Building Climbing Confidence

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Most good climbers will say that confidence plays a huge role in their ability to climb well. So much of climbing is mental that not believing you can do a move or make a clip can be the difference between success and failure. I think of gaining confidence like building a wall, each positive experience helps to build up the wall. So what happens when you don’t yet have the confidence to try hard or commit to an insecure move or clip? Or what if a negative experience causes your wall of confidence to come tumbling down?

In my case it was the latter. My mind, which used to be strong and confident, is now filled with self-doubt and insecurity. As I look to the next hold on a route it seems further away and less attainable. My mind tells me that I won’t be able to grab the next hold. My self-doubt makes me expect to miss the dead point before I have even initiated the move. I envision myself botching the clip just as I am about to pull up the rope.

This type of negative thinking holds us back from our goals. So how do we overcome our self-doubt and replace it with confidence? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. It’s something I’m still working on every time I climb. But I do have a few thoughts that are helping me and I hope they can help you too.

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Surround yourself with confident climbers who will push you.

My favorite people to climb with are those who don’t let me make excuses for myself and won’t let me back off of something that I am capable of. When I am lacking confidence in myself they fill the void with the confidence they have in me. Sometimes, when you don’t know if you can hit that hold just hearing someone you trust tell you that “you got it” is enough to believe that you actually do.

Tell yourself what a bad@$$ you are.

This is a new favorite of mine. When I’m resting or about to start I crux I tell myself how strong I am and that I have pulled harder, crimped smaller, or thrown bigger. It may seem silly but when you say something enough you eventually start to believe it. And if you’re reading this blog you rock climb so you are already a bad@$$!

Stop the negative self talk.

Just like talking to yourself in a positive way can help, talking to yourself in a negative way can hurt. I often hear people at the crag talking about how they don’t want to get on a particular climb because they “know it will go badly” as they are tying in to climb it. They are already setting up for failure. Try to block out the feelings of self doubt and replace them with positive thoughts or a reminder that this is supposed to be fun so whatever happens, happens.

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Train to build confidence.

Do something physical in order to see improvement. This could be practicing the crux of a particular climb or it can be as simple as lifting weights, pull ups, hangboarding etc., anything really. The goal is to do something physical that will allow you to quantify your newly gained strength or skill. By seeing the improvement, such as an increase in reps or added weight, you will gain more confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Accept positive feedback.

When someone tells you that you did a nice job or that you gave something good effort accept it. Don’t downplay your well deserved compliment by undercutting yourself with something like “it was my style” or “you should have seen the guy/girl before me”. You earned that compliment so take credit for it!

Build confidence through climbing.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for building up confidence in your physical and mental abilities. The best way to gain confidence in yourself is to prove it to yourself. The more times you make that one more move or hang on long enough to make that hard clip the easier it will be for you to believe in your ability to do so time and time again.

Climb on!

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5 thoughts on “Building Climbing Confidence

  1. Chris says:

    Personally, I like Royal Robbins’ motto, which goes something like “if you’re going to fail, fail falling.” Keeping that as a present thought, I work into a mindset of going for that hard move by pausing, relaxing, evaluating the move and consequences of a fall, breathing, and then exhaling as I leave my stance for the move/sequence. That momentary rest does wonders.

    Practice at falling (in safe scenarios) helps me know for real what happens when I should happen to not make the move. By adding clarity to consequences, the fear of falling (which is what paralyzes us, right?) is brought into the light as yet another piece of beta and often disappears.

    Bring a belayer who knows how to give a soft catch 🙂

  2. EJ says:

    Having a belayer you trust is critical. You can’t climb your best and micromanage your belayer. And to have them say: “I’m with you” when you hesitate is helpful too.
    I don’t find the standard/cliche “you got it” to work for me at all. It is so easily said by so many climbers as to be meaningless. But that’s just me.

  3. Gwen says:

    As a climber who struggles constantly with confidence on the wall, I can definitely relate to what you said about the mental side of things. Although I know I am a very strong climber (both muscle strength as well as solid technical skill), I constantly question myself and have a hard time quelling (VERY) negative self-talk while approaching a crux. I have also struggled tons with the involvement of my self-worth with my achievements when it comes to climbing. If I can’t commit to a crux move, or get spanked on a grade I feel I should be able to do easily, I often go through a dark spiral of self-shaming and yelling at myself for sucking so badly.

    Here are a few things that have helped me, and continue to be part of my process:

    – Approach cruxes (mental and physical) with curiosity. Instead of thinking I suck! I’ll never stick this move! Try and change your inner monologue from a negative one to a constructive one. E.g. What can I do to stick this move? I have found that just changing the tone of my self-talk helps me stay calm and look for ways to push through, rather than reasons to give up.
    – When you flop on a climb, celebrate the effort you put in! This helps “failures” become part of a constructive growth process. When I do this, I find that I feel more confident just by virtue of thinking of challenges as puzzles to be solved rather than obstacles to overcome.
    – Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh at how hard it was to muster the strength or courage to do a move or get a clip. Laugh at how scared you are/were. Remind yourself that fear, stress, and challenge are just a few of the consequences of this sport we have chosen, and not something to get hung up on.
    – Give yourself credit when you do something awesome! When you send your project or set your new best onsight grade, take responsibility for your success. It’s easy to chalk it up to a fluke or having a “good day” or something. Don’t. Accept how darn hard you worked for that moment.

    Here’s to this crazy, complicated game we play. 

  4. Judith Heath says:

    Good Day!!Climbing is very nice bonding time for friends..This blog have a nice idea and interesting also..

  5. Helen says:

    Thank you! It is always important to have a partner to whom you trust that he will always be near you., But also it is not unimportant to be self-confident in the first place, I advise you to do this

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