personal growth - Jules McKim - a climber, traveler and writer exploring connections, cultures, and the mysteries of life.
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Rock climbing is more than just a sport or a hobby; it’s a way of life, an identity, an obsession, almost a religion and perhaps an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. As climbers, we face both physical and mental challenges that push us to evolve and adapt, ultimately shaping us into stronger, more resilient individuals. I think this is the most interesting aspect of our game and explore these ideas throughout Schooled By Rock.

Climbing demands a great deal from our bodies, requiring a combination of strength, flexibility, and endurance. Two hours bouldering in the gym and I’m done, plastered in sweat and aching for days. As we push ourselves to try something at the next grade level, our muscles grow stronger, and our stamina increases. This physical development not only makes us better climbers but also translates to improved overall fitness and well-being.

Our game is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Overcoming fear, managing stress, and maintaining focus are all essential aspects of the sport. As we conquer these mental hurdles (hopefully!), we develop valuable skills like problem-solving, decision-making, and mental resilience that can serve us well in other areas of our lives. So too we can try to develop a Zen-like quality of not trying too hard, of being relaxed in the effort. How often, when not really bothered about the outcome, do we achieve the best results? It’s kind of weird and fascinating.

Climbing teaches us that failure is a natural part of the learning process. As we encounter setbacks, we learn to pick ourselves up, analyse our mistakes, and try again with newfound knowledge and determination. Reframing failure as a learning opportunity is a powerful change to make to how we approach our climbing. This resilience and perseverance can help us face challenges and setbacks in other aspects of our lives with grace and determination.

Climbing requires intense focus and presence, as we must remain acutely aware of our surroundings, our body movements, and our mental state. This heightened awareness can lead to a more profound sense of mindfulness both on the rock and in our daily lives. I’ve found that the intensity of climbing facilitates the access to mindfulness where sitting on a cushion in a church hall didn’t.

As we progress in our climbing abilities, we gain self-confidence in our physical and mental capabilities. We also learn to trust ourselves and our partners, fostering a sense of interdependence and teamwork that can extend to our relationships and interactions outside of climbing.

The climbing community is a diverse and supportive network of individuals who share a passion for the sport. By connecting with fellow climbers, we can learn from their experiences, share our own stories, and forge lasting friendships. These connections can enrich our lives and promote personal growth through shared experiences and mutual support. The sharing of beta encourages you to see things from different perspectives: you learn your blind spots, your habits and your self-limiting beliefs and scripts along with your strengths and abilities.

This climbing of rock constantly pushes us to step outside of our comfort zones, whether it’s tackling a challenging route, attempting a new climbing style, or traveling to new destinations. This willingness to embrace the unknown and confront our fears can help us grow as individuals and develop a greater sense of adaptability and openness to new experiences.

Climbing outdoors brings us closer to nature, fostering a deeper appreciation for the natural world and our place within it. This connection can inspire a sense of responsibility and stewardship for the environment, encouraging us to protect and preserve the outdoor spaces we cherish.

The lessons we learn through climbing—resilience, adaptability, teamwork, mindfulness—can be applied to various aspects of our lives, from work to personal relationships. As we grow and develop as climbers, we might also grow as individuals, better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities that life presents.

Developing qualities and skills through climbing is easy as it is embedded in this activity that is so much fun! It’s also, of course, just about climbing rocks, an activity that many people do for simple pleasure without wanting or needing to think about this other stuff. Diving deep into the psychology and performance aspects of climbing might not be your thing. Perhaps the deeper gains come when you push yourself (originally mis-typed as ‘pish yourself’ – which is a whole other ball game) and are up against the boundaries of your current ability. Or maybe I’m just dressing up this pointless and self-obsessed past-time in fancy clothes. Either way, I’m not stopping. 

For further reading and information

Ilgner, A. (2006). The Rock Warrior’s Way. Desiderata Institute.

Pritchard, P. (2021). The Mountain Path. Vertebrate Publishing.

Roet, K. (2021). Climbing Psychology. Mind training for optimal climbing performance. Colt Press Ltd.