At some point, if you get serious enough about your climbing and getting better, you’re going to start training. This will look different for all of us. It might be something you cobbled together off of Youtube or your favorite climbing sites, it might be something your climbing partner has been doing that is leaving your in the dust, or maybe even a well thought out plan that you worked on with a coach. What ever your methods might be, there will come a time when the madness kicks in and you will falter. Training will feel like a burden, you won’t want to do your training session or even go to the gym, or worse, we’ll all be stuck in semi-quarantine for some inordinate amount of time without access to the gyms, people, or crags that are helping keep us accountable. Although the sounds kind of depressing, I’ve got some good news: it’s normal. The point here isn’t to make up excuses to make ourselves feel better. The point is to start understanding why so many of us are having a hard time sticking to something that we want: climbing gains and glory. To understand this, we need to start looking at ourselves not as as fully autonomous free-acting demigods, but instead a lot more at the whim of our basic biology. Let’s talk about the 3 things that are keeping your from doing what you want.
1. Willpower is not a skill or virtue its the mind’s response to your body’s emotions and desires
There have been many experiments run in the world of psychology to figure out what this mythical willpower/self-control thing is. How can we cultivate it? Who has more of it? Does it burst forth magically when you become a superhuman? Over the course of this research, the many brilliant minds of human behavior have come to a slightly different conclusion on willpower than what was previously assumed:
Willpower is a function of your emotional desires and your minds ability to control them to accomplish this that and the other. Simply put, willpower isn’t a limitless skill that you have, but much more like a muscle that you deplete. Once you have “exercised” this muscle, it is depleted, much like a physical muscle. However, this muscle, instead of being exercised only by certain activities, is used all damn day. Traffic, deciding on your lunch, sitting through a bullshit meeting, getting in a fight with your partner, figuring out how to prioritize you friends and family, paying attention, and on and on and on. You are probably all too familiar with the afternoon mental crash, where you find yourself reaching for you phone. When it comes down to training, especially training at the end of your work day or in an emotional rut (think our current lockdown state), you can see why it is easy to make a “choice” that upon first impression seems lazy or uncommitted. Our situations drain the body’s ability to do something that is challenging, effortful, and founded upon distant goals.
2. Your main goals are big, which is great, but your incremental goals don’t exist, which is bad
People will often have are really big, season long, career defining goals. Climb V-hard by the end of this season or 5.13+ within the next year. Thats all good, especially if you can be specific about grades or climbs that you are after. However, for many people, such lofty goals are too grand to help guide their everyday actions. You can only look at a picture of your dream route or climb for so long, before you realize the answer doesn’t lie there.
These big goals are a good example of an outcome goal. Outcome goals are big, distant, and incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately, they are far off and require tremendous effort. Really far off most of the time, if you do it right. What we really need to do is also set process goals. Process goals are incremental. They are the “what am I going to do this week” kind of goals that help you feel accomplished. They are the everyday goals that keep you coming into the gym with a focus. They’re the bread and butter of your training plan and can be leveraged to make your experience incredibly rewarding.
3. You aren’t starting small…smaller than that
Your goals are only as good as how achievable they are. The most lofty endeavors won’t be that useful if they aren’t actually followed through on. Thats where the process goals we mentioned above come in. The problem is that most people will opt into big process goals, which might just defeat the purpose. “I will hang board 3 times a week for 40 minute sessions, using three different grips”. A great goal, if you do it, or a really good way to make yourself feel like a schmuck in front of your biggest critic: you. Instead, setting your sights on something moderate and then exceeding your own expectations is probably the best thing you can do to keep yourself motivated. It’ll pleasantly surprise you every time.
I recently committed myself to a weighted hangboard routine. Do you know the frequency at which I chose to do this? Two sessions per week, consisting of three hangs per session. Granted these are limit style hangs but six hangs per week is probably looked at askew in most circles of climbers looking to beef up their forearms. The truth is, week after week, I not only meet my goals but usually exceed them, and my progress during quarantine has been noticeable and steady. Easy goals, easy progress, easy feelings.
Where do we go from here?
So what’s the solution to our hardwired, innate limitations? Enter the 3-S’s. A little cheesy but stay with me:
Training is all about the long haul. Little deposits into your skill bank and your strength pay-off in a few months or years are noticeable. Goals are important, and how you set them, and how big, is going to determine your reward. Equally important to consider is the situations that you feel successful in. Time of day, before or after a meal, weekday or weekend, ropes or boulders, with friends or alone, you get the idea. And lastly, none of that is going to matter if you get into something for a week. The goal is to impose consistent demands on your body and then reap the fruit of your labor. Get some sort of plan in place, try it out, and once you feel like you’re no longer making progress at a similar rate, change it up. It takes time and more importantly a bit of intention.
Next time you are finding yourself feeling down for faltering on your plan, or feeling lazy, or just doing some good old fashion social comparison, ask yourself if any of the things above are out of whack for you. Are you setting your sights too high? Is your training time setting you up for success? Has it been 2 weeks and you feel dejected already? Play around with these variables and figure out how to set yourself up for long-term success.
We would love to hear from you on this topic. Which of these three barriers do you find yourself running up against more often than not? What has worked for you to overcome them? Good luck and don’t forget to climb with a little intention.