When I first started climbing I progressed pretty quickly and was psyched to keep seeing improvement and see myself working up through the grades… then came the dreaded plateau where I was no longer feeling like I was improving, even though I was spending 4-5 nights a week in the gym projecting hard things until I was thoroughly wrecked and drained of all energy. During this time, I was often comparing myself to other climbers in the gym, and on nights where I sent stuff and came out “on-top” in these comparisons, I would leave the gym feeling psyched and in a state of euphoria… More often than not, however, I would have sessions where I didn’t feel as strong as the other climbers, and I would leave the gym feeling very frustrated. Whenever someone could do a move that I couldn’t do, I often questioned why I even bothered with this whole climbing thing, I mean I am shorter than average (5’2”) and have a -1 ape index, so I often felt like I did not get dealt the ideal body for climbing, so what’s the point?
After many nights of leaving the gym in a bad mood, I started to question why I climb if it is not making me happy… This is when I made the realization that my ego was destroying everything that I once loved about climbing.
The wonderful thing about climbing is that it is truly about yourself and the rock (or plastic if you are in a gym)… What works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for another, and it’s all about figuring out the puzzle to get your body to make it to the top. I found that because I was constantly comparing myself to other people, I had started to lose that joy that I used to feel when I first started climbing. Once I made this discovery, I decided that either I needed to figure out how to make climbing fun again, or I had to stop.
There were actually two parts to my climbing “recovery”. The first was mental, the second was physical. Mentally, I had to figure out a way to not base the way I felt about myself or my climbing on other people’s abilities… It’s ok if people are stronger than me! That shouldn’t make me feel sad or frustrated, instead it should make me inspired and psyched to keep improving! Physically, I was over-trained, and I think this was a symptom of my ego getting in the way of my progress as well because I wanted improvement so much that I stopped listening to my body telling me it was tired and needed rest.
The physical part of this was easy to deal with (or at least easier). I scaled back my climbing and started listening to the needs of my body. I also started to work on my weaknesses (which was hard for me prior because I didn’t want anyone to see me “flailing” on something that I felt was below my limit). I learned that just “projecting” all the time was not a very effective way of improving at climbing, and this is when I found training. By following a well regimented training plan, I found that I was actually able to make bigger gains, even though physically I wasn’t destroying myself nearly as much as I used to when I was just throwing myself at projects in the gym. I next had to learn the lesson that ego has no business in training either! Just because I “think” that I shouldn’t have to take any weight off while doing a hangboard workout, or I “feel” like I should be able to squeeze in a climbing session despite the fact that my plan calls for a rest day, does not make these good ideas and is in fact an easy way to get injured (file this under ANOTHER lesson I had to learn the hard way).
The mental side of things was a little bit trickier to address. I first had to admit that my ego was sabotaging me, and then I had to make a constant conscious effort to not let this happen anymore. At first it was hard because I had trouble dealing with situations where other people were doing the comparisons. I was trying so hard to not compare myself to others, so when someone else would say something, either positive or negative, it was hard for me to know how to respond and not let it suck me back into the place of comparisons (i.e. “I saw so-and-so do that move that you are struggling on” or “you should feel good because blah-de-blah is super strong and she couldn’t even do that move!”). In theory there is nothing wrong with someone saying either of these statements (so getting upset at someone for doing this is not an appropriate response [another thing I had to learn the hard way…]), but it was something I had to learn how to hear and not let it affect my mental state.
The next test for my mental strength… putting myself in a situation that is, by definition, competitive: climbing competitions. I am by nature a competitive person, and I love situations where I have to test my abilities. Enter comps. I am by no means a serious competition climber (I’ve only ever done a total of 4 climbing comps), but it is something that I enjoy and I wanted to be able to do them without taking a step back in the progress I have made with making climbing just about myself, and not how I rank among others. I can’t say I haven’t gotten frustrated with myself during a comp, but I think with each one I do, I learn more and more how to just have fun and try my best, regardless of the outcome.
So there it is. I can’t say that I don’t still struggle with ego from time to time, but I am thankful to surround myself with positive climbing partners who I know are routing for me, regardless of whether or not I send, and forgive me in those moments when I let my ego get the best of me.