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Overcome Your Fear of Falling: Part 4—Know Your Motivation

You may do everything right and still injure yourself. Climbing and falling are like that. But, you can mitigate this possibility by being skeptical of the mind—your mind.

Get hands-on learning straight from Arno Ilgner in Climbing’s online video-course series Overcome Your Fear of Falling. Being afraid to fall is hardwired into every climber, but in this comprehensive course Ilgner gives specific drills to push past this evolutionary limitation.  Sign up now, learn from home, and climb your level best.

Motivation is an extremely important topic for climbing and for life. It’s what drives everything we do, from what we think about when assessing and deciding to engage in a risky activity like climbing, as well as the actions the flow from those decisions.

In our Warrior’s Way Falling and Commitment courses, we ask students to share with us a little about themselves and what they want to learn in the course. Many express how they love climbing; it focuses them in the present moment—especially during the intense situation of facing a fall—and all their other worries in life fall away. I think we’re drawn to risky sports, like climbing, because they can force our attention into the present moment, where life happens. We feel most alive in the present, a flow state that’s hard to find in our usual day-to-day activities.

Forcing your attention into the present moment so you feel alive sounds great, but it’s a victim’s approach to life and climbing. You use the seriousness of the situation to force you to pay attention. A better approach is being intentional. Intention is defined as: attention focused in the direction of a choice. You choose to focus your attention in the direction of the following qualities:

  • Valuing stress: Practicing falling will be stressful. By valuing stress, you pay attention to it. That’s critical for skill-building.
  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable: Vulnerability sounds weak, but it’s actually what’s necessary for learning. You lower your defenses and relax when you’re vulnerable. This state keeps you receptive to new information.
  • Establish boundaries: Vulnerability is great, but it can also kill you. Thus, establishing boundaries around what’s an appropriate level of risk is important. Gauge your level of experience with falling. This will give you an idea of approximately where your boundaries lie for practicing.
  • Intuitive decision-making: Knowing what’s an appropriate risk decision is not a cognitive, analytical task; it’s intuitive. You need to weigh the myriad aspects of the situation—your experience, the fall characteristics, etc.—that can’t be parsed out in a pro/con list. By paying attention to the level of fear and resistance you feel about taking the fall, you tap into your intuitive body. Your body is, after all, that which embodies your practice and level of experience. Thus, you need to tap into it for guidance. A little fear and resistance to engaging the unknown is OK. A lot is not. Tune into your body to guide you.
  • Incremental engagement: Learning is converting stress into comfort through practice. You can’t make this conversion quickly or in big chunks. Therefore, identify and engage small increments of stress.

You may do everything right and still injure yourself. Climbing and falling are like that. But, you can mitigate this possibility by being skeptical of the mind—your mind. Realize that to truly know something, you have to experience it. Thus, be skeptical when your mind ignores the intuitive information provided by the body. No matter what your thinking mind tells you, redirect your attention to the qualities outlined above.

In the next lesson, we’ll dig into incremental skill-building.

Go to Part 5,  Incremental Skill Building

These lessons are taken from the recent online course I did with Climbing Magazine: Overcome Your Fear of Falling Here’s the outline for this series of lessons:

  1. Introduction and history
  2. Falling is a skill
  3. Understand your fear
  4. Know your motivation
  5. Incremental skill-building
  6. Skills and drills
  7. Conclusion and ongoing practice