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The Rock Warriors Way

One year ago, in the summer of 2017, I received an unexpected email asking if I might be interested in starting a mental training program with Arno Ilgner, author of the Rock Warrior’s Way.

It felt like fate.  

In the months prior to that email, after a series of difficult life circumstances, I had begun to struggle with depression and anxiety. Simple things like eating, sleeping, and going to work had started to feel like monumental tasks, while my motivation for climbing, paragliding, and sailing, passions that normally brought me so much joy, had completely faded away.

Though I was already talking to a therapist, eager for any opportunity that might help, I immediately responded to the email, and a few weeks later, was selected for the program!

I’ve always found that lessons learned from climbing have been applicable to the rest of my life, so right from the start, I believed that the Rock Warrior’s Way program would not only impact me on the wall, but would be a positive influence on my life and mental health in general. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe just how true this turned out to be.

Over the course of the past year, myself and several other athletes participated in a variety of exercises to help develop a better awareness of our own minds.  We practiced mindfulness drills both on and off the wall, were tasked with specific climbing workouts, participated in falling clinics, read articles, journaled, and discussed with our coaches concepts such as intention, doubt, fear, motivation, success, and failure.

Before beginning this training, I had definitely become stuck in a climbing rut. Not only had my motivation faded, but I had also developed a deep fear of failure on the wall. I was becoming well known amongst the local climbing community, and due to this I began to feel a lot of pressure. What if I didn’t send a climb?  What would people think? I became terrified of not appearing good enough or strong enough. I was afraid of climbing in front of a crowd and somehow letting people down. I avoided pushing myself on hard problems at the gym in case I couldn’t do them. I avoided competition where I might be bested by others. I refused to project hard climbs outside because I couldn’t stand the idea of not sending something first or second try. I was so scared, that I was holding myself back in every possible way.

Outside of climbing, a very similar thing was happening. I was stuck in a rut, a comfortable rut, but a very unhappy one nevertheless. There were changes I wanted to make in my personal and career life, but I was so scared to break away and try something new because what if I couldn’t make it?  What would people think of me then?

What if I failed?

I was afraid of all the unknowns, of what would happen when I left behind the safety nets of easy climbs and comfortable circumstances. It took some time in the program for me to actually become aware of these fears and the motivations and mindsets that were causing them. It also took some time for me to understand that those things we normally regard as negative, are in reality, our greatest teachers.  It’s only when we’re uncomfortable, or when we fail, that we learn our weaknesses. We see where we are lacking in skill or knowledge or strength. Failure points a path towards achieving our goals, a path we might not otherwise see. Failure, as it turns out, is not failure at all.

As I began to understand these concepts and become aware of what was happening in my mind, I found that my fears no longer had such a hold on me. I stopped worrying so much about what others would think and began to care more about what I thought. I began to believe in myself a little more and that is a very powerful thing.  

I still have a lot of progress left to make in the realm of mental training, but everything I have learned over the past year, has already made a significant difference in both my climbing and my life. Since receiving that fateful email one year ago, I have attempted and sent my most difficult climbs. I participated in my first two professional level, national climbing competitions, as well as two international competitions. I left my job. I traveled solo across Europe for three months. I began a new career about which I am very passionate. I took chances. I did all the things that scared me.  Along the way, I fell and I failed, over and over again.

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Going for the fall at Psicobloc finals!
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