Mind over…mind? Confessions of a psyched out rock climber

Rock Climbing

When it comes to climbing, we all have our mental issues and shortcomings. Whether it’s breaking a bad habit like high stepping every foothold, not taking enough time to rest or breathe, or not focusing enough on your footwork, we’ve all been there one time or another and we’ve all fallen, flailed, and kicked the wall as a result.


We all have some kind of kink, and I am no exception. Mine is not letting my brain take over my body. I know I’m not alone in this because being 20 feet off the ground with only your hands, feet and a 10 mm rope connecting you to safety is stressful. However, for me, it’s not the dangers of climbing that give me the psychological bends. It’s every other scary thing that I have to work on tuning out, especially past failures that I keep replaying over and over again in my head. Ultimately, it comes down to the moments when I question if I’m good enough to send that move, regardless of my physical state.

And a couple of weeks ago, at the climbing gym, it happened again.  I was projecting a 5.10a route- a grade above the 5.9’s I’m working on getting down pat- and I froze- both mentally and physically. Why? Because I had an audience.  A group of novice gym climbers itching to get on the wall decided to plop down next to my belay partner and I and watch me try the route- all the while giving a less than helpful running commentary of how difficult they thought a particular move on it was.

Like clockwork, I froze up.

You see, when it comes to sports, I have a fantastically annoying case of performance anxiety.  Even in front of people I know or am close to, if you ask me to do something physical for others to see, more often than not, I crash and burn. In this instance, I allowed myself to get psyched up over the imagined expectation of others. After several embarrassing failed attempts, angry at the world, I gave the thumbs down, signaling my partner to let me down. I was furious.


Since then I’ve tried to give myself more mental room to breathe, meaning that, when I start to deviate from focusing on what I’m doing, I take a breath, re-evaluate what is happening and wait until I’m comfortable enough, mentally to try it again. This may mean coming down before I’ve reached the top. Some might see this as a cop-out, but I see it as being smart. Going into a project with a poor outlook can make all the difference between sticking that hold your tired ass thought you couldn’t touch, and flailing around like a deranged parakeet.

In my opinion, climbing should never be about trying to look good. When you’re working on a project that doesn’t involve you being directly responsible for the safety of others, it shouldn’t be about anyone other than yourself. For me, climbing is the live action version of life lessons and that’s why I love it so much. It’s about trying and failing, and then trying over and over again until you finally get it right. I find that sometimes, I have to remind myself of that. I know am not perfect, but sometimes I forget that neither does anyone expect me to be, and therefore, I shouldn’t expect it of myself. All any of us can ask of ourselves is to try our best.


There’s a super cheesy song lyric that I find is so simple yet so logical and true that it blows my mind. I find myself thinking about it whenever I doubt myself, on the wall and in life. it goes; “Never let your fear decide your fate.” I’m still working on that part, but having that to fall back on reminds me what is important and what is not. For now, my goal is to send that 5.10A, and I know I can and will do it, sooner or later. No matter who is watching.



Abby Nash

Abby’s love of the outdoors began as a young child, when every Saturday, her mother would take her on family hikes on the Alice Newton Memorial Park Blue Trail in Southern Connecticut. Since then, her love of exploring, traveling, volunteering, and outdoor sports has taken her across the globe–from Cuba to Turkey. Abby describes herself as a weekend warrior in skiing, rock climbing and backpacking. Since joining the West Hartford, Connecticut store in 2011, her passions have expanded to ice climbing, snowshoeing, and bike touring. She looks forward to expanding her repertoire through attending EMS Schools, going on more outdoor adventures, and of course, blogging all about it here on the EMS Blog.

1 Comment

  1. April 12, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Fantastic article! Thanks for sharing. I teach climbing and I will certainly share this article with my students.

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