Does your mind impede your ability to climb at the level you aim to? In this interview, Paul Roberts—an avid climber, mental training specialist, and owner of Mindful Routes—shares his experience in learning to overcome fear in climbing, and tips on how you can, too:
How much of climbing ability do you attribute to mental strength?
I would attribute about 70% of my climbing strength to the mind and proprioception, and about 30% to my actual physical strength. The link between our mind and our body is huge; people have been sharing this knowledge for thousands of years. If you feel strong and believe in your strength through positive and open mindsets then you can achieve a lot through pure mental fortitude.
What are the most common mental barriers that climbers struggle with?
I would say that the most common mental barriers climbers go through is the fear of falling, and the fear of failing. These become huge mental barriers to break through, with the first you are dealing with being able to judge your own fears to be rational or irrational and recognizing when the fear is keeping you safe or holding you back.
Fear of failing is more common but harder to really pinpoint in yourself, but it’s simply getting trapped in a viscous mental cycle of expectations. Performance anxiety builds, and a lot of disillusioned doubts and negative thinking can come through. Learning to work past this can give you a huge break through in your climbing and life.
What 3 fundamental mental tips do you think can help any climber improve?
I think the foundation of improving your climbing game lays in these three things;
- and self-talk/internal dialogue.
Mastering work with these disciplines can lay the foundation for you to learn advance strategies and techniques to focus and improve concentration, which is what you need to climb well on V0 or V15.
Here are some tips:
Tip 1: Take a full inhale but also a complete exhale, we generally breathe in a shallow manner, if you force the exhale further until you automatically inhale you are making room for your lungs to take in as much oxygen as they are capable of. This will allow your muscles to relax, tells your mind you are getting oxygen, and overall lowers stress levels.
Tip 2: When visualizing, visualize your emotions and how the holds feel instead of just seeing yourself doing each move. Get as detailed as you can, try to visualize the way the holds feel and what that makes you feel internally or actually say the moves to yourself.
Tip 3: Speak in questions to keep an open possibility mindset instead of a closed mindset …
Tip 4: Sign up for a workshop to learn more 😉
What personal experiences have been most influential in helping you improve your mental game?
If you’re open to listening and paying attention to the lessons that every climb is willing to teach you then you will learn a lot. This is where most of my personal experience with this material comes from; just climbing outside and getting in a lot of different situations where I’m either on a very run out climb, a highball boulder, or pushing my limits.
All of these have helped me come to learn the lessons of using my mind over my strength to overcome barriers. As well as a handful of injuries from climbing that were a direct correlation between conscious and subconscious thinking and ego play.
Is there a specific element of climbing that was most difficult for you to overcome mentally and what steps did you take?
After returning to bouldering from an injury it was hard to get up high again and trust myself, the landings, and the proper way to land. This stills proves to be the hardest struggle for me, but never shows up in my rope climbing. Applying the same techniques that I teach to others has helped me overcome that struggle, as well as only climbing lines that I am intrinsically motivated on.
What inspired you to train others in the tactics you’ve learned over the years?
Seeing common traits in myself and other climbers from everywhere inspired me to teach a mindful holistic approach to climbing in order to help other people create a sustainable approach to climbing in their lives, and research and interviews with top climbers who use the same techniques across the board has shown me that these tactics can help every climber improve and learn to enjoy the sport more. I also have a deep-rooted passion for teaching and facilitating, whether it be climbing-related or in a classroom.
What role do you believe the ego plays in one’s mental fortitude while climbing, and should/can it be suppressed?
The Ego is a tricky character. I think it is absolutely important to address that we all associate and identify with characteristics of ourself that make up an identity of who we appear to be to the outside world as well as our self. I think its utmost important to have congruency with this, and to have a system in place to check your ego and yourself to make sure you are not over or undermining who you truly are.
That being said, I believe the ego plays an important role in helping us break through barriers, but it can also be an enemy of over-confidence. It goes back to the rational irrational thing—the same thing happens with fear as it does with our general thinking of who we are and who we aren’t. Checking yourself is important. Be open, not closed.
How long would you say it takes to apply and see results from your tactics?
Practice makes perfect. The material in my workshops can only be mastered if applied over and over. I apply these techniques on every climb or project that I do.
I’ve had clients who have gone through the workshop who have immediately seen results and felt better in their climbing, and I’ve had clients who thought it didn’t help them at all, only to call me two months later thanking me for teaching them the workshop, and that it has greatly affected their climbing. Everything takes time.
What types of climbers can benefit most from your mental training program?
I have taught these workshops to 5.13 climbers and I have taught them to 5.4 beginners, and everyone across the board has seen results and it has helped them. I would recommend the workshop material to new climbers because it will lay a foundation that they can build on in their initial years that will give them good climbing habits. I would also recommend it to expert climbers who have projects and want to learn new ways to approach their projects specifically that will help them in gaining an edge and improving strong ingrained techniques.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Follow the Mindful Routes Facebook Page. It will give you updates on studies on mental training for rock climbing, as well as keep you aware of when we are offering workshops and where.
You can contact us at anytime to schedule a private workshop with yourself or with a group, you can come visit Prescott, AZ and experience a workshop here in the outdoors, or you can even just begin an email/phone session with us to help you one-on-one with mental training and improving your climbing.
What ever you do, keep an open mind and listen to your internal motivation to inspire you to do what you want to do.
Keep an eye out for more articles on engaging the mind and philosophy of rock climbing from Paul Roberts throughout the coming year.