Monday, 18 June 2012

Climbing and the power of negative thinking

I went climbing on Saturday. It wasn't the first time I've ever been climbing, as I used to go bouldering in Mile End when I lived in London, but it's the first time I've done proper roped, outdoor climbing on Actual Rocks (at least since I was a kid, which was only once and too long ago to count). So it was quite exciting and actually quite scary, as obviously when you're roped you go higher and do harder pitches than when you're not. And I'm a little bit afraid of heights.

It's always good to do things you're scared of, though. You discover things about yourself. Like your maximum heart-rate. And your default swearwords.

But the best thing I discovered was the liberating power of low expectations.

Now I realise this goes against a lot of what we get told. The general philosophy seems to be that in order to achieve something you have to tell yourself incessantly that you can do it. Be determined. Tell yourself you won't be beaten. Insist on the possibility of your chosen task. Insist on your own brilliance. Sooner or later all that positive thinking will convince everyone who needs to be convinced, and all will be well. And often it works, and you can see why. No one ever got anywhere by deciding it was useless to try.

But on Saturday... It was funny. I struggled not to give up because I didn't want everyone to think I was pathetic. I was determined. I was positive. And I clung helplessly to various rockfaces, occasionally bobbing up and down on my toes and reaching limply for bits of rock that were just too far away to touch, telling myself I was Not Going To Be Beaten. Until finally I thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers, waved down at my climbing partner and said, 'I'm stuck.'

Whereupon I could move. And did. Upwards. In a beautiful fluid leap, right to the top.*

As soon as it was OK to fail, it was easy to climb.

I suppose the logical extension of this is to accompany every demanding task with a little pep-talk about how no one could reasonably expect me to attempt this, let alone achieve it, and failure is absolutely fine and indeed to be expected, and - well, getting stuck and having to be lowered down is TOTALLY OK.

The implications for writing are too obvious to be pointed out. (And they don't come as a surprise. Although it was a salutary reminder for me, right now.)

I will simply say that, as with writing, you know you've made a decent stab at it when you end up with bruises.

Bruises... everywhere.

* Yeah, so this is a bit of an exaggeration. (*Cough*hugeexaggeration*cough*.)


  1. Nice article. The best (my favorite) line: "As soon as it was OK to fail, it was easy to climb." So true! And for most anything in life!

  2. That's an interesting way of looking at things though I'm not sure if I could follow your example. I'm just a little bit (understatement) too stubborn for my own good.


    I just saw an ad for Mazecheat in a catalogue telling me it's coming out here in September! I may have done a squiggley dance in my chair.