I Am A Rock
Ever since I became a fitness addict (words that would shock my high school self to no end), I’ve been enamored with rock climbing. It’s a fascinating sport, as it combines strategy and pure strength, creating a physical puzzle of sorts. We all have memories of easily climbing rock walls on grade school playgrounds; but once you get on a real wall and realize you can only use one color of rock, it becomes a singular challenge. One of my best friends and I frequent a rock climbing gym in Boston, and it’s become our Sunday afternoon ritual. I’m no Alex Honnold, but I steadily improve each week, and I like to think I’m getting pretty good.
But this time was different. I came into the gym feeling great. I had been lifting weights and eating clean all week, I had properly stretched, and everything seemed ready to go. But I started climbing, and nothing seemed to work. For some reason, I was constantly convinced that I’d never be able to grab the next rock (even if I had reached it many times before), and that I had to climb down now or else risk falling. Even stranger was the fact that I was utterly terrified of falling. I’ve taken countless falls at that gym. That’s just part of the game. You climb a wall, you reach the top, you let go and you fall down. If you can’t do that, you probably have no business rock climbing. But this weekend, the concept of falling onto the mats seemed like the most traumatic thing on the planet. I was so determined to avoid it that I never took even the slightest risk. I even avoided moves that weren’t remotely risky, because my brain was so determined that I could not execute them.
I was all there physically, but mentally, I was gone. And that ended up making all the difference in the world. I pretty quickly determined that I wasn’t going to have any success this weekend, so I made up an excuse to leave early. I still have no idea why this happened, but it taught me that the mental game is more important than the physical game. No matter how strong or skilled you are, if you don’t believe you can do something, you’ll never do it. It’s more than just a matter of confidence. It’s about being in the zone. It’s about knowing that if you fail, you won’t be any less of a person.
I don’t mean this as some kind of sugary, feel-good-and-believe-in-yourself newsletter. But the experience made me realize the importance of being in the proper mental state to compete. Without knowing it, I had beaten myself before I ever touched a rock. And I’m certain that a similar phenomenon could take place in any pursuit, not just athletics.