I’ve recently watched the Stone Locals | Rediscovering the Soul of Climbing by Patagonia, an amazing documentary about five different people explaining how climbing has helped them cope with their life’s challenges. This inspired me to share with you how climbing has affected and transformed my life. Although I’m an active person, I’m not a hard-core climber and was never a devoted sporty person, but climbing managed to become an integral part of my life for the last 7 years. Ever since I started climbing, it became my healing place, my workout, my stress reliever, my favourite socializing, my meditation, my safe spot and so much more. This sport has taught me a lot about myself and the fact that it still teaches me new things, makes it even more amazing. So here are 12 life lessons I learned from rock climbing:
1. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch
When I was younger, I didn’t really understand how powerful this statement was and the importance of making the most out of each experience in life. It is in our nature to stay at a point where we feel comfortable and safe. Same applies in climbing, you reach to a point where you feel comfortable but in order to progress as an individual and a climber you need to take a step outside your comfort zone. That’s where the real magic begins! Breaking away from your repetitive routines, your comfort zone, regardless of the outcome, both in life and climbing, you will discover new things about yourself, learn and grow.
2. Overcoming your fears
Fear, according to the Cambridge dictionary, is “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen”. I’ve been trying to deal with my fears ever since I started climbing, and yes, it can hold you back. A climber friend once told me to trust my fear, that it’s a normal reaction that warns me to be careful and aware. Fear becomes a constraint only if you allow it to take over your mind and body, stopping you from things you want to do. Summarizing, fear is normal in life, as it is in climbing. The trick is not to let it take over you... deal with it, manage it, learn from it, overcome it, or at least take small steps to overcome it. The lessons you gain from facing your fear(s) will encourage you to take up new challenges with more confidence in the future.
3. Building trust
Trust is one of the most important foundations of any healthy relationship. Whether it’s a professional, personal, climber-belayer relationship, trust is essential because it provides a sense of safety. Throughout my life trusting others has been one of my biggest challenges. It's always hard for me to put my trust in the hands of someone else, so the people I choose to have around me, in all type of relationships, have shown consistent signs of trustworthiness. In climbing, I am picky about who is belaying me, I always run my own safety check by observing them, their belaying device, the way they belay others, if they are paying attention to the climber. After all, trust is when you put your faith into someone and rely on them not to hurt you (put you in danger), and in climbing we are trusting our life in the hands of others and vice versa, so yes, it's ok to set your standards! Building trust doesn't end there, you also need to trust yourself and your strength! Trusting yourself is simply being the real you, sticking to your values and morals, taking care of your needs and safety, treating yourself with kindness and love.
4. There are good days and bad days and that’s ok!
Rock climbing can give you a mixture of feelings... from fear to courage, from failure to accomplishment, from satisfaction to disappointment. That’s ok! We are not perfect and overcoming perfectionism is a big task. Everyone makes mistakes, you might be having a bad day, maybe feeling weary, made a wrong move, but you learn from it! Allow yourself to have a bad day! The rock / gym will still be there, the route will still be there, and after all the choices in climbing are endless! Same in life, tomorrow is a new day!
5. Setting goals
Setting goals for things we want to do and working towards achieving them is an important part of life and an important part of climbing. The process until we achieve our goals is not always easy, but it gives us a purpose, and eventually achieving them is rewarding and makes us happy. Whether you are setting goals for your personal life or your climbing growth, the process is the same: You decide your next goal (project), you work on it, think about your next moves and find ways to achieve it, sometimes you can get frustrated, but continue to work on it and keep trying until you achieve it.
6. Learning to rest
It’s easy to get sucked into a tiring everyday program with work, responsibilities, socializing, exercising, but we shouldn’t neglect that our body and mind need a period of rest and rejuvenation. How many times have you felt that you can’t keep up with everything, feeling burnt-out? That’s your body telling you it needs some rest! Making time to rest can improve your productivity, your focus, your energy and helps the healing process of your mind and body. The same applies in climbing, although it is often ignored, resting between your climbing training program is very important for both your mind and body. Every climber needs a break from their climbing training for 2-3 days to help their muscles recover and prevent possible injuries. Another type of resting in climbing, is the on-route rest spots. Rock climbers learn how to recognize rest spots on the route and benefit from their correct usage to improve their climbing performance. They can “shake out” their pumped arms to remove the lactic acid build-up, slow down their breathing and also use these rest spots to figure out their next moves. Climber or not, you need to listen to your body and do what is needed to be able to avoid injuries, fatigue and straining yourself.
7. Being present
For me, being present is the greatest lesson gained from climbing. With climbing you really don’t have a choice; you need to be focused and engaged to what you are doing and eliminate all distractions. This has helped me in my daily life too, managing to wipe out a bad day, a stressful incident, a sad situation and managing to be present, is haven. Practicing the art of being present is really life changing. Realizing that if you are completely present, the past and future worries are no longer a problem, because you are existing in that specific moment and you are left with whatever you’re dealing with right now. It’s all about noticing your body, your breathing, paying attention to your current feelings, emotions, physical senses, and embracing them.
8. Enjoying the process
Another important lesson I learned from climbing is to truly enjoy what I do and not to feel pressure about when or how or if I manage to achieve it. I learned to accept all situations as growth opportunities. I couldn’t agree more with this quote “Life is about the journey, not the destination”. The value of any situation is in the process, whether it’s a bad situation or a good one, it’s the process that helps you grow and gives you lessons. Accepting either a “failure” or a “success” of a situation and still feel fulfilled means you actually enjoyed and appreciated the journey. After all, we are still on the journey...
9. It’s all about balance!
Physical and mental balance is a significant part of rock climbing. Physical balance obviously is the reason you climb. Balance helps climbers move up and across the climbing route, step efficiently on footholds, reach handholds, so understanding your center of gravity can improve your rock climbing performance. Mental balance is as important; rock climbing is a sport in which you really need dedication if you want to improve as climber, so keeping a balance of your training, social life, career, family, two dogs (in my case) and daily responsibilities can be hard. Personally, being more assertive, figuring out the things that make happy and having around people who understand my lifestyle have helped me. In life there are things we must do to survive, things we don’t want to do and things that make us happy, so choose wisely. It’s normal to feel out of balance from time to time and finding your balance is different for everyone, but when you do find your balance, it makes it easier to pull yourself together in the future.
10. Never stop learning
No matter how much we think we know, there’s always something new to learn. Be open to new knowledge and keep your brain constantly active. Learning new things helps you develop better understanding of people and situations, enhances your critical thinking, improves your self-confidence and keeps you alert and motivated. The same happens with climbing, there is always something new to learn. New rope skills, techniques, equipment, more efficient movements, beta advice and so much more. Join workshops, retreats, watch other climbers, join a discussion at the crag or the gym and you will be surprised what you can learn.
11. It’s ok to let go
Being able to let go of whatever is holding you back is a conscious choice and requires a strong understanding of yourself. It’s a challenging process that you must go through to learn, grow, and get on with your life. Learning to let go in climbing is essential for the progression of any rock climber. Letting go represents something different for every climber; overcoming your fears, learning to fall, stepping outside your comfort zone, giving up on a project. Learning to fall has been one of my biggest challenges in climbing, and still is!!! For example, climbers say that if you don’t take falls you are not trying hard enough, you are still wrapped up in your comfort zone. Letting go is the only way to move forward.
12. Don’t forget to breathe
Clearly, we all breathe to keep ourselves alive, but how often do you actually think about the importance of breathing for our mind and body? Deep breaths have many positive effects on your body and mind: they can provide mental clarity, increase oxygen in our blood circulation, slow down our heartbeat, help with sleeping disorders, improve food digestion, strengthen the immune system and reduce stress and tension. Practicing breathing exercises is a good way to bring yourself back together when feeling overwhelmed, tensed or stressed. In climbing when I really focus on the route, I tend to hold my breath (forget to breathe) therefore I block my oxygen intake, sabotaging my performance. Learning to properly breathe when climbing helps to relax the mind, extend endurance, make better decisions and removes the stress. Climber or not, it is important to become conscious of your breathing and learn proper breathing techniques, which can only be beneficial in your overall wellbeing. Now... breathe!
Through rock climbing I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful community, have new experiences every day, go through a continuous self-discovery journey, an ongoing learning process, filled with new challenges. The skills, lessons, physical and mental strength I gain from rock climbing help me deal with many personal situations in my life and... it's fun! Even though this is one of my longest articles it's something I wanted to share with you and I hope you enjoyed it!
What life lessons did you learn from rock climbing or another sport? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.