I’ve had a few bad climbing days recently – days where I was too scared to finish a Severe, days where I gave up leading a Diff, days where I thought, ‘I’m such a failure, I don’t ever want to climb again.’
New climbers often have days like this. For some reason, I thought that, after a year of climbing outdoors and seconding a couple of HVSs, I would be immune to mood swings and awful days. Well, I was wrong.
Climbing is a mental game.
Of course, you need training and experience to climb more challenging routes, but your state of mind accounts for at least half the results. If your head is in a bad place, you’ll fall off routes you’d usually find easy or chicken out from a boulder problem within your capabilities.
I finally got to understand that no matter how easy you climb, you need to train your body and mind hard. It doesn’t matter what grade you’re leading – you’re high up on the rock, so of course, you can get scared if a move looks tricky.
I have some tricks I use to overcome my fears which you might find useful:
- Take some deep breaths and clear your mind before you step on the first hold.
- Plan the climb from the ground – map out where it’s safe to fall and where you need to be more careful. Prepare for when you’re likely to be scared.
- Focus solely on the move once you commit to it
- Look at the gear below you or at your belayer on top of the route, and remember you’re pretty safe.
- Think about how you’d make the move if you were seconding – would you dwell so much?
- Control your breathing and calm down before you keep going, or you’ll be blinded by fear.
- Take time to take a good look at the rock around you – chances are you haven’t seen some extra holds.
- Think about the real consequences of a fall from where you are
- Give the move a real chance, give it your 100%
- Stay positive
- Be confident – get ready to pull hard on the next hold, or you’ll let go of it as your body isn’t ready for it.
- If possible, leave the crag on a positive note – do an easy but pleasant route to end the day.
Positive thinking is key here. You can do it if you think you can and try hard enough.
If you show up at a crag and your head isn’t in the right place, stop climbing. Go for a walk or belay your partner on a route he or she really wants to try. Take an hour off climbing, and then, only once you feel in a more positive mood (and less dramatic), go for it again. I’ve done this myself and went from ‘I’m a failure, I can’t even climb a VDiff’ in the morning to ‘Oh wow, that HS4b was excellent. Next time I’ll push myself to second something more difficult.’
I found this article on Climbing about mental training for climbers to be helpful. Dave MacLeod also gives some good advice on how to mentally prepare for routes here. And if you’ve got the time to read a whole book about the subject, I recommend The Rock Warrior’s Way.
Keep climbing even if some days you can’t climb at 3 or 4 grades below your limit. Don’t give up on yourself. But only climb when you can keep your head in the right place – you need to have a good time while you’re at it!