Think-Play-Send: How Climbers Solve Problems

” Years of personal climbing experience, countless climber surveys, and psychological research all point to mental strength as the most influential factor in whether a climber succeeds or not. Your body might be strong and willing, but if you don’t have an equally strong and willing mind, your body has nothing to guide it. The good news is that you can train your brain just like you train your body.”

Change how we approach a problem by first isolating the things we can improve on, and then making it a good habit to practice it. (Problems refer to the path that a climber takes in order to complete the climb.) In our path to mastering a skill, (in my case, rock climbing) we normally don’t take time to assess our weaknesses and things what we need to improve on. We often forget it’s journey. That’s when I realize, climbing, like any skilled behavior, is learned.

Solution: Be patient with ourselves and with how we approach problems. Thanks to Climbing.com, rewrite the mental scripts of climbing into these 3 simple steps: Think, Play, and Send.

Think

This phase is all about the beta: “analyze your climbing for areas where you can improve. Self-examine and gather input from others to figure out the skills to focus on and develop that will improve your climbing.” Most climbers are very fixed on doing a problem 10 times, changing a foot hold or trying a drop knee, continually failing and burning their physical strength. This step encourages us to spend more time analyzing our actions and reflecting on our climb.

However, most of us don’t like to hear that we have things to improve on. Sometimes, our fear of being challenged  propels us to get defensive, letting our egos negatively affects how we climb. We have to let go of our own egos, ask for help and simply listen. Climbing is a humbling experience. Climbing at great heights requires us to manage our egos.

Play

Before Alex Honnold approached the base of El Capitan for his free-solo attempt, or any route, he recreated a beta map in his head and could visualize every single sequence. Doing so, he was able to rehearse each move over and over.

Visualization is part of practice and play. When approaching a problem, climbers tend to visualize the overall image first. Once the human brain can perceive patterns, we allow our brains to react speedily without much thought. These actions are automatic, efficient and quick. This also prevents human errors from entering the equation. They require little conscious effort, allowing us to conserve valuable resources: attention, consciousness, and working memory, which are intimately linked and very limited.

“One of our greatest adaptations as humans is the ability to learn, to practice, and to turn intensive tasks that would usually take up the entirety of our working memory into automatic, scripted tasks.” The objective of play will not be about performance, but the repetition of movements or thoughts that will rewire our brain and make climbing a sequence automatic.. This method of repetitious practice is called over learning. Doing so, we are able to reliably produce it under pressure, and experience less anxiety. No judgement here is allowed when we are playing, just ask kids.

Send it!

That’s one of the things I love about rock climbing. Despite toying with our fears, we are able to shut our brains off. Constant practice and repetition replaces having to think through each move. Our bodies automatically perform the moves without any active thinking. Finally, we put the skills to the challenge. We solidify new habits that we created by applying it to the real world. Queue feelings of emotion and excitement.

By continuing the Think-Play-Send process with other weak spots in climbing, or in life, we are able to improve our performance and really be less forgiving of ourselves and have more fun along the way.

Reading: “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard

Here’s another library book that has been dog-eared, annotated and watermarked so much, I really should just start buying books again. Well, maybe once I’m running back on an income.

Yvon Chouinard serves as an example of someone who truly lives and breathes the philosophies and lessons he has learned throughout the years. Pledging to only create high-quality multifunctional products, “Let My People Go Surfing” is a versatile bible: it’s his autobiography, Patagonia’s success story and a blueprint for hope all in one.

Less is more  

During my current job searching phase, this book has served as a great reminder that good companies that support causes amazing causes do exist and is something we, as individuals and organizations, should all strive for. Despite his utmost hatred for capitalism, Chouinard dismantles all complacent notions of traditional business for restraint, quality and simplicity. From his feeble attempts at living a simple life, he has learned that living a simple life does not mean an impoverished one, but one richer in all the ways that really matter.

Leaders don’t manage, they embrace change

Chouinard breaks down Patagonia’s philosophies in each of its department. Most notably, in management philosophy, he uses an ant metaphor to support a leader, leading by example. “There is no specific ant in charge in a colony, no central control. Yet each ant knows that its job is, and ants communicate with one another by way of very simple interactions; altogether they produce a very effective social network.” It may not reflect most organizations, but making that case against top-down centralized leadership is one that favors nature.

Activism is necessary and inspire change

“The zen master would say if you want to change government, you have to aim at changing corporations, and if you want to change corporation, you first have to change the consumers. Whoa, wait a minute! The consumer? That’s me. You mean I’m the one who has to change?”

Now more than ever we need to encourage civil democracy by speaking out, joining up, volunteering, or supporting these groups financially so we can still have a voice in democracy. Activists are the key citizens who have an infectious passion about the issues they support. “These are the people on the front lines, trying either to make the government obey its own laws or to recognize the need for a new law.”

This also means that it’s important for activists to obtain the necessary tools as they prepare to confront big business or big government. This means, learning organizational, business and marketing skills in order to compete with the media environment.

Nature loves diversity. So should we.

“Nature is not only evolving, and ecosystems support species that adapt either through catastrophic events or through natural selection. A healthy environment operates the same need for diversity and variety evident in a successful business, and that diversity evolve out of a commitment to constant change.”

There is nothing more human that centralization and complacency. We must use all our resources to combat them by embracing and instigating change. However, continuous change and innovation require maintaining a sense of urgency in order to be sustainable. Chouinard considered this as a mandate despite the laid-back atmosphere in Patagonia. “Only on businesses operating with a sense of urgency, dancing on the fringe, constantly evolving, open to diversity and new ways of doing things, are going to be here one hundred years from now.”
And lastly, “do well by doing good.”

Step One: Believe in Yourself

That’s what I’ve been working on right now. After a successful first week transitioning to Austin (finding an amazing apartment, landing couple of interviews, exploring the trail and going to great tech meetups), I found myself going into a job interview for the same job that I had prior. Long story short, it made me very discouraged as I considered a job with a higher pay but lower spirits.  I was reasoning to myself that “I can finally afford that woven chair that would look good in the patio.

But I realize, I wasn’t listening in my goals and desires nor did I believe in myself.

What does it even mean to believe in yourself?! Right after the interview, I called my friend/mentor to calibrate my spirits. A simple reminder than I am inspiring and I am worth it is enough. But to be reminded that I belong in the same room as much as everyone else is necessary. I can be part of the conversation! I don’t have to be a fly on the wall. I may be just a beginner, outsider, minority, or whatever, but those are just labels created to put me down. I believe in myself.

Self-doubt has a way of rippling outwards, perpetuating the closed-loop of more doubt. That paralyzing and greedy inner voice will do what ever it takes to devour confidence and leave no room for logic nor reason. ending the happiness that we worked so hard to realize and achieve.

When we fall outside of our comfort zone or strive to do something great, we fall out of invincibility. We stop believing in our worth.

I’ve been learning how to tame this beast called self-doubt. It starts by being present. Take time to pay attention and listen to how we feel and how we react to things. With a little understanding, self-knowledge and confidence, we start to understand the root causes of our insecurities and take the necessary and active steps to address our fear.

As a consultant in my old job, I learned that there are always ways to do something better. Everything has an opportunity for growth, even in ourselves. Especially in ourselves.

Unemployment aka this darn thing I once called gainful sabbatical, in all it’s beauty, has its ups and downs. I’m learning how to be patient with myself, really listening to the reasons why I quit my job. Yes, that means not returning back to my old job. Give myself some time to breathe. Realize that everything in life comes because our believe that they are possible. I’ve come this far. We’ve all come this far!

So make that necessary trip in front of the mirror and repeat after me: I believe in myself and I am a strong independent woman who belongs in spaces and conversation that I put myself in as much as anyone else. I believe in myself, therefore I make things possible.

Max Out Minimalism

When the Montreal-based clothing brand Frank and Oak rebranded to replace it’s serifs with sans-serifs logo last year, their creative director writes, “it’s a design approach that confidently stays out of the way when it needs to.” Oh boy, has the world been too burdensome?

You’ve probably seen them all over Instagram or online retail shops. The minimalist branding filled with an abundance of white space, sans-serif and and the friendly soothing doodles in brands like Glossier, Outdoor Voices and allbirds. Being a millennial myself that recently just moved in Austin, TX yesterday, I see this everywhere and even more so now. The grocer shopping at Whole foods with a canvas reusable bag, doing exactly what athleisure means; the small coffee shop near the chaotic boulevard filled with white walls, wood finishing, the absence of any geometric corners and sources single-origins beans from small farms in Burundi; the embodiment of succulents and cacti for self-expression; fast food giants like Cousin Subs and Panera rebranding to reduce any bold, serif fonts and loud colors for sobering clean lines, geometric shapes and primary colors. More brands are rising with minimalist marketing approaches and straightforward customer service, trying to counter any noise that has been established by large corporate identities in decades prior.

After all, we are a fidget spinning, woke feministing, anxious internetting generation trying to find some any pockets of calm and playful humor away from the bullshit of our lives and the clutter of our busy schedules. And I think there’s an opportunity that we can take from all this minimalist branding: it makes me want to scream!

We are drawn to these brands that have taken extra measures to strip away the layers and are good for the environment and the soul. But in end of the day, we are inherent consumers who need to constantly feed our egos. We are human, after all. Sometimes, we need a reminder that other people, cultures and causes exist, we can’t be too sensitized and avoid our problems. That’s why I love the grunge of New York City. When all this minimalist trends, like most trends, begin to die down, it is because of our impulses to express ourselves: to be bold and be loud and be human. 

What’s your cabin in the woods?

Today is the first day of what I am calling “gainful unemployment” until I find a better name to call it. I brewed a bigger batch of coffee, finished packing for my move to Austin in 3 days, and consumed 5 episodes of a new podcast about modern art called “A Piece of Work”. It was a Monday unlike any other Mondays.

I am taking some time to unwind. Giving myself the space and time that I had been clawing for. No more building anxiety from having to fit in learning how to code after work hours, no longer committing myself to a suffocating work that I couldn’t find motivation in. I am learning to do the things that I want to do. I can be ideal in this little cushion that I have given myself.

“I can be creative again,” I told myself. I can take my time. Learning how to feel feelings, take on projects, explore the newness of a new city, feel its energy, be inspired by exciting people, sit in silence, just read all day, create, learn, sweat, sleep and repeat.

Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

(Disclaimer: This is an introspection, not a book review.)

Being an immigrant, and a minority citizen to my own country, understanding where I came from is always important in discovering who I am. JD Vance’s exploration of his childhood and life so far in Hillbilly Elegy just does that.

Yup, I’m guilty. I loved this book because I can relate to it. That’s what I found surprising about it. From Vance’s journey migrating north from Kentucky to Ohio to multiple households, to finding his grind as a Marine and going to Law School, He refers to himself as a “cultural emigrant” who yearned for a successful and peaceful home.

One of the tips he learns from his grandma, Mamaw, who he attributes as the person who raised him, is that “having good role models around you will remind you that there is another life out there. And that exposure gives you something to dream for.” This took me back to high school when I always spent time at my friends’ houses for dinner, especially on Monday nights when my mother threw karaoke parties. But these families I lived vicariously through reminded me that I don’t have to be on guard all the time, that I can have a conversation without shouting, that there are people who listen, and that I can be deserving of people’s love.

Vance also finds himself as a minority to his own hillbilly people, “a stranger in this strange land”, due to his upward mobility as a Marine and with his college degree. He liked the feeling of self-sufficiency and providing for those in need, for the kind of people who he once was. One thing I would say is that towards the end, as his chronological storytelling becomes more relevant, the greater understanding of his past draws him further from it, nor can he really come back to it anymore. He will always be an outsider now, even to his past, family and hillbilly culture. (He lives in Silicon Valley now, might I add.) But the price he paid is the understanding of the things he can control, who he is, and that he isn’t that doomed after all the demons he fought in his youth. An acceptance of who he is.

I’m not holding him as a hillbilly spokesperson nor am I praising this to give me hope during this presidency, but I admire how this book allowed for sympathy and understanding with the storytelling of his past. Vance motivates me to tell my own story. It’s not that I find my own life boring, but maybe I am looking too much into the past to really see what’s in front of me and how far I’ve come.

Continue reading “Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance”

Climb that mountain, but keep going!

There’s a lot of be learned from Alex Honnold’s successful free-soloing attempt of Yosemite’s El Capitan in 4 hours. This guy really sees the world differently and certainly has no fear.

In his interview with Nat Geo, he described most of the things during his climb as “ultra-chill”, “super chill” or just overall chill. “I didn’t feel that stressed because in a way I had already committed to autopilot and just put everything aside,” he noted on the base of El Cap. His strategy was to treat it like “a super normal day”. He was not phased by how much of a big deal it was. He didn’t even tell his mom (because “She’s really bad at differentiating between free climbing and free soloing.”)

The biggest thing I took away from following his journey was his humility.He had been working on this dream for 4 years, training and familiarizing himself with every pitch and every hold. Although knowing him, everything he’s done so far probably contributed to his accomplishment.  Summiting El Cap was not the end and certainly was not a reason to retire for rock climbing. 

During his climb, he was already thinking about his next goal (sport climbing 9a) and the importance of the US staying in the Paris Accord. He focused on things that was beyond his current limits, as though his current goal is a stepping stone to the next. And it is. You’ve got to keep going. Remind yourself of the bigger issues out there. Focus on achieving the best version of yourself. One day at a time, you can work to anything you set your mind to. See where life takes you on the other side of fear. And maybe, try not to die along the way.

For now, I’m just happy his next project involves ropes. Thanks for being a true inspiration, Alex Honnold. 

“The whole pursuit of this dream has allowed me to live my best life, that makes me hopefully the best version of me. Just because I’ve achieved a dream doesn’t mean that I just give up on the best version of me. I want to be the guy that trains and stays fit and motivated. Just because you finish a big route doesn’t mean that you just quit.”