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Five Life Lessons From Climbing

Manj Bahra
Mar 25, 2019 · 8 min read

Recently, I started Bouldering. I was dragged along by my gym partner who insisted I would enjoy it. She claimed it was mentally and physically challenging, but I remained skeptical — how could it be that hard? I can already do 15 pull-ups, so I don’t expect a physical challenge. It can’t be that dangerous because there are ropes and the facility wouldn’t risk anyone getting hurt. She smirked and suggested I don’t knock it till I try it. Reluctantly I agreed.

Nothing could prepare me for what followed. Not only was I pushed to my limits mentally and physically, but the climbing wall also began to teach me profound life lessons in a manner no other activity has before. Often we hear great advice, but struggle to resonate with it because it comes from people so far away from our reality. I found that experiencing these lessons through climbing made everything click. Within three sessions, I was addicted, and now I want to share my learnings with you.

1 — Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

When I arrived at the climbing center, I was alarmed to discover there were no ropes — even for beginners. I looked anxiously at my friend as she giggled uncontrollably. People were falling — everywhere. Yes, there were mats, but I was not expecting this sight.

I immediately felt that familiar rush of fear engulf my body. My heart started to race as I wondered — What have I got myself into?

Each wall has colors to represent different levels. My friend has suggested I started beyond the beginner route, but I begged to differ. I watched her scale the wall with apparent ease and anxiously waited my turn. With immense trepidation, I began to climb the easiest route. I reached the top and felt a moment of relief — until I looked down.

Fuck that’s a long way to fall. Amidst a mild panic, I fumbled my way back to the ground. I couldn’t stop wondering how my friend was climbing the harder levels. She is afraid of heights, but I’m the scared one.

I pulled myself together and reminded myself of an adage my mentor taught me. Do you know what Fear stands for?

  • False
  • Expectations
  • Appearing
  • Real

As the beautiful book by Susan Jeffers states — Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.

I took heed of the advice and embraced those sensations. I stopped thinking and started climbing. With each climb, I conquered my fear and gained the confidence to push my self further. The feeling never went away completely, but I embraced that simple mindset and did it anyway. I learned to stop thinking and do. By the end, I had reached the same level of difficulty as my friend, and I felt immense pride in how I had overcome my fear.

2 — You Miss 100% Of The Shots You Don’t Take

You may have heard this legendary quote from the iconic hockey player Wayne Gretzky. The essence of this advice is so pure, yet many of us ignore it — if you don’t shoot you can’t score.

Each time I go climbing, I see a wall I don’t think I can beat. Sometimes I see holds that look slippery or too far apart, and I become intimidated by the overall route I would have to scale. With that said, it’s also true that every session I climb a wall I initially thought I couldn’t.

You don’t know what you can do until you try. Invariably every time I attempt those seemingly impossible walls, I surprise myself. Even if I don’t make it the whole way up, I make progress and begin to believe. I dispell the negativity and show myself that with more work, I’ll get better and conquer it. That gives me an immense feeling of pride, and nobody can take that development away from me.

In life, we are often scared to take a shot. There are scenarios where the risks warrant reluctance. For almost everything else, taking a shot is free. Go for what you want and give yourself a chance to score. You might surprise yourself.

3 — There Is No Failure, Only Feedback

This leads me nicely to this lesson. When you start taking more shots, you’re going to start missing — it’s inevitable. The key is to understand that missing doesn’t represent failure — it’s feedback that something needs to change.

In the context of climbing, the more you advance and tackle tougher routes, the more likely you are to fall. The holds become harder to grip, and the paths require more flexibility, skill, and strength. It’s a tantalizing paradigm — we can’t develop unless we are willing to attempt the harder climbs, but we also have to be ready to fail, fall, and try again.

Any time we attempt to do something and don’t achieve the desired outcome, that result is educating us. It gives us feedback that we can then do something about. The wonderful part of this attitude is that instead of seeing failure as rejection or a reflection on our worth, we see it as an opportunity. We no longer become discouraged from trying, because we understand that each attempt gives us more information on what and what not to do.

How you choose to think about failure frames your willingness to try new things and go for what you want. I’ve written about my previous fear of failure — I understand how debilitating and immobilizing it can be. That’s why I know choosing to see it as feedback is one of the most powerful and transformative beliefs you can adopt. I’m OK with falling from the wall — I know it’s part of the process, and it inspires me to get better.

4 — The Basics And Technique Are The Foundations Of Success

I’ve repeatedly neglected the importance of technique and skill throughout my life. For whatever reason, I’ve always felt that the right attitude and hard work are the keys to being successful. While they are critical ingredients, my consistent failures to acknowledge the importance of basics has left me continually revisiting this lesson.

As I started climbing, I found myself leveraging my strength and muscling my way through various routes. I enjoyed the physicality, though I noticed myself tiring rapidly. You can imagine my shock when I saw a large woman effortlessly own a wall that had left me sweating profusely. She caught sight of my bewildered look and laughed knowingly:

“It’s about technique. Try using your legs more and keeping your arms straight. You’re wasting energy and trying to build your guns up too much.”

She was more right than I could comprehend. I took her advice and was astonished at how the simple changes made such a difference to my result. The lightbulb went off in my head — how many other parts of my life was I ignoring basic technique and skill in? I knew the answer, and it wasn’t pretty. Cricket, squash, starting my own business, writing, gym, my career. In each one of those areas, I had strayed from the fundamentals in favor of “innovation.”

Never lose sight of establishing the basics and excellent technique in whatever you do. These are the qualities that keep you focused and prevent you from making silly mistakes. Don’t be distracted by shiny new theories or revolutions until you have this nailed down.

5 — Surround Yourself With Pushers

Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

That’s a powerful and provocative statement, and I can’t help but agree with it. This hit home during my last climbing session, where we faced the hardest wall yet. The holds were smaller and had less grip than we were used to. I placed my hands on the starting position, made a half-assed attempt and then bailed out. I said it was too hard and we should move on.

My friend brushed me aside and insisted she wanted to try. As she placed her body in position, I’m almost embarrassed to admit I was praying she couldn’t do it. Two minutes later she returned down from the top and looked at me gleefully. I held my head in my hands as I confronted my options — I had to face my fear and try, or chicken out of the challenge. There was no choice, and I went again getting further but not completing it.

Although I came short, I recognized an underlooked quality she had brought to the table. Without her there, competing and pushing me — I would have bailed out on the attempt. Instead, her presence contributed to me trying again and getting further than I thought possible.

Surround yourself with people who are going to have this effect on you. Create an environment where you are all striving to improve and compete, without malice but through a passion for shared success. Sometimes doing it alone isn’t the best option, no matter how independent you want to be. You still take responsibility, but now you have external accountability, and that is invaluable.

What Teaches You?

In closing, I encourage us all to think about what activities we do are teaching us more than we realize. For me, climbing has become much more than a hobby. It’s a method of personal growth that continually keeps me guessing and challenging myself.

What do you do or perhaps used to do in your life that teaches you lessons and continually pushes your boundaries? Is there anything you need to re-discover or invest more time in that could subtly change your life for good?

As I said at the start, there is excellent advice everywhere, particularly from those who have achieved outstanding success. Sometimes, we have to realize things for ourselves, to take meaningful action.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +436,678 people.

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Manj Bahra

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Here to share what actually works in Productivity and Self-Improvement. Editor of Game Of Self:

The Startup

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