Fear of Falling: Now Breathe and Do It
I clip into my protection. Straighten my arm on the wall and shake out my other arm as I load it with chalk. Switching sides I do it for the other arm. I take a deep breath and calculate my next move, and the move after that.
I reach out for my hold only to find it is not a jug. “Crap, crap, crap, I’m going to fall. How far am I above my clip? Yikes! Okay, okay, okay, no problem just clip in ASAP. Where is the clip? Where is the clip?! It’s just above my head. No problem. I can reach that now. Then I won’t take a fall. Should I take another move so the bolt is closer to my waist? Maybe it will be easier to clip in. What if it is harder? I should really just clip in now.”
As I am climbing I can tell when I get nervous of an impending fall. The fear of falling is nerve racking for a lot of reasons. It can be anywhere from mental fatigue, to possible danger that causes it. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s where practice comes in.
The first thing to do is to calm down. Make up something that works for you. Something that can be used over and over like a script, to calm down. Some popular options:
- Take a breath or two
- Remind yourself that your belayer is awesome
- Last time was fine
- Just climb
Remind Yourself Constantly
If that didn’t calm you down take a look at my script. Funny enough, I don’t swear, but my mental script involves an abbreviated swear. I have used it enough climbing that it follows me to other places like skiing, job interviews, biking at night, etc. I find that I need a not so subtle reminder on things I very well know how to do, but forget to do when panicking. Luckily, I am always here for myself.
“Calm the F down, and climb like a normal person. Now breathe and do it”
“Calm the F down, and lean into that leg. Now breathe and do it”
“Calm the F down, and shake out that arm before clipping. Now breathe and do it”
“Calm the F down, you did this last week. Now breathe and do it”
Etc, etc, etc.
How Does This Help Me?
Make your mental script, and start using it ASAP. The more it is used, the more of a calming effect it will have. Even if climbing is not an option, start small. Kill that spider on your wall, make your own dinner, throw away extra items in your house, etc. Some people are great at meditating and a script is all it takes to overcome the fear of falling. For others it will take practice to get to a state where the calm can be reached. Lead climbing takes mental training, and everyone learns differently. Start today.
Fake it till you make it!
Last year I was climbing with my partner outside. I had a very bad day. I psyched myself out so bad. I found my self hugging the wall right at my bolt shaking everywhere from my legs to my arms. I couldn’t make it up even though I just watch my partner climb it. She lowered me down. We switched spots. While she was cleaning the route I stood there feeling like the biggest disappointment in the world. I would never be a great climber.
Everyone has a bad day. It is okay. Don’t forget to dump any shame at the door. Still afraid of a fall after perfecting your script? Its okay. You can still enjoy climbing. You can still be a great climber. You can still improve. You can still train. If I would have believed myself in that moment I would have quit. Instead I kept at it, and used this fear as a motivation. While not perfect I do have a much better grip on my mental strength.
Its okay to take it a step at a time. Work on your script. Next week we can move on to the next step. 🙂
What is your mental script?