In Bishop, over the holiday break, I climbed with some cool new ladies and asked them how, in a sport where coming up short is a common experience, they handle the feeling of defeat and what climbing has taught them.
I used to handle defeat terribly. If things didn’t go as I expected them in my mind, I’d pout, I’d cry, I’d make excuses, I’d snap at my boyfriend (/climbing partner). Handling defeat gracefully has been a painful learning process but it’s been essential in understanding some of my mental shortcomings as a climber. Once I began to accept the fact that I hated failing any climb, I had to look outward and realize that failure is THE only way to learn and progress as a climber. I remember watching Emily Harrington’s send of Golden Gate in Yosemite and her process of breaking down through the crux pitch helped me realize that even though failure is ok, it is also completely acceptable to break down and cry when shit gets hard and sometimes you’re so passionate about the climb that you’ve got to work that out of your system. Ultimately, I’ve discovered that defeat is a state of mind; we can look at a climbing failure as an indicator that we aren’t good enough, strong enough, prepared enough, OR we can say “Hey, there’s something I can learn from this to do better next time”.
I think the hardest, and the most important, lesson I’ve learned is how to listen to myself. Motivation is awesome, “You can do it!” is great to hear but, at the end of the day, I know more than anyone what I can do and where I’m comfortable pushing myself. Sometimes the most important decision I can make is listening to the voice that’s telling me to bail out and come back another day. I don’t have to be fearless to be strong. Learning how to listen to my discomfort, assess where it’s coming from, and decide how to proceed, has been incredibly challenging for me. Sometimes I can push back on the discomfort, especially if I’m with people I trust. But even so, if I sit back, breathe, and think about it, I usually know what I can do and what I should do.
Like most humans, I wrestle with my demons. I get insecure, jealous, angry, manic, sad, etc. My proudest moments have been when I’ve acknowledged my demons and managed to set them aside, allowing me to climb my hardest. Failure is tricky! It’s absolutely one of the most motivating experiences for me. Nothing gets me thrown down like failure. My definition of success has become whether or not I maintained that positive mental attitude, and if I truly tried hard.
I think it’s super important to take the small victories… Maybe you didn’t send your climb today, but you can still feel accomplished by doing a move you hadn’t previously done or making a new link. If you can only be happy when you are succeeding, you are going to spend a lot of your climbing life feeling sad (or at least that’s my experience).
When I first started climbing, it felt very easy to measure my progress based on the people around me. If I could do something that someone else couldn’t do, I would walk away feeling proud of myself, and if the reverse happened, I would feel very negative. This was a very unhealthy way to approach climbing and I soon learned that climbing is way more fun when you only look at your own progress, regardless of what other people are doing. I think fostering a relationship of positivity and psych with your climbing partners is really important, versus having it be purely competitive. It’s important to be happy when others succeed and to surround yourself with people who will be happy when you succeed as well.