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Friday, February 02, 2007

Six Mental Tips to Improve Performance in 2007

In the last few articles you’ve learned how performance operates from the inside-out. Your beliefs, focus, fears, confidence, motivation, and for that matter every thought that crosses your mind, form the foundation from which you will either succeed or fail on a climb. Therefore, succeeding on a project or advancing to the next grade level is often more a matter of the mind, than it is the body.

In this article I will outline six simple, yet powerful tips for elevating performance. Recognize that these six strategies are interlaced and can produce a powerful synergy when all are in practice. In aggregate, they may produce an effect similar to unloading a 10-pound weight (or more) from your back that you have unknowingly been hauling up climbs. Hence, I call this, using your "mental wings." Okay, let’s get started.

Mental Strategy #1 for improving performance: Separate your self-image from your climbing performance.
Chance are climbing plays a major role in your life (as it does in mine). However, if your self-image is tied too strongly or singularly to this role, it leads to an obsessive need to perform perfectly every time you touch the rock. The result is intense pressure, anxiety, and fear of failure—-all of which will make performing your best difficult, if not impossible.

The fact is, you will perform best in a process-oriented frame of mind, where the outcome is accepted as unknown, allowed to unfold without forethought. Detaching your self-image from your climbing performance is the first step to escaping an outcome-oriented mindset. Strive to focus only on things immediate to the act of climbing—your warm-up, mental rehearsal, gear selection, and then when climbing, focus only on the move at hand and never project ahead. Accept feedback the route gives you without frustration or judgment and liberate yourself to try new things, take chances, and most important fall. Such process-orientation and self-image detachment will reduce pressure and anxiety and, paradoxically, you'll climb better by not needing to!

Mental Strategy #2: Surround yourself with positive people.
There is an aura of influence that surrounds each of us and its effects are based on our personality and attitude towards life and its events. Your thoughts and actions will affect the thoughts and actions of those around you, and vice versa. As I see it, there are three options--either climb alone, climb with upbeat and positive people, or climb with cynical and negative people. But why would you ever want to climb with the negative, excuse-making complainers of the climbing world? Their negative aura will adversely impact your climbing and enjoyment whether you recognize it or not. The Bottom line: Vow to either climb with positive individuals or climb solo--both approaches can be hugely rewarding.

Mental Strategy #3: Stretch your comfort zone.
To improve in anything, your goals must exceed your current grasp and you must be willing to push beyond your comfort zone in your reach. In performing on the vertical plain, this means climbing onward despite mental and physical discomfort; it means challenging your fears head-on by doing what you fear; and it means attempting what looks impossible to you based on your past experience. Through this process, you will stretch your abilities to a new level, redefine your belief system, and reshape your personal vision of what is possible.

Mental Strategy #4: Anticipate and proactively manage risk.
Climbing is an activity with obvious inherent risks, and the desire to climb harder often requires taking on additional risk. This risk can come in the form of obvious physical danger such as a potentially injurious fall or as invisible mental risk like opening yourself up to failure, criticism and embarrassment.

Make it your MO to carefully assess all the possible risks before starting up every climb. Determine ways that you can lower the risk of the climb (such as rigging a belay differently than usual or getting an extra spotter or crash pad) and anticipate how you will respond to new emerging risk as you climb (for instance, discovering there’s no gear half way up the route). As for the mental risks you might face on the climb--things like the fear of failure--see Mental Strategy #1 (above) on separating your self-image from your performance.

Mental Strategy #5: Fortify your confidence.
Your degree of self-confidence is primarily based on your self-image and the thoughts you possess minute-by-minute and day-by-day. For example, pondering past failures, allowing free rein of demeaning self-talk, or dwelling on the chance of falling, will deflate self-confidence and sow the seeds of failure.

Conversely, peak performers consciously narrow their thoughts and focus onto things that will fortify and build confidence. You, too, can do this as you prepare for an ascent, by taking a mental inventory of past successes, believing your skills and strengths, and acknowledging your preparation and investment in training. Do all this and you will grow more energized and confident as you engage the rock, and most likely climb your very best.

And, Mental Strategy #6 for improving performance: Love climbing, no matter what.A common trait of successful people is resilience to bad results and criticism, and an unwavering belief that success will come with time and effort. Developing such a mindset takes a disciplined effort to constantly spin negative feedback into some kind of a positive-—real winners never dwell on the setbacks or admitting defeat.

Remember, the essence of climbing is the journey, not the summit. Vow to love the process of climbing and all it entails, whether it is a perfect send or a painful struggle. Sure, a perfect ascent is immensely gratifying; however, it’s on the arduous journey that you actually become a better climber and grow as a person.