to admit: recognition, approval? Does not getting to the top mean you will suffer the loss of those things? What do you think should be important about climbing? What do you think is important for other people in climbing? The answers, whatever they are, may help you overcome those moments of lingering self doubt.

The UnaBonger


positivethoughts


Sep 4, 2003, 1:23 PM
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That's just ugly, selfish, needy behaviour. In the long run it's probably self-defeating. It sounds to me like he just wanted attention.

Well, if that's the way it sounded, then I guess I didn't tell the story very well. Those descriptions of this particular climber are way way WAY off base. I wanted to give an example of someone who has a successful and (I think) healthy approach to climbing, and is also not afraid of investing himself in a climb, emotionally and physically.

Apart from that specific incident, I think I get something out of that kind of investment that I don't get out of doing routes that I don't REALLY care about getting to the top of. It's not that the emotions accidentally slip out, it's that in some way they are necessary for me. Lately, I haven't been emotionally that IN to climbing, which means that I've been doing other things (in spite of the fact that I'm unemployed and living in Yosemite). Sure, in 30 mintues I could drive down and do a lap on something... but I really don't care if I do it or not, which means that I'd rather do something else.

In reply to:
I assert that the best climbing performance happens with calm, focused energy, not screaching like an obnoxious child on success or failure.

Sure. But calm focused energy during the climb doesn't preclude a giant Whoop of celebration when you are successful (and unlike you, I don't think celebrations are either obnoxious or reserved only for children). The point that I was trying to make is that emotion is not necessarily a bad thing, and being emotional about your climbing is not necessarily a bad thing either. Sometimes the agony of defeat isn't a calm sort of agony and I don't think you can love something in a detached way.

Affirmations may have their limitations, but it sure beats... "I suck. I'm going to fall. I'm going to die. I'm slow. I'm weak. Everyone is going to think I'm a failure..." Besides I think the idea is that if you say something enough times, there is some chance that you will end up believing it. I like my little mantra, but the way it typically works is that my partner stops me when I start in with the negative talk. "Looks hard. I don't know if I... er... I mean... right. Strong Strong Sticky Sticky."

I think MarK Twight wrote in the psych section of Extreme Alpinism that he has tried to train himself to key in on the sound of a 'biner snapping shut, to remind himself to relax and flow. Of course, he also admits that when the feces really hits the fan, all of that is out the window. It's a tough thing.

T


unabonger


Sep 4, 2003, 2:18 PM
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Well, if that's the way it sounded, then I guess I didn't tell the story very well. Those descriptions of this particular climber are way way WAY off base. I wanted to give an example of someone who has a successful and (I think) healthy approach to climbing, and is also not afraid of investing himself in a climb, emotionally and physically.

Fair enough. I understand you're point about investment. Bellowing and shouting (words you used) are intrusive on other's experience, though.

In reply to:

Apart from that specific incident, I think I get something out of that kind of investment that I don't get out of doing routes that I don't REALLY care about getting to the top of. It's not that the emotions accidentally slip out, it's that in some way they are necessary for me. Lately, I haven't been emotionally that IN to climbing, which means that I've been doing other things (in spite of the fact that I'm unemployed and living in Yosemite). Sure, in 30 mintues I could drive down and do a lap on something... but I really don't care if I do it or not, which means that I'd rather do something else.

I agree. The question is why you care so much. If you're emotion interferes with the rest of your life (as the original poster describes) when you fail on something so trivial as a rock climb, I believe it is appropriate to consider your motivation.

In reply to:
Sure. But calm focused energy during the climb doesn't preclude a giant Whoop of celebration when you are successful (and unlike you, I don't think celebrations are either obnoxious or reserved only for children). The point that I was trying to make is that emotion is not necessarily a bad thing

A whoop of celebration may be indicated. But when I'm trying to regain my focus at a critical rest 30 feet to the left of the celebrant (is that a word?) than his celebration is discourteous. I'm talking about resolving competing rights here--not the legitimacy of emotion. Even intense emotion does not have to manifest itself by alerting others.

The UnaBonger


maculated


Sep 4, 2003, 4:03 PM
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Oh how I love "Strong Strong Sticky Sticky."


dalguard


Sep 5, 2003, 7:34 AM
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Dawn, your comments about backing off a little on the amount of mental energy spent on climbing (i.e. this web hoo-ha) also rang true for me as a potentially good way to make each climb a little bit less personal. I am curious...do you feel like you are actually climbing better now that you've backed away a bit, or is it that you are pulling off the same tricks with a littlel more emotional grace?

I don't think I'm climbing harder, just stressing about it less. But I'm not climbing any less hard.

Unabomber's advice about changing your definition of sucess is good. Since I got freaked out and decided I was on the verge of killing myself, Todd and I have shifted the emphasis for me from getting up something cleanly to getting up it safely.

The other day I tried to lead something that was right at my leading limiit but I'd followed it before and thought I'd be OK. The second pitch starts with a pumpy traverse and I put in a couple of pieces next to each other then continued to the end of the traverse and felt I didn't have enough strength to make the moves up.

Here's what I would have done way back when when I was bold:
I'd have gone for it. I might have fallen but probably not, but then I'd have looked back on it afterwards and dwelled on all the possible negative consequences. How far out was I? How far down was that ramp? Could I have swung back far enough to hit my belayer on the head? Was I a few percentage points away from a serious accident? I never would have tried to lead that route again because even though I'd done it cleanly the first time it would be associated with scary images in my head.

Here's what I would have done more recently:
I'd have run screaming back to my gear. Then I'd have freaked out about hanging on my gear - it might come out and I'd die. I'd have hung on my arms next to the gear, paralyzed and panicking, until I couldn't hang on anymore. Then I'd have hung on the gear. Then I would have cried. I would have backed off and let my partner finish the lead. I wouldn't have had any trouble with the moves following and that would have made me cry even harder. I would never have tried to lead that route again because it was the scene of a meltdown and it was too scary.

Here's what I did the other day:
I tried to find a stance where I could recover. I tried to find gear where I was. I tried to find a sequence to move up that I felt confident I could do. When none of that worked, I went back to the gear, arriving at the gear and total arm failure almost simultaneously. Arm failure won by about half a move and I flopped onto the gear. Once I was rested I finished the lead. And I felt good about it. As Todd and I affirmed to each other, I'd made the right decision. I'd made all the right choices. I'm excited to try leading that route again. I think I can get it this time because I've figured out where I made my mistakes. And if I don't get it, well, I know I'll still be safe on it and that it won't ruin my day.

In the long run, I think this is going to get me closer to leading and following at the same level. I won't be afraid to try a harder route and I won't be risking my life and then dwelling on it later. Most of the people I know who lead and follow close to the same level aren't afraid to hang on gear when they need to. They go up something to see how it goes, knowing that their various skills will keep them safe no matter what. That's where I'm trying to get to.


alpinelynx


Sep 11, 2003, 5:43 PM
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WHOA sister, I know exactly what you mean. I could write on this for days because I have thought so much about it. I have come to the conclusion that for me, it is really the other way around - I climb like crap when I feel like crap or at least, when I don't feel good about myself. I also find that when I am focused so much on climbing my EGO gets tied up into it and then it just goes down hill from there. I can easily beat myself up on not doing a climb in perfect style, or gee, I don't look right, or so and so will think I'm a gumby or CRAP I just ate doo doo on a 5.6 and I'm supposed to be better than that. I am, however, my own worst critic and when I don't meet my self-imposed and sometimes subconcious Standard of Good Climbing, I start to think that I suck bigtime and then I am the worst failure on the planet.. etc. Honestly, when I get too obsessed with it, I HAVE to lay off of it. Do something else, focus on other things, get back in touch with who and what I am as a human, rather than use some activity to define myself. I can then go back to climbing and look at it from a different, less ego-oriented place. When I do that, I can lead climbs I didn't think I'd have done otherwise and I go to new and higher places with a sense of peace and spiritual balance. Failure gets redefined and doesn't hold as much power over me.

later!
Michelle, who is on a climbing hiatus.


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