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.

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.”