The skin flush with the heat of fresh rejection. Rejection and judgement. The blood boils and there is a rage that simmers and spills over to the drivers in front, the slowness of the cashier and the impossibility of ridiculousness politicians. That rage transforms to sadness in the stillness of an empty room and the deepest depths of loneliness. Tears spill over the lower lids of the eyes and there is a need to comfort oneself with noise, food or drug, perhaps exercise or a book.
That gremlin remains beneath the surface, waiting until you are alone again. You continue the game of pretending everything is fine and you have let go of the shame and anger until you are still and like the incoming waves of the ocean, it washes over you again. Or, you move inland, staying busy, staying pre-occupied, numbing it away.
We have such complex stories... each so different, but the basic emotion behind the stories are the same. Rejection, be it financial, in a relationship, a bully, or being denied one's dream in a sport, still results in a feeling of loss. Then our mind puts a meaning on it. The more successful and self realized put a meaning of a lesson to be learned or a silver lining. Those of us who have a little work to do lash out in blame... someone else's fault, or criticism and judgement right back. And for some with a whole lot of digging from despair work ahead, are internalizing the message that they somehow are a failure. A message that may be triggered by a memory of a similar message from experiences in one's youth.
Bottomline... we all experience a myriad of emotions in response to a situation BECAUSE of the MEANING we place on the elements of the experience. For example, a climber, let's call him/her Project climber, has a project (a route or boulder problem they are trying to complete, but are currently unable to climb without falling). Project climber watches as someone who climbs much worse than they climb walks over to the project and easily complete the route. Projecting climber now will interpret this event - this new information. Depending on how Project climber perceives his/her own ability relative to the other climber, how s/he perceives the gym and routesetters, how s/he perceives him/herself AND most importantly, habit thinking will determine the emotion Project climber experiences. Let's consider the following situation... Project climber has a tendency to think s/he is awesome - a bravado that has been built in to ensure the world sees him/her as of value in the climbing world. S/he has a tendency to want the world to know that s/he is a strong and adept climber because it is on this that Project climber has built his./her identity.
Project climber's reaction in this situation may well be to feel a little less awesome watching Novice climber complete something s/he cannot do. This could lead to a number of responses based on the prevalent emotion. If there is a sense of shame - "I should be better than that person, there is something wrong with me." - Project climber may hide the shame behind a number of reactions - anger displayed in a raised voice or throwing things, ignoring or shutting out the outside world - this could just look like walking away - judgement and criticism of the route, the setters, or even Novice climber. There could be a false support for Novice climber too.
You may reflect on your own response to a situation similar to this one. Here's the thing... there is nothing wrong with the situation OR the response - UNLESS there is no conscious choice of behaviour.
It is okay to experience shame. You will whether you want to or not.
It is okay to experience anger, resentment or judgement.
It is NOT okay to take it out on those around you.
This is where consciousness about the feeling is critical. Allowing oneself to feel the pain of shame - the red flush, the resentment is natural and unstoppable. It is a response of the autonomic nervous system that has elevated your fight or flight response to a situation where your sense of self feels threatened. No one is attempting to harm you, but your nervous system has experienced a threat to your identity. The nervous system is not determining that it merely your ego is bruised, it is experiencing a threat to your very identity.
Let's be clear, this is not about bringing a pollyanna ideology to negative events. This is about accepting the event and letting go of a meaning we are placing on it. Coaching youth for years, I can tell you how tightly they hold onto their placing in competitions. They create their identity based on the results. Good results equals good climber. Bad results equals I am a bad climber. And maybe on a relativity scale of performance they are a bad climber, BUT they are NOT a BAD HUMAN.
Consider this... bullying is wrong. We all agree bullying is wrong. And we create a day to tell bullies, "YOU are wrong if you are a bully. We will not tolerate you." When I hear this message, I hear something that sounds like bullying. No one is ever wrong as a human being. Behaviour can certainly at times, be inappropriate, but I challenge you to find anyone who has never done anything inappropriate.
My point... don't bully yourself when you do something wrong. When you experience a loss or a rejection, how do you react? If it is with anger and criticism. Consider this instead, what is it about that situation that is really hurting or upsetting you? Allow the feeling to be there and spend time with the memory of the experience. Then consider what is really happening for you.
A little something I published on Medium
Yesterday as I coached, I was leaning into this idea when I asked the youth to consider the following two questions...
1) What do you get out of climbing?
2) How does it make you feel?
I proceeded to move forward with the second question first. I used my own example as I walked them through the next steps. My emotion was joy.
You can see I have a number of words that start to hint at the things that bring me joy... things like connection, laughter and play all hint at not climbing alone. Challenge, success and send lead me toward knowing I like the challenge, empowerment from climbing. Adventure and curiosity tell me I am not really a big fan of climbing same routes over and over. I prefer the uncertain outcomes.
I then referred to the first question - What do I get out of climbing? For me... as a coach, I get to understand more about movement, mental training and required strength. In other words, it gives me more wisdom I can share with someone I coach.
Now I am armed with some very key information as I decide what goal to pursue. I know it needs to give me the following -
- new learning so I can share it with clients
- be connected to climbing with people - no solo sessions for me
- challenge me - meaning be outside my current comfort zone
So... what's your goal? Think you know? Then once you write it down, imagine yourself completing the goal... really visualize that moment. See the area, the people, the route, hear the sounds, smell the smells. Be in that moment you know you have succeeded. What it really what you wanted? Did it give you the feeling?
As their coach, I offer these young climbers activities that should task them with moving differently. They fail and fall off repeatedly. Or they cheat and do not actually do the exercise. They look at me with disgust. I understand. It is not fun to just keep falling off. They want to get to the top of a route. They want the rush of getting it completed, especially if it is within their level of ability.
Shakti is the force required to be patient and do what feels foreign. It is the force required to write for an hour to produce two paragraphs you are willing to share with others. Shakti is the force behind continuing to be CURIOSITY. Shakti is required to remain open to 'what is possible, how does this feel, what if I do this?' and not answer the question immediately. The human brain wants what is familiar and what is known, it wants answers. Ever notice how a two year old will listen to the same song, read the same book over and over again. And not just the human brain; I recently dog sat for friends and after each walk Skipper went to the food bowl. Clearly Skipper got food after walks.
My climbing partner and Tommy Caldwell also climbed together. My partner recognized that Tommy kept his head tucked on the latch of a big throw. My climbing partner could not sustain the hold at the end of the throw so decided to see if this shoulder shrug would work to help him latch. It did. This was not a movement my partner was used to doing so he practiced it. Every training session he practiced consciously doing a big move and to sustain the latch, he shrugged his shoulder. It took three months for that movement to become something he no longer needed to think about. It took three months because he was not used to doing it, he had a different movement pattern that was his habitual response to big moves.
Many years ago I wrote a book entitled, Climbing Your Best. It was a guide to assess your strengths and discover your weaknesses. The book then gives you tools to develop a training plan to improve your performance. As soon as that book was being published, I knew there were pieces missing. What piece? The book talks about strength and flexibility, technique, but what it doesn’t go into great detail about is goal setting, mental training and uncovering mental weaknesses. It doesn’t go into a great depth of how to work with these elements.
Over the number of years since the publication of that book, the area of mental training has been primary for me. Yes, I still work with a lot of folks no the strength and technique side of the equation, but in my own experience have noticed how essential ongoing growth in my mental emotional landscape is to actually finding fulfillment with climbing.
The industry promotes a particular idea of what being a “great” climber means. What being a “good” climber means. Then there are all the average climbers. And if I asked you what you thought a great climber is or who a great climber is, you would probably start naming the names of people who have completed amazing feats… you would consider the Tommy Caldwell and perhaps Alex Honnold even though you personally are quite happy sticking to the short boulder problems you do and you do not necessarily ever want to go and free solo anything longer than fifteen feet.
Here’s the problem… what these climbers love doing, what the industry finds attractive, may not be what you find amazing about climbing. If you chase the industry dreams, you may end up less happy. Let me tell you my story.
It’s a number of years ago and my partner and I were sponsored by a couple of climbing companies. We were sponsored to influence clients and gyms to buy products from the company by being good ambassadors in the industry. The sponsorship consisted of product we could use personally. In our most recent contract negotiation, my partner was offered money to climb a particular route. Success on this route would mean our car insurance would be paid for the year. Not substantial money, but more than we were getting from that company.
My partner was frustrated. The sequence seemed more than challenging. It seemed confounding. The wind was whipping around him and the stick clip he had left on the bolt below would whip up and hit his foot occasionally. Hours ticked by for him and his efforts seemed more and more reckless.
Finally he came down, we lowered to the dogs and made our way back to the car. He hadn’t enjoyed anything about the route, the experience. Still, we rested and went back another day. This second experience was no better. More wind, more discomfort. I fortunately did not have to belay, I managed to take the dogs and have a better experience for both of us. Climbing this route would be work, and not the kind of enjoyable inspired route we as climbers seek. It was going to be something he did because he had to do it.
As we discussed this, I said, we have never climbed for money. In fact, we have had little to no foreseeable money and still chosen our commitment to climbing because we love it. If you don’t love climbing this route, then we should just move onto something you do want to climb. That’s what we did. You see we didn’t sleep in a van because it was comfortable and fun. We slept in a van because it meant we could go climbing. It reduced the need to work, to make money. To climb to make money was not congruent with our WHY for climbing. The intention in this situation was not the pursuit of an experience, it was for money. And that intention was only creating dis-ease with the experience.
Understanding your WHY is important when goal setting because it is very easy to take on the industry why or your climbing partners’ why. So how do you figure out your why? Answer the following questions and you may begin to see what you value.
Consider the following words and when a word resonates, provokes a positive response, circle it. If another word comes into your mind, then write it down.
There are many more possible words, so if you did think of something that is not here write it down. If you have more than five words, see if they fit together. For example, nature and outside are similar, or adventure and exploration may be considered alike. List the like words together and then select the one that resonates the most for you. Continue until you have no more than three key words. These three words can be considered you key values. These are the words that must be aligned with your choices and actions.
This exercise is one piece of many pieces you may find helpful in discovering the motivations in your choices. And remember, so many things you do each day are a choice, aligned or misaligned.
Looking for more… connect and we can discuss.
The kids huddled around me. I had just called them in from doing the climbing activity I had given them. You see, they come to me for coaching, some once a week and some twice. They want to get better. They want to climb harder routes. I get it. I like climbing harder routes too. So I create these activities to challenge them to become better climbers. Some activities are designed to make them stronger, some to increase their recovery. Some activities are designed to increase their aerobic capacity (the ability to prevent getting pumped). Some activities are designed to challenge their climbing style making them work with technique they don't often use. And of course, every exercise should make them become mentally stronger, more aware and inspired.
So why did I call them in? First, to make them rest. They are kids and they tend not to rest very well. Second, to change up the activity. But most importantly, third, I called them in to bring awareness to the choice some were making to not actually do the activity I had asked them to do. Yes, they were climbing. But when I would ask why they didn't do some aspect of the exercise, the answer I would get, "I know, but....:"
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!
But, take responsibility for the choice not to do the activity. Understand the consequence of that choice and see it as the choice you (or in my case, I) are making.
What I really want is to go home, sit on my sofa and not be responsible to anyone. Not even my friend. Sure I still want to climb better than I currently do too, but my desire for the pleasure of a quiet space without the need to think or hold a conversation is MORE desirable and therefore often wins out. You see, the day we have chosen for climbing is my busiest day. I move from one job to a second job. I sit in a very busy noisy room full of climbers, then I am supposed to go to a third place that day, that is also noisy and lots of people and try to enjoy myself trying to squeeze some climbing time in around the other folks there for the same purpose. My happy climbing time is first thing in the morning. My happy climbing place is outside in nature, definitely not in a gym with music blasting and a line up for routes. So when my energy gets low, it is the last place I want to go, even if it is with a good friend. So I own it. I understand my conflicting desires and I take responsibility for it.
So here is your challenge... own your desires.
What is the goal you want to achieve that you struggle to make happen? It doesn't have to be climbing or even exercise related. It could be a writing goal or a music production goal. Write it down. Write about the desire... what is inspiring you?
When is it best for you to be inspired? What conditions do you need to be creative, strong, motivated? Who do you need with you to support you? Where do you need to be to make it happen? What else do you need?
NOW... answer these questions....
What will make it hard for you to be motivated? What environment/conditions challenge your inspiration? Who challenges your ability to focus on the task? What supports are you missing?
Now that you understand... ACT. Create the space in your life to ACT with the best conditions and without the obstacles.
It doesn't need to be perfect, it needs to be good enough for you to be able to focus, to be motivated and to work.
Find the supports, the right time, the right environment. And then ACT with intention, focus and do all the failure required to lead you to the success.
Don't make excuses! Own your choice. Then remember, you fall down nine times and get back up ten.
You can now find me on Sound Cloud
On a chilly day in October I decided to make a little more space around my shed. This involved cutting down some trees and moving some dirt. In the course of this little home improvement project, I lost control of one end of the shovel while my foot pressed firmly on the shovel blade. This propelled the handle into the side of my chin.
In the moment after, I wondered if I had given myself a concussion. I seemed okay so I just kept working for a little longer. Later that night, my tooth broke. Damn it! The next morning, I moved through my day... the busiest and longest day for me. Setting and coaching. The next morning when I tried moving around, it seemed like the room was moving. I hadn't slept very well either. Hmmmm.... maybe I do have a concussion.
In the days that followed, I did all the things I shouldn't do. I tried exercising. That was nauseating. I drove for twelve hours. I spent the day chatting with people. I climbed with my son. I drove another nine hours. That's when the pressure headaches started. I then drove for another four hours. When I awoke the next day with the plan to go and teach, my head was saying "oh no."
STEP ONE: 48 hours of no screens; no reading; no alcohol. No noise. Early to bed. Limit exercise to easy walking.
STEP TWO: Accept that you are not the same. Let go of thinking you SHOULD be doing anything. Or you will go crazy.
STEP THREE: When there are no symptoms, SLOWLY reintegrate things. Do not go back to thinking everything is normal.
After the 48 hours, I felt better. I limited screen time. I went to physiotherapy. I was pretty good. But I notices when I climbed, my heart rate would still go up pretty quick on things that I thought I should be able to do and then I would feel nauseous.
This continued for months. I had no other symptoms, just this feeling of being really fatigued and like I had exercised too hard when I first started climbing. A day of exercise and a night without sleep. And the wobbly feeling returned. Agh!!!
STEP FOUR: Back to STEP ONE, TWO, and THREE.
STEP FIVE: When you get back to play, to screens, back to noise, to all the things you could easily do before without fear of headaches or wobbliness, BE CAREFUL.
Be aware of how you are feeling in every moment moving forward. If you have a party and drink some alcohol, plan to be low key the next day. Plan for self care. Plan to make space for the healing to continue. Healing from a concussion can take YEARS. Play it safe.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. Last night when I went to the gym to climb, I was starting slow. Letting my heart rate come down before trying the next route. I didn't do the last move if I thought it would mean I may fall and land on the ground. Jarring my head like that would not be worth it. I was afraid of what people would think of me. BUT I had to keep going back to ACCEPTING THAT I AM INJURED. Accepting that I need to let go of the idea that I SHOULD be able to climb harder. And when the pressure headaches were returning, I had to leave and go Back to STEP ONE.
Twenty years later...
My body is not the same. Less endurance. Less strength. Less determination. The place is not the same. More climbers. More routes. Harder grades. Line ups.
Some things are still the same. Rock is the same. The goal is the same. Trying to send no falls. Working sections on projects. Sore tips. Trying to stay warm when not climbing. Even a lot of the gear is pretty much the same.
It feels hard. That is the same. It's just that feeling hard comes quicker and with more unease. The head game is definitely familiar but now my determination to make things happen is lower.
With years between then and now, there is the reflection of time, space and mortality. Why do we choose these goals, work so hard for them and in the end we will all not really make a big difference. We will all just be candles in the wind.
Why is not the question. Why questions can be hard to answer and just create a position of for or against. The better question is what are the positives that one gets from the experience? For me the answer to that question is simple... climbing gets me in my body. I pay attention to how I feel physically. I pay attention to solving a puzzle. It takes me out of just watching things happen and puts me in the moment. When it is going well, it is definitely present moment. When it is not going so well, it is in the moment of chaos.
The real reason for this self punishment? The process. Even in the negative chaos of fear and loathing, there is a sense that one must overcome. Even in defeat and failure, one is broken and crushed, there is the ray of light that things may be better tomorrow. One chases the hope of victory over ones own physical and mental weakness.
The prize... to feel empowered. To feel strong. To feel that moment of success. Perhaps even to experience that freedom from all the other things of the world that entrap our mind.