Let’s face it. The better you are at something, the more fun and expansive it usually is. I really don’t know a climber who doesn’t want to have fun—and get better. Often, however, these two emotions conflict. We want to improve, but not at the cost of it not being fun.

I hear this often in my guiding and teaching work. Maybe not in those exact words, but definitely in the actions taken or not taken to reach the goal. Climbers who say they want to be swapping leads on gear routes with their partners. Or who want to be leading the sport route they just top roped without any hangs. So what’s stopping them? More often than not, it’s the belief that climbing should only be fun. As soon as it feels scary, requires work, or leads to being uncomfortable, their goal becomes secondary. The reality is, the more work you put into something, the more reward you’ll receive. Reward comes at the cost of investing all those things like fear, discomfort and failure into a potential outcome. And a taste of that reward is all it takes to confirm that it was worth it. If you’re serious about moving forward with your climbing, here are some tips for taking it to the next level.

  • Be honest with yourself. Identify what your goal is and embrace being uncomfortable. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but like any goal in life, expressing it is the easy part. Seeing it through is the hard part. Do you really want to lead on trad? If so, then on your weekend, practicing mock leads, going back to easier routes, finding more experienced partners to give you feedback, are the steps you need to take. Going sport cragging or seconding another multiptich climb will not get you closer to this goal. As in everything difficult in life, you’ll find a million excuses to not work on your goal. To really improve, you have to accept that it will come with some discomfort. Anything worthwhile requires that.
  • Redefine success and failure. If you’re starting to push your grade, onsighting, or even getting to the top shouldn't be your only measure for success. Taking a fall, clipping a certain bolt, learning a new body movement, etc., are all new ways to look at success for the day. Just getting out there and trying is always a success!
  • Stick to your own agenda and goals. Don't let the day get swayed by other partners’ agendas. Go out with those who support your goal, and do the same for your partner. Know that when it’s your time on the rope, your partner has your back and is invested in what you’re doing. Give them the same time and energy back, and you will have a solid day. Worrying that you’re taking too much time or are not fast enough will only affect your performance and lower the fun factor.
  • Stop practicing what you’re good at. You arrive at the crag and see old friends and instantly just want to climb the routes you know well and can succeed at. Be open to being a learner and a beginner. Don’t worry about how you look or are being perceived. Upping the grades requires new techniques that you might not be familiar with. Those who work on their weaknesses and don’t care about impressing others will improve faster.
  • You are not alone. Everyone struggles with fear, self doubt and motivation while climbing. Fighting gravity is not a natural state for most. I recall hanging off a piece of gear at the Gunks early in my climbing career, for what felt like an eternity, with tear-filled eyes, unable to commit to the moves above. Clearly, I’m not still hanging there while writing this blog, but this wasn’t the first nor the last time I had to work through the demons. Remember it’s normal, and all climbers face internal battles

Lately, I’ve started to look at working on a project or a goal as an investment. Every burn I take, or step toward the end goal, I imagine I’m adding a loonie—a dollar for you non-Canadians—to the piggy bank. The more tries, the more loonies. Each effort is a worthwhile process, and the send in the end is that much more rewarding when the piggy bank is full.