Fear of the Unknown: Why We’re Afraid To Dyno

Mary Mecklenburg

Onsighting at your limit, you gun up into a crux section only to find yourself a couple feet above your last bolt. Though you’re camped out on a decent jug, the next hold is just out of reach and you’ve been trying every possible way to snag it while still maintaining control. The pump clock is ticking. With no ‘taking’ to reassess the situation, you soon realize that the only way forward is to give the move a burst of dynamic motion. You set your feet, eye up your target, and jump as hard as you can. You latch the elusive hold with ease and quickly clip the next draw. However, because you hung out for so long before committing, you’re now too pumped to continue.

You yell ,“TAKE!” and sag onto the rope. Why was it so hard to commit to a move that, in the end, was relatively easy?

The answer is fear. Fear seeps into everything we do: Every decision, every action, every plan is affected in some way or another by fear. And for the most part it’s a good thing. Fear keeps us out of harm’s way. But many times it also holds us back, especially when we’re facing the unknown.

Climbing is no different. Fear keeps us safe on the rock, but when it becomes too overwhelming it also restricts our ability to move efficiently. When the unknowns start to stack up—for example, what that target grip feels like, or what it will be like to miss the hold and fall—it becomes more and more difficult to separate true danger from perceived danger. If we give in to fear, overanalyze the situation, and become distracted from the task at hand, our movements typically become slower, robotic, or even jittery as we hold on tighter and lose all flow. Ironically, by climbing poorly we’re now putting ourselves at greater risk of a fall—perhaps the very thing we’re fearing!—and upward progress grinds to a halt. Mission-far-from-accomplished. (Before we move on, a quick note on the difference between rational and irrational fear: There are true objective hazards—a loose block, a long runout, an iffy fixed piton—in climbing, and it’s important to be able to recognize when self-preservation should be your main priority. Those situations are best to evaluate from the ground, before making an attempt. Practice visualizing your movements, clips, where you may fall, and most importantly, how you might fall. Getting through this visualization process on the ground will help you develop a better understanding of the difference between real and imagined dangers, so that in the heat of the moment you’ll have less analyzing to do. Then, all that’s left is focusing on quieting that irrational fear and letting your body move on the rock.)

Dynamic movements, especially into the unknown, are typically movements that push us into that cycle of irrational fear. But they also, by making us face our fear, present great opportunities for growth. There’s no better time to reset focus and flow than when executing a smooth deadpoint or dyno. Take a deep breath, let your body relax, and remember that you’ve already visualized and negated the potential risks of the next move from the ground. Eye up the next hold and go for it. Go hard, like you mean it! Go with everything you’ve got! This process will help you build confidence that you can take with you from route to route or problem to problem as you progress as a climber. So the next time you’re a little runout and the next hold is out of reach, embrace the jump—you just might surprise yourself!

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