Monday, February 28, 2011

Why You Have to Say "I Can"

When I go out to climb, I have found that most of the people I meet on the rocks are warm, friendly, and sometimes even prone to invitations of inclusion toward complete strangers.  This is generally the opposite of the climbing gym, where people are very focused on what they are doing and are not particularly inclusive of new people--at least new people who are as shy as me.

Another thing about the outdoor climbing community that I love is a bent towards positive thinking.  I think this is because you just can't do climbing if you don't take a positive attitude toward your own skill--it's so easy to refuse to lead anything hard and to just bail out while not on lead as soon as it starts to get hard, yet if you just bail out, you never get anywhere.

I know my own problem, in equal measure to that irrational falling fear thing, is fear of failure.

Since I'm as self-conscious as the next person I am still sometimes annoyingly prone to saying things like "I doubt I'll be able to do this route" in the face of new territory.  I said something to that affect yesterday as some climbing strangers were passing by a 5.11A I was about to try, the first climb rated higher than a 5.10 that I'd ever attempted.  You know, in case they were to stop and watch me flail around miserably or something, at least I'd announced that I wasn't actually a 5.11 climber or anything I was just trying it out to try it so they couldn't laugh at me fail or whatever the hell reason drove me to make a ridiculous comment like that.

"You know, I think today is your day to be a 5.11 climber," they told me, in true outdoor climbing community fashion:  friendly and encouraging but in more than just a hollow "you can do it!" kind of a way. It was a patient yet unflinching reminder that among climbers is a safe place to try and to fail, that there is no room and no need to get caught up in silly self-doubt.  You know full well, they were telling me, that doubt is the lamest thing that will keep you from your success.  Which is not to say there isn't actual athleticism involved--there is--but it really is important not to underestimate yourself in a sport where every step is a possibility for something you've never done before and throwing yourself forward without worrying about that counts for half the battle.

And they were right, of course.  About the inappropriateness of any self-doubt, and that by god it was my day to be a 5.11 climber.  At least of that route.

I made a goal with myself, that I would stop looking at potential problems as things I probably couldn't do but would try anyway.  That attitude is better than one alternative---looking at potential problems as things I probably couldn't do so not trying--and makes it seem like I'm giving myself a way to not get so upset if I fail.  The problem with that way of thinking though, is that if failure looks imminent or even happens it is to easy to say "oh well I figured I wouldn't actually succeed so oh well," which in it's own way is like not trying. 

Now I want to start looking at things, and I mostly mean climbing things, but climbing is such a great metaphor for life, and thinking "it is entirely possible that I CAN succeed at this," or maybe even "I will succeed" and really believing that, without trying desperately not to be terrified that I won't.  Leave the "failure is probable and therefore not going to bother me" out of it--because setting up what I'm afraid of as likely just so that it's not such a disappointment when it happens is not making it not bother me, and not providing a true opportunity for an alternative outcome.

And that, I suppose, is one definition of confidence.

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