On any given day, more than 20,000 thoughts surface in your conscious mind. If there is a natural tendency in the direction of thoughts, it may be to focus on problems, fears, and frustrations. To some degree, this tendency to focus on the negative and threatening aspects in life is a genetic defense mechanism.
However, the tendency to view things compulsively from the “cup is half empty” perspective or the worst-case scenario is a conditioned habit that will hold you back.
Gaining higher self-awareness, then, must include tuning into your thoughts more often and supplanting negative thinking and worrisome mental imagery with positive imagery and productive self-talk. Consider that everything you are and everything you will become is a direct function of your thoughts.
Thoughts are precursors to almost every action you make, including each climbing sequence and workout. Given this perspective, what could be more central to improving performance than fostering curious, proactive, and goal-directed thoughts that will direct high quality actions?
The impact of getting your climbing head on straight can’t be understated both in terms of immediate results and long-term improvement. For example, just as finding a hidden hold on desperate crux can make it feel way easier, the effects of eliminating fearful, doubtful self-talk can feel like a ten-pound weight is taken off your back. Similarly, targeting your thoughts on moving in smooth, economic ways will yield a more optimal use of your strength. There are countless other ways that higher quality thinking will enhance your performance. In aggregate, the long-term effects of closely guarding and directing your thoughts could be the difference between climbing 5.9 or 5.13 a few years from now.
Becoming aware of the unproductive self-talk and negative imagery is the first and hardest step to turning it around. Tune into your self-talk throughout the day, at home, work, and at the gym. What are you hearing? Ultimately, the goal is to modify your thinking in ways that will help you solve problems (instead of wallowing in them), challenge fears (instead of avoiding them), and compel intelligent action toward your goals (instead of backpedaling at the first sign of adversity). These very specific ways of thinking are the essence of mental toughness–a hallmark of top climbers (and peak performers) the world over.