4 Tips for Overcoming the Frustration of Failure When Working a Route

How to learn to enjoy the climbing process and not get discouraged by failing

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Pro climber Heather Weidner, the instructor for Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing course, spent over a year projecting the Dream Canyon crack climb China Doll (5.14a R) on gear. On June 15, 2016, she finally redpointed this 40-meter right-leaning crack in a single pitch, becoming the first female to climb the route entirely on gear. After getting through the crux, Weidner explains in her blog, she had to stop herself from involuntarily shaking to finish the 5.11 topout.

With around 70 attempts on this route, Weidner learned to work through tough failures and still get back at it. After this mental achievement, Weidner also spent time working with Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior’s Way, to discover ways to develop and harness mental endurance. Here are a four key tricks from Weidner for staying positive while you push your limits:

1. Focus on learning instead of achievement

One of Weidner’s biggest strategies for keeping up her mental strength is letting learning, not success, be her primary motivation. While you may not necessarily “succeed” on every single attempt, there is always something new to learn. Weidner explains this as thinking, “What can I learn from that fall?” rather than, “God, I can’t believe I fell again!”

2. Avoid the “power sink” of frustration

When you’ve fallen for the thirtieth time on the same move, it’s easy to get frustrated. You start to think you’re not strong enough or good enough to send. Once that starts to happen, it’s important to recognize it and try to go back to step one—focus on the learning, not the failure.

3. Know that your ego is not you

Going right along with the power sink, your ego is the voice saying, “You can’t,” after that thirtieth fall. When you fall into the power sink, you’ve let your ego take control and become an unhelpful distraction. These thoughts are normal and important to recognize; however, says Weidner, they’re “not your true self.”

4. Be attentive to the task

To tie it all together, be attentive to your breath and to the climbing at hand, not to any fears or anxieties about falling or failure. When you’re not distracted, you’ll be surprised at how hard you can climb.

Want to test your limits on a rope? Learn to sport climb with pro climber Heather Weidner in Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing online course.

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