The fear of failure is a topic that is not often discussed among climbers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Due to the personal nature if the subject, most would prefer to push it to the back burner and forget about it. However, it is a subject that every climber or adventurer will face at some point in their career. There are questions that will be brought to the surface, begging for an answer.
How does our mindset surrounding failure impact our climbing ability? How do our own standards of success impact how successful we ACTUALLY are? How do you “conquer” a fear that is deep-seated in the mind, and rears its ugly head whenever it gets the chance?
Why are we afraid of failing?
It starts by asking ourselves this question: WHY are we afraid of failing? Are we afraid of failing ourselves or others? Are we afraid that our goals are unattainable? If we feel like we failed ourselves, will that define WHO we are? Our goals and standards in life are indications of who we want to become. If we fail those, does that mean we will never achieve who we want to be? These can be scary questions to ask, but self reflection can aid in understanding ourselves better and therefore overcoming the obstacles in the way of achieving our goals.
If we are afraid of failing others, we must ask ourselves why. Why does their opinion matter so much? Will their judgement ultimately determine who we become? Will they see us as failures, never to amount to anything? Will they see our weakness and never see us to amount to anything more?
Despite what we believe, it does matter WHY we care so much about other people’s opinions. And there isn’t an easy answer, as this fear is something that is deeply rooted in our beings. Not just when it comes to climbing or our other activities, but in our daily lives. The answers to these questions in our own lives will aid in understanding what is holding us back from our objectives. Regardless of the reason behind the fear of failing, it is important to realize that failing ourselves can be just as difficult as failing others.
The next step is to identify how you deal with these insecurities, whether good or bad. Identifying these will help you to see where improvements can be made and how you are doing well in dealing with this issue. Below is a list of healthy ways to deal with the fear of failure while trying to reach big objectives in your climbing career.
Managing the Fear of Failure
Knowing the “why” behind what you do
Why is it important that you achieve this goal in your rock climbing career? Is it so that you can feel confident and accomplished? Do you feel like you have something to prove? Is it because you want to push your comfort zone in an activity that you enjoy? Is it because you just want to get stronger? Whatever the reason, identify it and own it.
If the subject of mindset hasn’t been emphasized enough already, it DOES matter what your mindset is when you go into a climb. If you have self-doubt already in your mind, there is a good chance that you’re going to do poorly. Already feeling like a failure, or living in the shadow of fearing failure will automatically predispose you to failure. The power of the mind can also be positive. Having the knowledge of the why behind the goal, and positive self talk and thinking will help you achieve your objectives.
Is this goal attainable?
Asking yourself if your goal is attainable is something that should come in the beginning stages. For me, if my goal was to onsite a 5.13c, I would be left feeling like a failure again and again. I am aware of my skills and abilities, and I am just not there yet. Having goals that are actually achievable based on fitness and mental ability is important, as achieving goals that are actually in your wheelhouse will increase your confidence to push yourself further the next time.
Why does it matter if this goal is NOT achieved?
Asking ourselves this question prior to climbing will allow us to accept that failure is okay. It is not the end. It will not define who we are. It gives us grace to push past ourselves and accept failure. Accepting failure can propel us forward to achieve that goal. Because even if we fail, fail, fail, and then achieve the goal, we learn through the process. Even if it took longer than expected, you still achieve your goal in the end. Those failures along the way will turn into meaningful lessons. If you flashed everything on the first try, you likely wouldn’t learn to enjoy the process of climbing.
Once you reach your destination to execute the goal, it is important to be present. To think through the process prior to touching the rock. To visualize your moves and then, as Hazel Findlay says, in her article for Black Diamond Equipment on mental training “let the body climb” (https://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_CA/stories/experience-story-hazel-findlay-mental-training-part-1/) . Sometimes our thought process is too much when you’re on the wall. Allow the body to do what it knows to do. Focus. Feel the textures on your fingertips. Feel the grip of the rock beneath your shoes. Feel what position your hips, legs, and arms are in.
Breathe. Breathing awareness allows us to tune into our body and situation. Not only does it increase awareness and decrease stress built up in our bodies, it also oxygenates our bodies to help the mind think clearly and the body to move better.
Surround yourself with positive people
It is a known fact that you’re the average of the five closest people in your life. If they doubt you, you will likely doubt yourself. If they have high expectations of you, you’ll likely have high expectations of yourself. Ensure your climbing community consists of people that are supportive, encouraging, and challenge you to try hard (and have the grace to not judge when the goal isn’t achieved in one day).
Is your mindset one of growth, or is it fixed? Do you believe that just because you were born a certain way means that you will never be able to achieve certain goals, or do you believe that it could just take extra time, patience, and effort (and failures) to achieve that goal?
For instance, I am not tall by any means, so when I see some tall person doing reachy moves and making routes look easy, do I just accept it and say “well, I just won’t be able to climb that route- I’m not built that way”. Or, do I look at it, probably flail around and fail many times, train, try different beta, and see that it might just be possible? That is a growth mindset.
Learn to separate yourself from your performance
Just because you had a bad session doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It means you had a bad day. Your performance doesn’t define who you are. It doesn’t reflect that you’re a failure. It means that you try again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day after that.
Freeing yourself from the fear of failure, whether that’s failing yourself or others, will create an environment where you are able to excel and fail without fear. Ultimately, this improves overall performance and allows yourself to enjoy the climbing process. And that is what climbing is all about – enjoying the process, with its failures and successes, surrounded by a supportive community.