Week Three: Developing Mental Strength with Yoga

This is week 3 of these blog posts looking at developing mental strength on the mat while practicing the posture and then using those mental techniques to cultivate strength in other aspects of your life.  Have you tried any of the poses to date? How did you feel?  If you have read these posts and have not tried the poses, why not?

At most the practice will take 5 minutes depending on the length of time you wish to remain in the pose.  Notice if you feel resistance to undertaking the practice, if you have been practicing, how did you feel afterwards?

This week, whether you have done this to date or not, practice this pose.  Set your phone or alarm for 5 minutes and see what happens!

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This week the pose in focus is Wide legged forward bend or Prasarita Padottanasana.  This pose is not as challenging as the previous two in the sense that it is a more releasing and opening pose than strengthening.

Set up the pose......More details on this pose can be found here

1. INTENTION-encourage your intention to keep attention on what your body is doing-breathing, relaxing into the pose, and encouraging proper form.

2. WITNESS- notice when your attention shifts from doing to thinking.  Your mind may create doubts about your ability to continue holding the pose.

3. DELAY- Dont react to the doubts.  Rather, stay in the pose with the stress and delay reacting. This allows space for awareness to develop.

4. DISSOCIATE OR REDIRECT ATTENTION- Coach yourself back to your intention and keep attention on your bodes process.

5. FIND LITTLE WAYS TO ENGAGE-Keep attention engaged in your body by making subtle shifts in posture or transferring weight for one leg to the other.

We are constantly everyday filled with thoughts and distractions and unknown to ourselves reacting and behaving as a result of these thoughts and distractions.  The practice of yoga is about cultivating more awareness, if there are thoughts there, acknowledge them and let them go.  You are developing the skills to become an active participant in how your mind is working as opposed to being a slave to the ups and downs of the minds patterns.

With conscious awareness, you can release the need to follow distracting thoughts and turn down the volume, allowing for greater awareness of the breath and becoming more immersed in your yoga practice, more immersed in the moment and using that off the mat to lose yourself in the joy of activities or sports, music or art, whatever it may be for you.  Give yourself some time to get lost-thinking less and doing more!

Enjoy!

As always, happy to hear how you are getting on........and if you have read this and still feeling like you are note sure whether to try it or not, take 5 minutes to sit still and observe the breath, its only 5 minutes!

Week Two: Developing Mental Strength with Yoga

This is the 2nd week of developing mental strength through the practice of Yoga.  Did you try out Warrior One last week?  How did you get on?  Did you make any notes, reflect on the experience?

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This week the pose of the week is Dancer pose or Natarajasana.  This is a lovely balancing pose for encouraging strength, focus , length in the thigh and hip flexor and expansion in the chest swell as moving towards a backbend and creating more mobility in the spine.

Each week try out the pose suggested or even as you practice the pose in a class bring the following activity to mind;

SET UP:

Take the form of Dancer pose (The video above shows a few different variations), if experiencing tightness in the hip flexor or quad, a simple standing balance can be undertaken.  Encouraging strength in the supporting leg, awareness on the breath, length in the spine and engaging the core.  For a more detailed outline of the physicality of this pose, follow here

Choose a length of time to undertake the pose that will inject some stress, unlike last week, both feet are not placed on the mat for balances, so the length of time here will depend on your supporting leg strength, aim for up to one minute and more if you feel able.

1. INTENTION-encourage your intention to keep attention on what your body is doing-breathing, relaxing into the pose, and encouraging proper form.

2. WITNESS- notice when your attention shifts from doing to thinking.  Your mind may create doubts about your ability to continue holding the pose.

3. DELAY- Dont react to the doubts.  Rather, stay in the pose with the stress and delay reacting. This allows space for awareness to develop.

4. DISSOCIATE OR REDIRECT ATTENTION- Coach yourself back to your intention and keep attention on your bodes process.

5. FIND LITTLE WAYS TO ENGAGE-Keep attention engaged in your body by making subtle shifts in posture or transferring weight for one leg to the other.

Throughout this exercise, we are trying to introduce the distraction of stress.  What distracting thoughts did you become aware of? Were you able to create a focus such as looking towards a spot on the wall or listening to a song to escape the stress?  Stress can be a major distraction of our attention in any challenging situation.  By witnessing your minds desire to escape stress, delaying this reaction and redirecting attention to your body, you can learn to process stress and stay committed.

Take notes on your experience, feel free to contact me and let me know how you are getting on and any questions you have.

As you become stronger in your body, become stronger in your mind..........become an active participant in the activities of the mind and use the practice to observe thoughts and with practice cultivate thoughts that are more beneficial to a healthier you and enable a more balanced outlook on life. 

Week One: Developing Mental Strength with Yoga

For the month of May, undertake this challenge with me to develop mental strength.  I will profile one pose each week.  The idea is that each week for the month you will practice a specific pose.  On a physical level you will agin the opportunity to become more aware of your body in the pose and certain areas that require attention.  On a mental level, we will work over the course of the month, to direct our focus in an effort to develop greater mental strength.

Mental strength can enable us to feel stress in the mind and act with focus rather than avoiding or hindering our progress in a reaction to stress.  Mental strength can enable us to make positive choices, to act in our best interests in tough situations, it can enable us with the strength to have power over sensual desires such as another piece of chocolate or another cigarette or another glass of wine...With greater mental strength we can feel stable through the ebbs and flows of our external environments and feel steady and grounded.  Mental strength can provide us with the skills to maintain focus in challenging situations e.g. in an exam or on an assignment, in a challenging interview or in a sporting environment, to not allow ourselves to become distracted and maintain our focus on a specific task.

WEEK ONE: This weeks pose is Virabhadrasana 1 or Warrior 1 pose.

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Each week try out the pose suggested or even as you practice the pose in a class bring the following activity to mind;

SET UP:

Take the form of Warrior 1 pose, encourage your front knee in the direction of your front toes and have weight equally spread over your back foot which is turned in 15 degrees.  Lengthen your arms and engage your navel towards your spine, hips are encouraged square to the front of the mat.  For a more detailed outline of the physicality of this pose, follow here

Choose a length of time to undertake the pose that will inject some stress i.e. 2-5 minutes

1. INTENTION-encourage your intention to keep attention on what your body is doing-breathing, relaxing into the pose, and encouraging proper form.

2. WITNESS- notice when your attention shifts from doing to thinking.  Your mind may create doubts about your ability to continue holding the pose.

3. DELAY- Dont react to the doubts.  Rather, stay in the pose with the stress and delay reacting. This allows space for awareness to develop.

4. DISSOCIATE OR REDIRECT ATTENTION- Coach yourself back to your intention and keep attention on your bodes process.

5. FIND LITTLE WAYS TO ENGAGE-Keep attention engaged in your body by making subtle shifts in posture or transferring weight for one leg to the other.

Throughout this exercise, we are trying to introduce the distraction of stress.  What distracting thoughts did you become aware of? Were you able to create a focus such as looking towards a spot on the wall or listening to a song to escape the stress?  Stress can be a major distraction of our attention in any challenging situation.  By witnessing your minds desire to escape stress, delaying this reaction and redirecting attention to your body, you can learn to process stress and stay committed.

Take notes on your experience, feel free to contact me and let me know how you are getting on and any questions you have.

 

Effective Training Strategies-Part 3: Motivation

Siurana, Spain-Beautiful climbing locations inspire and motivate climbers.

This is the last in my little series on  effective training strategies.  In this post I will look at perhaps my most favourite topic to discuss and think about-Motivation! In understanding motivation and what motivates you as an individual, you can then go about creating the optimal training and performance environment for learning, progression and enjoyment.

In the last post I discussed the concept of a challenge vs a threat, if as an athlete a situation is viewed as a challenge, one is much more likely to feel fired up, ready to perform and become involved in  positive way.

Leading on from this, through looking at and analysing your motivations or reasons for participating in climbing or sport, one can then begin to understand and cultivate situations where you feel most motivated and can direct your energy in a positive manner.

Energy to Burn!

This is a fascinating idea, in The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to the idea that we all as individuals have masses of energy waiting to be unleashed.  The idea is that with a little cue (known as primal cues), the spark can be ignited and your energy will burn.  It is not the case that person A has so much more energy than person B, which is often perceived.  It is that person A has received or been given a cue that enables them to say I want to get involved, I am motivated and have masses of energy to burn.

Primal Cues

So what are primal cues? They are those tiny moments in time, a little word from someone, a subconscious perception of a situation or environment, a look, a physical experience...the list goes on.  They are like the atm card to an account full of endless amounts of money, once you put the card in the machine, bingo!!!

In the beginning, when you first started climbing, there was something there, something happened that made you pick climbing, made you invest time, money and energy into it.  Some primal cue enabled you to subconsciously tap into your funds and keep on paying!  It didn't work for perhaps team sports, or music or the arts but climbing got you fired up.

There could be a number of reasons for this and that is for you to understand.  It could have been the fact you made friends or that the movement felt fun or that the travelling and time in the outdoors appealed.  The point is that when you look at a number of reasons as to why you became motivated in the first place and maybe how that is changing over time, you can begin to understand what makes you tick as such.

On any climbing occasion since you have started, there are days that seem to go perfectly, days were all your motivations feel ignited.  We have all felt this at some point, a point in your climbing where you suddenly felt super motivated, super enthusiastic and with a tonne of energy became involved and perhaps achieved a goal.  Its those magic days at the crag or training sessions that you didn't want to end.

It is like me

In the book with Winning in Mind, one of the fundamental ideas Lanny Bassham discusses is the fact that when you perceive in a situation that it is like you to win, get to the top, complete a move, then you are more likely to feel fired up to engage yourself in the specific task and achieve your goal.

The most fundamental Primal Cue derived from this theory then would be something that makes you believe it is like you.  

With any activity one becomes involved in, the idea that it is like you to participate is key-eg I now want to do this because it feels like me, it feels like me to be like these other people involved and it feels like me to enjoy this activity.

Considering this fact, primal cues then in many situations will be those that allow you to believe 'it is like me to do this', maybe that is seeing someone like you do it, hearing about successful achievements by your peers, feeling through your movements the sense that it is possible, getting approval or encouragement from someone you respect.  Whatever the cue, behind it is the idea that you suddenly believe it is like you to achieve your goal.

Chillax in Glendalough, a boulder problem that I had tried on a number of occasions over about 3 years! I never thought I could do it, I had zero motivation for doing it, until last year, I saw a couple of friends try and do it and something just changed in my mind, I just knew I could do it and it was like me to be able to do it.  No major physical changes and taken place but my attitude was completely different.  I was suddenly motivated and wanted to try it with conviction and I did it.  

Testosterone-The Motivational Hormone

Another interesting aspect of Motivation is hormone production.  When you experience in your body a boost in Testosterone, you feel motivation to perform or become actively engaged.  Testosterone is usually driven by completing or performing something you care about or perceive you will receive approval for from your peers.  It is the hormone driven by a desire for social belonging.  It is often mis perceived as the hormone of aggression or alpha male syndrome! but this is not the case, regardless of gender, individuals who are about to become engaged in a task they want to do well in in order to belong to a certain group or to receive approval will get a boost in testosterone.

So in training or performing, testosterone levels will increase where you feel in a group that you wish to seek approval from or acknowledgement- e.g. winning a trophy, being called the best, getting your mates pat on the back or your partners praise.  Your levels of Testosterone will increase when you care about the outcome.

In the Talent Code, Coyle writes that we are fundamentally socially driven beings and are motivated by a sense of belonging.  We will complete tasks and activities that we feel give us a sense of belonging or acceptance from our peers, our friends, our co-workers. So what I feel is important here is again go back to asking yourself why you climb, why are you climbing now, what motivates you? what do you wish to achieve? and if you surround yourself with others of a similar mindset you are again much more likely to feel motivated, due to the concept of a shared experience and also the sense of valuing belonging to that group.

In Competition

In competition the theory of testosterone is the same.  You will have an increase in testosterone levels when you care about the outcome.  The same would apply for red points, onsight attempts etc.  When you do not care about the outcome, testosterone will not respond.  Remembering though that caring about the outcome does not mean in the event thinking about it too much to your detriment.  Once in a performance situation the focus should be entirely on your performance and immersing yourself in the zone.  In this way you will have prepared yourself knowing that you care about the outcome but on the day you are primed and ready for pure execution.  

When one takes their focus off their performance and suddenly cares less about the outcome, testosterone levels will not increase and performance motivation will suffer.  Studies (quoted from research in Top Dog)  have shown for example in dog handling competitive events where females and males compete alongside each other, females did not experience an increase in testosterone levels, why? Because they made friends with the other female competitors and became less concerned with the outcome in the event.  This may not be a bad thing if you want to go to an event to make friends, but if you wish to perform, focusing on your performance and caring about the outcome will help to boost testosterone levels helping to motivate you to become engaged.

Climbing is a really socially dependant sport, it may seem often that it is an individual activity but without the support and encouragement of those around me, I would not be motivated.  

Task vs Ego 

Another interesting concept to throw into the motivation discussion is the idea of your orientation.  There are two predominant types of orientation towards competition/performance.  

Task orientation is where an individual is focused on the completion of a task and is motivated towards that goal.  Task orientation will involve analysis of a specific task/goal and how to achieve it and whether it is possible.  If it is perceived possible then one is obviously more motivated to do it.  Ego orientated individuals on the other hand are focused on their performance in relation to others.  There will be an analysis of how others are performing and how one would rank in comparison.  If the perception is favourable in terms of performing better than another, there is an increase in motivation and if not there is a decrease.

So this is interesting, along with the above idea of asking yourself why you chose climbing, or why you train or why you continue to climb.  You can now ask yourself, I am picking this project, this activity to work towards a task/a movement/an experience, or did I pick this to perform better than somebody else, or win, or be the best, complete a climb first etc.

There is no right or wrong here, what is important is that you understand you as an individual and what you want to gear your energy towards, because if it is being the best, then create the situation preferential to achieving that, look at how the best are training, what they are eating, how long they train etc and then do better! If you are focused on a task then get to know everything there is to know about the task win question and how you can achieve it!

'It's important to have goals and drive but also to stop yourself and ask 'why'? Why is it so important that I achieve a certain pose? I ask myself this on a regular basis. Often my honest answer is, "because I saw someone else do it and I need to be able to do it just as well. . .aka EGO." Other times it's because I'll feel empowered, or present, or connected or even magical. Regardless, it's important to ask yourself why. You may find after you answer the pose it is of no importance or it may very well rock your world. The key is to stay honest. Be open to modification, practice and dedication.' Kathryn Budig

The Yogic Perspective

In Yoga, your sense of motivation or enthusiasm is known as Tapas, your burning enthusiasm, your self discipline on the journey to enlightenment.  It is regarded as a flame that once lit is very hard to extinguish and once the fire is roaring it is very easy to sustain.  It is the energy that carries forward, that prevents against lethargy or doubt or disbelief.  It enables us to have energy to practice with dedication, to train, to eat well, to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle, to pursue goals, to challenge oneself, to struggle, to grow and to learn.  Against the odds, your tapas will enable you to stay true to your beliefs and your values.  It is recommended that in times of doubt or if your fire is fading to seek inspiration from others and surround yourself with others who are enthusiastic.

In Yoga, one must constantly practice turning inwards, meaning withdrawing the awareness from the external world- others around us, thoughts, actions, words of others and developing a close connection to your inner wisdom and knowledge.  In doing this, all of your actions in this world are driven by a deep understanding of your reasoning and ultimately all endeavours are for a greater good for you and those around you.

In anything physical that we endeavour to complete, it is undoubtedly challenging our mental strength, our ability to push through our pre conceived ideas of what is capable, our ability to feel physical hardship and effort and to embrace it, our ability to believe in the value of our endeavours and appreciate any obstacle as a new lesson, a new opportunity for growth.

External life is a life of ups and downs, and for a weak person it sometimes becomes tiring and even exhausting. But for a strong person, every ascent is a joy and every descent is a game. - Swami Satyananda

Motivation and your Training/Performance

So the key here is that we have tonnes of energy, we ignite that energy by receiving Primal Cues that enable us to believe it is like me to do this. How do we find out what they are for us?

To do that I think it is important to go back to why you are doing your activity, for example with climbing, why do you go to the climbing wall, why do you go outdoors, why do you pick the projects you do? When you have your answers you can understand how to create situations to embrace them.  Say for example you want to train to become stronger for a project, the project you have picked is for the reason that its in a nice location, its a new grade, it has nice moves, whatever.  What you can do then is climb with another person who has the same target, someone who shares your ideas and goals.  You could also watch videos of your project being completed by others like you for inspiration.  You could stick pictures up in your house.  You could climb or train with someone stronger who will encourage or guide you towards your goal.  

When you know what motivates you and what gets your energy burning you then make sure to create those situations as much as possible, if not every time to create success.

It may not always be climbing in itself that keeps you motivated and inspired to go on trips, having fun is a huge element to continued participation!




Effective Training Strategies Part 2: Challenge vs Threat

Last week I wrote about the importance of acknowledging the process in training and the journey towards your goals and desired outcomes.

Part 2 in this series of blog posts concerns our perceptions towards challenges and how that affects our performance.

This topic is fascinating to me, the idea that how we think affects how our body reacts is amazing and that in changing our thought patterns, changing how we view situations we can change not only how we feel emotionally and mentally in a given circumstance but how our bodies feel and perform.

A Challenge vs A Threat

In 'Top Dog', Ashley Merriman refers to two types of situations, real or perceived, experienced by an individual.  The first being a Challenge (something you think you can overcome/be successful at, asking yourself questions such as Can I do it? Am I right?) and the second being a Threat (A situation where you believe there is no chance you can do it, you feel ill equipped, under prepared, less skilful, fear loss and fear failure).  

In life these situations could be real, think of encounter with a deadly animal or in a sporting context the perception of these situations is a result of ones thoughts and ideas.

The real life situation and our perceptions however, have the exact same physiological effects.

In a challenged state the blood vessels expand, the lungs inflate, the levels of oxygen increase and the body will burn stored glucose.  The body will provide just the right amount of adrenalin to perform.  Psychologically, your singular motivation is to go at that thing that is challenging you and overcome it. You are confident that you have the capabilities to surmount the challenging situation.

In a threatened state the blood vessels constrict to protect vital organs, the lungs tighten and glucose is burnt form the blood stream for a burst of energy.  The body will begin to produce cortisol.  Psychologically you want to flee from the threat and your confidence plummets.

What does this mean for the Athlete/Sports Person?

In a sporting context research has shown that where an individual perceives a challenge, their response was to cope with the challenge, their bodies provided enough energy to perform and execute required skills.  In contrast where a threat is perceived, individuals began to shut down after an initial burst of energy.

In the picture above, Muhammad Ali sought out to challenge Joe Fraiser and to reclaim his world title, Muhammad Ali saw this as a challenge, he wanted to prove he was the ultimate champion.  Joe Fraiser on the other hand had everything to lose, he was threatened by Muhammad Ali reclaiming the title, he was afraid of losing the fight and his status.  Muhammad Ali was of course victorious, his body lasted to fight well after Joe Fraiser began to shut down.

In that case both Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraiser were well trained, well prepared and capable of giving a good fight, what can cause a win or a loss however can boil down to thoughts, attitudes and how that affects your body.

In the case of climbing, a threat can be perceived in any number of situations e.g. competitions, on a red point attempt, climbing in front of peers, climbing at a new location.  If a threat is perceived, if one begins to feel anxious or afraid, the individual will enter into a threatened state and the body will respond, resulting in a shaky performance, perhaps rushed and eventually burn out.

'Look at it like this. Two athletes, Athlete A and Athlete B, are of equal ability and equally well prepared for an upcoming competition. Upon arrival at event, they encounter really bad weather conditions. Athlete A sees the conditions and thinks “This is awful. I hate these conditions. How am I going to perform well today.” In contrast, Athlete B thinks, “These are tough conditions, but I’ve been training under these conditions and everyone has them anyway. I’m going to crush it!” Clearly, Athlete A sees the race as a threat, while Athlete B sees it as a challenge. Who do you think will have a better race? Athlete B, obviously.' (The cluttered mind uncluttered, by Jim Taylor, Ph.D.)

Changing the thought Processes

Ultimately then to ensure that you get the best performance from your body the thought processes must be changed.  Where an individual can begin to see situations now as challenges where previously they may have felt threatening.

A stepping stone to this is actually changing your reaction to bodily responses.  In a new situation such as a competition the hear rate may begin to rise, you may have sweaty palms, feel an increase in body temperature etc.  If you can interpret this and report this as 'Excitement' even telling others that you feel excited, studies have shown this has a much more positive effect on the body, in contrast those who express 'nervousness' have shown to exhibit negative physiological response and reduce capacity to perform.

So this is interesting, where all individuals feel the same bodily responses initially, its the interpretation and the eventual ability to deal with those responses that differs athletes...think of the saying 'he/she deals very well under pressure', as Merriman states, 'The real distinction between professionals and amateurs is their response to anxiety.'

What to do next:

So in your training how can you develop your attitude towards challenge?

1) In training notice your thoughts and responses to new situations-maybe in climbing its a new type of movement e.g. Dyno's, maybe its climbing with a new person, perhaps a stronger peer. become aware of a situation that you feel anxious in and notice how you respond.  

2) Begin to encourage yourself to remain in these new situations and repeat to yourself that you are excited, express to others your excitement.

3) If you feel you have entered into a threatened state, i.e. you feel shaky, nervous, apprehensive, take some time out, taking some deep breaths, relax the body and mind.

4) Outside of your training environment develop a practice of deep breathing, of meditation or relaxation, allow your body to regularly feel a completely relaxed state free of thoughts/worries of physical stress, in this way you will develop skills that can be initiated in times of need.

Effective Training Strategies Part 1: 'The Process'

This blog is part one of a series of posts I am writing on creating effective strategies to improve your performance.  I am writing these strategies with climbing in mind but can be applied to any sports, or from career/job aspirations to general exercise motivations/well being.

Over the past few weeks I have read a number of psychological training books and I am combining a summary of this knowledge with my own yogic and climbing perspective.

In any sporting field we wish to perform in or at least participate well in, there is a vast array of knowledge on physical training and how to prepare our bodies.  What I feel is sometimes acknowledged but often over looked is the mental preparation required for all our endeavours.  

Mental preparation and development is paramount to success and Im hoping to breakdown some things I've learnt here into sizeable and rememberable chunks.  

All of my writing and summarising is a combination of what I've read and what I've learnt first hand. Through my own errors and mistakes I'm learning to improve, to challenge myself and Im hoping by using the tips Ive written about here to progress my own climbing even further.  Hopefully you will read or learn something that you can take away with you and use in your own training. and we can help give each other psyche along the way!

The Process- Improving your performance step by step

In all our training plans and strategies, considering the fundamental process involved in attaining skills is worth acknowledging.  Acquiring any skill requires 'deep practice' as referred to in 'The Talent Code' by Daniel Coyle, this deep practice aids to develop not only the requisite muscle groups but also allows for the development of neural circuits in the body and most importantly Myelin.  Myelin is the neural insulation that wraps around nerve fibers, making signals sent through the nerves faster and stronger.  In his book on skill development, Coyle describes the importance of developing this Myelin so that overtime the body can execute skills intuitively, with more speed and accuracy, essentially firing on demand.  Myelin grows in response to certain signals, meaning practice.  The more you try something, the more your body can respond to the demands being placed on it and adapt to create function.

In climbing the process of developing a wide variety of skills, a wide variety of movements is extremely important.  You want to have prepared your body in such a way that it intuitively knows where to shift weight to hold minimal holds and move efficiently, that it knows how to hold a wide variety of holds and use them to move off of, you want to be able to read upcoming sequences and know that in difficult sequences your body will know how to complete them.  You want to get to the chains or the top of a boulder and feel that joy that your trained body executed the skills required of it.  

So here is where the mental training comes in!  To do all this you need to mentally acknowledge the process involved in deep practice.  You need to turn up to every training session, knowing that the skills you work on today are building blocks, are recorded pieces of data that you can call upon again in performance to assist you in success.  So when your mind wanders to thoughts of goals, or 'projects' or outcomes, you need to reel it back in, in a sense, at every training session, reminding yourself to focus on skills that you need to build up, 'How am i on steeper angles?', 'How am i on crimps?', 'How am I with slopers?'etc.  By building up a wide repertoire of skills, you will then have a wider number of those skills you can call upon and overall develop yourself as a better climber.

This process is about obviously as mentioned the physiological benefits but to get there this process needs to be acknowledged and appreciated in your mind and remind you of the journey to achieving whatever it is your goals are.

This can be difficult for your mind to acknowledge as we are often inundated with news and snippets online of all the achievements and all the success stories! Alex Honnold refers to this in a great article about his learning in climbing, 'Yet thinking about it now I realize that I was falling into the same mistake that most people make when they look at climbing media, putting all the successes on a pedestal, and not realizing the time and effort that went into achieving them. Climbing has a slow learning curve, and most of the best climbers have been practicing this art/sport their entire lives (except maybe for Chris Sharma, who was better than everyone else right from the get go.)'

To train effectively and acknowledging this process, start to measure YOUR own performance, yes! not that of anyone else at the wall or at the crag! After very session or day out, record your performance, Larry Basham refers to this as 'A Performance Journal' in 'With Winning in Mind'.  In this way you can record how you are doing overtime and be acutely aware of where you can improve and where needs more work.  To focus on yourself and release the need to compare to others can create an immense amount of freedom for you.  Of course we can look to others for inspiration, for motivation, for tips on how to improve but ultimately we are all different, and you will never reach your own personal potential if you constantly measure yourself against others around you.

Goal Setting:

Of course with all this process involved it is still really beneficial to have goals, but do set your goals mindfully, in all your goals setting incorporate the process.  Instead of having ONE goal, have a number of steps along the way.  In 'Climb Strong's- Successful Sessions - 34 Training Tips for Better Rock Climbing', this climbing tip is referred to- 'Beware of the cusp grades' Instead of getting sucked into one area with which to measure yourself off and create pressure to succeed, having a number of goals can allow for more areas in which you can congratulate yourself or reward your efforts.

Recording and reviewing your performance journal allows you to see and identify a number of areas where you can improve so create interim and measurable  goals e.g. 'I want to improve my max pull up's', 'I want to be able to do set boulder problem twice in a row', 'I want to climb 10 of such and such grade at varying angles and of different styles.'  

With having a number of goals as stepping stones perhaps to a greater goal, you give yourself the opportunity to maintain enthusiasm, to constantly observe improvements, in turn boosting confidence.

Long term Commitment

Of course the final aspect of acknowledging this process is acknowledging that it will take a LONG time! we all want fast track results, we all want to feel like we only had to train for three weeks and then we got our project! But this doesn't always happen!  

As Alison Merriman mentions in 'Top Dog-The science of Winning and Losing', if we acknowledge that this will take a long time, noting that 'Im on my way', then being on a journey is more manageable, you are less likely to burn out because you have not reached an abstract goal or looking for instant gratification.  In the Talent Code, this is referred to as Long term Commitment, in a variety of talent hot beds studied, it was shown that those who perceived themselves as committed to their chosen activity for a long time, felt less pressure to practice as much and had greater rates of improvement than those who only perceived themselves as committed for a short term.  'It is about their perception of self.  At some point very early on they had a crystallising experience that brings the idea to the fore, I am a musician.  that idea is like a snowball rolling down a hill.'  

Being committed to something in the long term means seeing the bigger picture, aligning this chosen activity within all areas of your life and allowing the process to flow freely.  This removes any sense of pressure and mentally you are free to enjoy activities, enjoy the process.  This is referred to by Scott Barry Kaufin, as Harmonoius Passion, a state of being able to engage in a task while also being able to disengage, seeing the bigger picture, as opposed to Obsessive passion, which is a state of being unable to disengage, feeling pressure to perform, feels conflict between their passion and other areas of their lives. 'Harmonious Passion is correlated with flow-the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task. Flow is conducive to creativity, not obsessive passion.  The positive emotions and intrinsic joy that are associated with harmonious passion are what propels one to greatness, not the negative emotions, compulsions and unstable ego that is associated with obsessive passion.'

What to do next?

1) Create a performance journal and on the first page create a list of skills you are currently strong in and skills you wish to improve. (If you have a goal or two you would like to achieve, make a list of the skills necessary for that goal)

2) Create a list of training techniques/strategies that will work on the skills/areas you wish to improve.

3) Create a list of goals that incorporate skills you wish to improve and have them as measuring guidelines to indicate if your training is working.

4) If you have a specific goal or number of goals e.g. a grade or a specific problem/route, add that to your list of goals to keep in mind while training.

5) After every training or climbing session, write how the session went in your performance journal, keep this very specific, what did you do, what could you not do and how you work to do that in the future.

6) Assess your mental attitude to long term commitment and the process of training, are you psyched, excited, do you enjoy the idea of training?  If training seems like an obstacle, a chore, a boring activity, it will feel much harder to develop skills and in turn feel much more demoralising as you do not see your performance improve.  Decide how you can improve on this, reward yourself for efforts during training, praise yourself for little improvements, praise those around you and notice their efforts and their improvements.

Climbing in Montsant-Ive begun my year this year, working towards and achieving a number of interim goals,  more onsights and flashes in the low to mid 7's, generally consolidating in grades that are achievable but still provide a little challenge, this allows me to feel more confident, more relaxed and assured while working weaknesses and aiming towards a new grade.

Climbing in Montsant-Ive begun my year this year, working towards and achieving a number of interim goals,  more onsights and flashes in the low to mid 7's, generally consolidating in grades that are achievable but still provide a little challenge, this allows me to feel more confident, more relaxed and assured while working weaknesses and aiming towards a new grade.



'Fake it until you become it'!

I love love TED talks, Neal introduced me to these talks when we were travelling together a few years ago.  They are a great way of learning about so many different topics on those days when you don't feel like reading!

This talk by Amy Cuddy is in reference to our body language, not only affecting how others perceive us but also shaping how we perceive ourselves.

I just spoke about this concept in a class last night, that in Yoga classes, we put ourselves into certain Asanas/postures to gain physical benefits and changes but this in turn undoubtedly affects how we feel about ourselves on many levels.  Have you have ever been to a yoga class where you practiced handstand,or another type of arm balance and felt strong afterwards, felt this sense of joy and pride in yourself? Or in working on big opening poses like Urdhva Dhanurasana/Wheel pose and felt a sense of lift, a sense of compassion or love flood over you as you opened up? You may not be fully aware of these affects consciously but they are happening.

We convince ourselves all the time that 'This is me', 'I am like this', creating manageable boxes from which to understand and view ourselves, when the reality is we can always change, nothing is permanent.  We try to create permanence due to a fear of change.  However, any change can be uplifting and liberating and extend us into situations or experiences we never saw ourselves in or never thought possible.

This is not just a concept I have made up, as Amy Cuddy speaks in this amazing talk, she shows the science behind how we can shape ourselves to adapt to different situations and challenges by simply adapting our body language, where once you may have felt powerless, undermined or weak, you can become powerful, strong and assertive.

And if you don't feel ready, fake it until you become it!

Enjoy the talk, well worth watching and make sure to share!

Mental Strength

This article has been floating around this week, 13 things mentally strong people don't do

strong-brain.jpg

Mental strength just like physical strength is something we can train and work at.  I know for me mental strength can have taken negative connotations at times, creating images of someone 'stone faced' or cold, uncaring fixated on goals, targets etc.  Strong in this context does not have to mean a sacrifice or loss of other softer qualities.  

In Yoga we are always speaking of achieving balance, to have mental strength, one must for example have the courage to overcome fears, while also having the flexibility to learn from failure.  One must believe in themselves and taking action while also learning from others, listening and taking on board others opinions.

To improve your mental strength, it must be worked at, an issue that you wish to address must be faced and little by little changes made until a new habit is engrained in your way of behaving.  Weaknesses in our ways of thinking can hold us back, can keep us stuck in habits, can inhibit us from flourishing.

For me, I feel that mental strength equates now with a sense of knowing I'm making the right decisions in the situations or challenges I'm faced with, knowing with complete peace of mind how to move forward or act, without doubts of my abilities, or fear of the outcomes holding me back.  Mental strength means moving with ease, being adaptable, being receptive, without reservations, without harm, without ego or concern for only ones own gain.

To get unstuck in weaker mental habits, one must immerse oneself in uncomfortable situations, reflect on habitual responses and undo all those things that hold us back.  It may seem appealing in many situations to blame others, or think of the past, or become consumed with things we cannot control, but all of these habits like the above article mentions do not exist in a mentally strong persons repertoire.  

Find the habit, and let it go, leaving room for more productive ways of being.

Ultimately the mentally strong person will feel good about themselves, feel good about their actions and feel good about life.  Things can and most definitely can and do go wrong but its how we deal with them that tests our strength and how we recover, learn and move on.

 

Looking past limits

This is a really inspiring talk by Caroline Casey, people like this really open the gateway to allow us to believe anything is possible...

If you have some time to spare, it is well worth the view. 

 'Caroline Casey has dedicated the past decade of her life to changing how global society views people with disabilities. In 2000, she rode 1,000 kilometers across India on an elephant to raise funds for Sight Savers. Then, as founding CEO of Kanchi in Dublin, she developed a set of best practices (based on ISO 9000 quality standards) for businesses, to help them see "disabled" workers as an asset as opposed to a liability. Hundreds of companies have adopted the standards, changing their policies and attitudes.

In 2004, Casey started the O2 Ability Awards to recognize Irish businesses for their inclusion of people with disabilities, both as employees and customers. The initiative has received international praise and, in 2010, a parallel program was launched in Spain.'

"She is one of those people who, instead of just talking about changing the world, gets up and actually does it however tough the doing of it turns out to be. "

The Irish Times