What Bouldering Taught Me About Life


I substituted my normal gym routine for about 3.5 months with bouldering. If you’ve never heard of bouldering, it’s basically what you think of when you think about rock climbing, except without ropes, which makes for a freer experience. Essentially, you can continue to try routes that look exciting, without asking a partner to belay you, or without worrying about failing if you want to keep trying the beginning part of the route ten times over.

The skillsets required to climb well are so versatile. You need flexibility, core, back, chest and leg strength (pistol squats, anyone?). Thing is, you never know what type of strength you will need before you face a problem.

It’s also easy to tell when someone is a seasoned climber. They will move slowly, deliberately, and with an air of grace. It’s really beautiful to watch a pro climber scale a wall almost effortlessly.

And now, onto the life lessons that bouldering has bestowed upon me:

You need to work up to at least base proficiency before you can truly enjoy the process.

It’s unfair to say that you hate rock climbing or don’t like it if you’ve only had one session and the reason you can’t continue for more than an hour is that your hands are burning. If your hands are burning because they’re not sufficiently callused, you’ll never know what you would be truly capable of if your hands weren’t the limiting factor.

The same goes with people who give up almost immediately with new skills they are trying to develop. Unless you can sufficiently navigate your way around the skill, then you don’t truly know the joys of performing that skill.

For instance, if you haven’t yet grasped the fundamentals of writing, it’s difficult to get into a flow and craft your words in an artsy manner while feeling good about the process. It usually comes as a disjointed attempt and the writer gets frustrated and stops, proclaiming that “writing is boring, and too hard.”

Good climbing is more about technique than it is about pure strength.

While someone who is physically strong can move themself up a wall, so can someone who has a solid technique even without bulging muscles.

That is to say, in order to climb well, you don’t already have to have some natural aptitude for it. You can simply train up with the techniques and then eventually become proficient, if not really great, at climbing. Heel hooks, staying close to the wall, and leveraging your body are all things that you can do to offset your inability to simply do a muscle up and top out on the route.

I’ve seen burly men struggle whereas a small girl might climb quickly to the top using proper technique, not pure strength. Lesson learned: it pays to learn the tricks of the trade—this will make it that much easier for you to progress in the sport, or in anything else that’s worthy of pursuit.

Sometimes you need to push through the fear to get to the top.

There were so many times in the few short months that I climbed where I truly questioned my own strength to pull through and “top out” (climb up and over the top) on a problem (route).

Whenever I finished a difficult route because someone below was rooting me on, or because I had the intrinsic motivation to prevail on a route, I felt so ridiculously satisfied. That feeling that you can indeed conquer the world. Or, at least, hoist your own body up some rocks.

Bouldering can be really frightening. I climbed indoors, but falling can still have real consequences. There were times where I almost didn’t finish routes because I was scared. It’s important to know your body’s limits, but there is just no way you can climb without some guts. Pushing yourself just outside of where you feel comfortable is where the most growth can happen.

I then started to notice this lesson transferring itself into my regular life. The whole idea of pushing yourself through exhaustion or taking a risk when it may or may not pay off has been invaluable in my work and life. I believe in the idea of mental discipline quickly transferring to other areas of your life—this is why meditation is an oft-cited way of finding your inner discipline.

Mentorship: Other people can give you the exact advice you need to finish a route.

I love climbing because it’s okay to openly watch someone and take tips from their climbing technique. It’s a sport where it is encouraged to learn from others and compete for personal bests, not with the goal of outperforming someone else. When you ask for “beta” (advice on how to finish a problem), people will willingly offer it to you and let you know how they finished a route (or in many cases, they will even go so far as to show you).

The lesson here? Just ask for help when needed. And, seek those who are wiser than thou.

Tell yourself it’s okay if you fail, you’re just going to try one more time.

The absolute best lesson I’ve learned is that tricking myself into just starting a route typically yields in me actually completing it. I found that once I got going on a route—even if it looked ridiculous and scary—I would be determined to continue to the top as long as I was still feeling good. By simply giving myself permission to stop anytime I want, I ended up achieving way more.

In summary, I really loved my bouldering experience. It taught me so much about how I view the world, and ways I can get myself to do something difficult. Have you had any new experiences that were especially eye opening lately?


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