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Serious Fun

Submitted by arnoilgner on 2006-03-17

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I’ve heard climbers say many times that they should not take themselves too seriously and doing this will help them perform better. But it seems we need to be serious about climbing in order to improve. Otherwise we’re too lax and undisciplined in our approach. Let’s look at several examples of how having fun is actually grounded in love-based motivation and how this approach can have its own level of seriousness.

In Rock and Ice #148 Whitney Bolan’s article Unfinished Business: Wrestling with the Demon Failure describes her struggles with a boulder problem at Squamish, BC called Sesame Street. She worked the problem for days without accomplishing it. Let’s listen in: “Sesame Street sent me careening into the dark, abysmal crevasse of Unfinished Business…if I didn’t do the problem, it would be a long, cold walk of shame to the car. Then, an even longer drive back to Kentucky. Fourty-plus hours to contemplate how pathetic I was, bested by the rock.” She had one last effort before leaving Squamish… “I touched the lip [top]. In that small moment a wave of joy rushed over me, until my finger tips slipped and I came smoking off. As I sat there, crumpled but technically unhurt, I hear the familiar voices of friends (“it’s OK, Whit, no big deal”) trying to comfort me.” This doesn’t sound like she was having very much fun, other than that one fleeting instant of joy at the lip. Could she have done the problem if she was less attached to achieving the end goal and more attached to having fun? I guess only she could answer that.

Having fun seems to work for many top climbers. Just because you are having fun doesn’t mean you aren’t serious about performing well. It isn’t a lax, undisciplined approach. In fact, it is the opposite. It is serious and disciplined in several ways. First, you are climbing because you have consciously chosen to; someone else hasn’t chosen for you. This is important because you are more engaged in the decision making process. You had the power to choose, and you used that power to decide on doing something that was important to you not someone else. If you go climbing because your boyfriend goes climbing, then you aren’t climbing because it will be fun for you, you’re climbing because being with your boyfriend is fun. Second, since you are there by choice you enjoy it more. You’re doing it because you love it. It’s fun. Yet, the time you spend climbing takes away from other things you could do. You devoted time to practice, to learn skills, to climb. You’re disciplined by seriously immersing your attention in this activity that you’ve deemed important. Now, let’s dig into the mags to find some top climbers who are having fun.

In Urban Climber #06 Matt Burbach (Starting Hold section) comments about his poor climbing performance during a trip to Smith Rocks, Oregon. For a whole week he was bummed because he was climbing poorly. Then, on the walk out on the last day he realized his poor attitude and that he’d missed being present the entire week for the beauty, his friends, and the awesome place that Smith is. He realized that why he climbs is because of the joy and fun he experiences by participating in climbing. He was a little late in realizing this but at least he made the jump from focusing on climbing performance to his true motivators. Also in Urban Climber #06, Brian Rhodes interviews Dave Marguess who is from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dave has been pushing the bouldering standards in the Pikes Peak Region and sending some of the test piece boulder problems near Estes Park, CO and sport climbs at Rifle. Dave says, “You progress so much more in climbing when you’re psyched and having fun. I went through a phase where I was really into training and that made me put a lot of pressure on myself. I realized that I just needed to have fun. I’ve just climbed on whatever I’m psyched on at the time. Just stay motivated and have a good attitude.” First, he chose what to climb—only what he was psyched about. Second, he had fun pushing himself on those climbs. Fun provided the fuel.

In Urban Climber magazine #07 Frank Corl interviews Matt Bosley. Matt is someone who really pushes himself. He’s climbed 5.14 and V14. Frank asked Matt, “Are you ever content with a hard send?” Matt replies, “I’m never content. I’m happy after finishing a hard project, but I do it for the struggle and the challenge, it’s fun. It’s fun to figure it out, put the pieces together, working it until it feels easier and hopefully eventually doing it. The process is fun and it’s climbing! It’s about digging down deep mentally and physically and making it happen.” Matt’s attitude doesn’t sound like a lax, undisciplined approach. He seems to enjoy everything that comes together to create climbing—the practice, rising to the challenge, improving his skills, and the send. Just because it’s a struggle doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

In Urban Climber #08 Joe Iurato interviews Cicada Jenerik. Cicada is 11 years old and climbs harder than her age (i.e. 5.13). The advice she gives for those who compete is this: “Just have fun. Don’t worry about what place you get. I think a competition is as much about pushing yourself as it is competing against someone else. Sure, it’s fun to win, but if you climb hard and feel good about it, that’s what really matters.” She isn’t just talking about having fun. She is stating the need to push yourself and let your effort stand for itself. In the same issue Joe also interviews Claire Bell. Claire is a 34 year-old mother who has climbed 5.13 with aspirations of 5.14. When asked how she deals with the stress of competitions she stated: “I can’t avoid stressing about all of the pressures of competition climbing before I pull onto the first holds. But once I get my feet off of the ground, my focus naturally shifts to the challenge of the climb, not the challenge of the competition.” Joe also interviews Vadim Vinokur, a Ukrainian living in NYC who has been competing for over a decade. What he likes is “getting to the point of discomfort.” He values getting into a state that will challenge him so he can test himself. This is very different than being focused on achieving the end goal. Also in this issue Jim Karn gives some advice on fear of failure. Karn was a top US competitor when competitions where first organized in the US. He suggests that fear of failure originates from comparison. “The nature of a competition is to compare one person to another. When faced with this comparison the most human reaction is to feel fear—fear that you will not be able to produce the results you desire…that you’ll be judged…fear that you’ll lose respect. How can this burden of fear be overcome? It is done by eliminating the comparison. We must not care about the results of the competition. If we focus on the process of the competition, the experience is rewarding in and of itself, regardless of the outcome.”

In Rock and Ice #146 Chris Sharma (no introduction or qualifications necessary) states: “I don’t care to prove anything to anybody about who’s the best.” This kind of detachment allows attention to be focused on what will help him climb, not on how he stacks up against someone else. Finally, in Climbing #244 Fred Nicole, a top boulderer for well over a decade, has consistently created problems at the top level of the sport. He was asked: “How do you stay on the top of the game after so long?” His answer: “I’m still fascinated by climbing. I like to feel the flow every time I climb. I still have so much to learn. I think the main motivation must be a real desire for personal progression, and not thinking about being on the top.” Knowing there is still plenty to learn after having achieved such mastery shows how his focus on learning has carried him to great heights.

What common threads do you see in these climbers? How do those threads differ from what Whitney Boland experienced? For motivation to stay consistently high it must come from inside. Initially, you must be the one that chooses what is important to do in your life. Immediately after this is the alignment with valuing learning and growth; thus the need to enjoy being challenged. Being aligned this way gives you consistency in your motivation. You are doing what you love and having fun doing it. You retain your power because it originates from within. If having fun works for top climbers, it can work for you.


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