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Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Power of Proactive Positive Thinking (A Tribute to Todd Skinner)

Wolfgang Gullich, the first person to climb 5.14d, often remarked that the brain was the most important muscle for climbing. Unfortunately, many climbers overlook mental training since exercises are less tangible than, say, doing campus training for power or lapping routes for endurance. What’s more, thought control is hard work and takes a long term effort and lots of self-discipline. Surely it’s much easier to let you mind run wild with fearful, negative, critical thoughts than it is to direct constantly positive and productive thinking.

The fact is, however, that the peak performers of the world possess an uncommon ability to control their thoughts. Consider that your thoughts are a precursor to almost every action--or the decision for inaction--and, thus, the quality of your actions and your likelihood of success in any endeavor is largely controlled by the quality of your thinking. This is especially true in a complex sport like climbing, which requires targeted training, risk and fear management, constant course correction, and an indomitable belief in the final outcome.

In future articles I’ll touch on many different aspects of mental training, but today I want explain the power of proactive positive thinking. Sure, there are cynics whose minds are filled with negative thinking that will of course dismiss positive thinking as self-help rubbish. In reality, when positive thinking is dovetailed with experience, self-awareness, and a bias for action, it becomes one of the most powerful forces in the Universe. So, what I’m talking about here isn’t hollow, passing thoughts of things you’d like to achieve--that’s called dreaming and it will get you nowhere. The mental skill I’m talking about is a highly distinct positive state of mind that dwells on achieving worthy goals and that leads to a habitual bias for action and course correction until the goal is achieved. This is the MO of peak performers the world over, both in and outside of the climbing world.

Let me tell you about one such peak performer and “possibility thinker”, a man who was without a doubt the most positive, genuinely kind, and highly motivated climber I have ever met--a man with a never-ending smile. The man is Todd Skinner, a hero and role model of mine since I met him back in 1990. Tragically, the world lost this great individual on October 23rd when he fell while descending a new route on Yosemite’s Leaning Tower. While I, and all who knew Todd, struggle to deal with this loss, we all are better people by having known this model of positive thinking--and, actually for Todd it was positive living, because Todd walked his talk. Todd Skinner was of course one of the most prolific climbers of all time, and in this way I take comfort in knowing that he lived a 100 climbers lives in his almost 48 years. Still the world have lost a huge positive influence, and more important a loving and dedicated father and husband.

[Todd Skinner bouldering at Hueco Tanks, TX. Eric Horst photo.]

To gain a further glimpse into legacy of Todd’s positive ways of living, I encourage you to visit and click into the Forum and view the hundreds of comments left by people who knew Todd. You can gain further insight on his life at The many stories and reflections will reveal the true power of what I call proactive positive thinking--that’s positive thinking backed by action. In my mind, Todd was the poster boy for proactive positive thinking. In my days around Todd I never heard him utter a negative word about anyone--it just wouldn’t be productive. Countless other people had the same experience, as you will discover in reading through the SuperTopo threads about Todd. All of these reflections combine with Todd’s body of work as a climber should serve as definitive evidence that being ceaselessly positive will improve the quality of your climbing as well as the quality of your life and relationships. Todd taught this to us all by his example. And I thank him for that.

In closing, I encourage you to distinguish yourself from the spray lords of climbing, by striving to constantly think and act in positive ways. Remember, just as the hallmark of peak performers is proactive positive thinking, the hallmark of also-rans and losers is negative, critical talk. Stay clear of such cynical individuals as they will suck you into their black hole of negativism. Instead, seek out and favor climbing with high-quality, positive individuals since this will produce an uplifting, synergistic effect that enhances all you do. In doing so, you will tap into the same force that empowered Todd Skinner as a climber and made him such a widely loved and respected human being--you will, in fact, become a better person, climb harder, and live a richer, more meaningful life.

  • Visit to learn about an upcoming DVD tribute to Todd and his life's work and a DVD of his "Beyond the Summit" presentation.

  • Visit to listen to Eric's latest Training Tip podcast which includes a Tribute to Todd Skinner. Click the Training Tip link.

  • Download an MP3 from of Eric's Training Tip Tribute to Todd Skinner.

    Learn more goal-achievement and mental-training strategies with the 80-minute Mental Wings audio program. Mental Wings presents a highly unique and effective 7-step program for enhancing performance in any high-value area of your life. It details 35 powerful strategies and techniques you will want to put to work, beginning today!

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