A Climber’s Guide to Mental Blocks

photo: Gideon Haden

Rock climbing is gaining in popularity, and thanks to high profile climbers like Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Kevin Jorgeson, climbing is becoming a spectator sport. Spectators focus on the physical aspect of climbing. They might see a professional climber pulling off an incredible move on a difficult route and think, “Wow, he’s strong!” or “She must have trained for years!”

It’s hard not to focus on the physical strength required to climb when you see people bearing down on an edge the size of a credit card, but the more knowledge and experience climbers gain, the more they recognize that the strongest climber isn’t necessarily going to be the best climber. There’s so much more to the sport than physical capabilities, power, and strength. Things such as confidence, fear, and mental clarity can mean the difference between completing a route or getting stuck at the second bolt.

Let’s say that you have two climbers with almost identical physical abilities. They have the same build, they stand at the same height, and they have the same level of strength and climbing skill. You put them both on the same boulder problem. One climber struggles, perseveres, and eventually makes it to the top.

The other climber struggles and gets upset. Then he struggles some more, gets more upset, and even begins to get irritated. Irritation leads to anger, and before you know it, the climber is falling on every move and cursing.

It’s a mental block. Whether it springs from fear, frustration, or doubt, it doesn’t matter how strong you are or how good your technique is if you’re struggling mentally.

Maybe you’re not rock climbing. Maybe you’re looking for a job, trying to improve your marriage, working to overcome a lack of self-confidence in social situations, or seeking to improve your performance in a different sport.

Perhaps you can still see yourself in the description of the struggling climber. Each effort seems to come with its own bundle of anxiety and frustration until it’s hard to take any action at all.

Sometimes you need some support. You might be able to keep going in spite of the crushing feelings of despair that come up when you try and try and fail and fail — but you don’t have to. Request an appointment.