Think about how much time you spend in total per week training for climbing. This can range from just a few hours to double digits for the lucky few. Now think about your last performance on a route that has significance; could be at the local crag or during a long-anticipated road trip. Whether you clipped the chains, topped out or unsuccessfully returned to the base, ask yourself how much of that result could be attributed to mental aspects. Just a percentage: 10%? 25%? 50%? Now reflect on your weekly total training time. Does this percentage correlate to the amount of training time you commit to mental aspects of climbing performance? I bet no, and maybe the amount of time you spend mentally training is actually zero. Following my logic?
Mental aspects, especially during efforts at the limit of your current ability and fitness, are often the defining factors to a performance. How many times have you finally done a move where you were nervous about the potential fall, only to find it was physically not an issue, easily repeatable from that point forward? How differently do you perform when people are watching, versus being alone or just with your trusted climbing partner? How much does a bad day at work or an emotional personal issue alter your physical performance? More importantly, are you applying any training efforts to improve these common mental issues?
Many of the mental issues that sabotage sports performance can be alleviated by staying present in the moment, and only in the moment, often coined “mindfulness.” All the peripheral thoughts, both in space and time, that can creep into your mind only detract from your ascent. Being mindful leads to the “flow state.” Maybe you have felt it, the rare occasion when you are asked how you did something, but you cannot recall, it was just one smooth, undistracted effort. Time, space and surroundings become irrelevant, your focus is single and requires no forceful direction. Your movements seem automatic and simply a reaction, not a voluntarily directed effort.
Achieving the ability to enter such a desired mental state is not easy nor automatic, but unless you are an elite athlete and privy to high end coaching, it is far from normal to spend training time directed at mindfulness. Using “dumb logic,” if you cannot be present in the moment while sitting in a chair in a quiet environment, it seems unlikely that you could do it under less controlled circumstances.
The first step is meditating, which is simply being present in the moment in a rested state. You have to let go of all your perceived notions of what that means; it does not require chanting mystic tones, smoke or anything like that. It’s not even “emptying the mind,” a typical misconception. One of my favorite, modern day tools to help engage meditation is an app called Headspace. A former student in Sports Science, Andy Puddicombe left school to pursue a ten-year journey that culminated in being ordained as a Buddhist Monk in Northern India. He founded Headspace to help guide you through meditation, beginning with short sessions and extending them in a gradual manner. I find the tone of his voice and British accent perfect for encouraging mindfulness. You can even get 10 free sessions!
It can all start with just ten minutes per session….I’ll say it again, TEN minutes. Let’s go back to the percentage of your performance that is mental and how much proportional training time you spend working on mental training. Does ten minutes seem like an inappropriate proportion? The bonus is that mindfulness training can positively affect other aspects of your life. What’s stopping you?