Overcoming irrational fear.


Original Post
Steven Arant · · Augusta, Georgia · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 70

I've been climbing/leading 11s/12s and whatnot in the gym, but for some reason when I'm outside I can't seem to get past that irrational fear of leading the same stuff on the rock. I always find myself on 9/10b struggling to clip my bolts. What advice would you offer someone trying to overcome this hesitation/mental game?

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70

Outside is a completely different game. The gym can make your ligaments and muscles strong, but it cant teach you how to read rock and it cant simulate the scary moves that are common outdoors such as awkward bulges and corners.

Gym feet are bright colors and extremely obvious, outdoors feets are much more subtle and it takes time to be able to recognize them. I think that you should take a step back and build a really rood resume of 5.10s for your infrastructure, then move into 11s and 12s. Focus on the feet and getting clean, light sends.

Tylerpratt · · Litchfield, Connecticut · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 35

Gyms ratings are generally inflated for "feelgood ratings".

I also have always thought that it is easier to lead harder routes in a gym because the holds are obvious. You spend far less time looking for them because you know exactly where that fluorescent red crimp is and you know its the only hold there! The bolts are also closer together. (I would assume you are not comparing gym ratings to trad climbing.)

I would recommend climbing faster.

I also recommend the book The Rock Warriors Way. Tell yourself " I know I don't fall on 5.X grade so I will crush this, basically.

Seth Jones · · New Lenox, IL · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 25
grog m wrote:Outside is a completely different game.
This.

Grog, hows the hand healing?
John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 451
Steven Arant wrote: What advice would you offer someone trying to overcome this hesitation/mental game?
Get lots of mileage on real rock. Lead everything. Forget about the ratings and climb at a grade that seems easy to you, so you're relaxed and having fun. Don't be afraid to repeat routes.

When you're relaxed on the sevens and eights, move up to nines. Etc.
Steven Arant · · Augusta, Georgia · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 70

That helps. So be slow and static. Thanks for the advice!

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 790

Another strategy that worked for me (struggled with fear on lead for three years) was to climb one route outdoors, hang dogging or toproping, until it was perfectly rehearsed. Then, leading without takes was much more comfortable. Rinse and repeat, and the confidence you gain on familiar routes will carry over to new ones.

And taking a few honest whippers really does the mind some good - my lead head was broken (not physically) after taking a 40 whip after breaking a hold unexpectedly on a steep route. Obviously gym whippers are generally in a more controlled environment to practice on, but nothing beats the real thing as long as it's YOUR own hardware you are "abusing" - taking long, intentional repeated whippers on fixed draws (especially with popular routes) is poor stewardship.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650

Honestly, take some whippers on routes that have clean falls. I was always super nervous leading rock until I fell off enough times to understand that the rope WILL catch me.

Steven Arant · · Augusta, Georgia · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 70

Yeah, that's exactly how I feel sometimes. I know my grip is solid, my gear is secure, and everything is in order. I'll try to apply some of this tomorrow if I get a chance.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

Byrnes is far closer to the mark than the "take some whippers" advice. One of the many problems with the "whipper theory" is that even on sport climbs you can find yourself in places where a whipper may not be a good idea. How do you deal with the anxiety then? The answer is by having trained to be solid and to understand clearly what your body can and cannot do---not what the equipment may or may not do. Byrnes' recommendations will help to foster those skills, the whipper approach will not.

By the way, what makes you think the fears you want to overcome are irrational?

NorCalNomad · · San Francisco · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 105
Steven Arant wrote:What advice would you offer someone trying to overcome this hesitation/mental game?
Give up and start golfing :P
Travis Provin · · Boulder CO · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 105
rgold wrote:Byrnes is far closer to the mark than the "take some whippers" advice. One of the many problems with the "whipper theory" is that even on sport climbs you can find yourself in places where a whipper may not be a good idea. How do you deal with the anxiety then? The answer is by having trained to be solid and to understand clearly what your body can and cannot do---not what the equipment may or may not do. Byrnes' recommendations will help to foster those skills, the whipper approach will not. By the way, what makes you think the fears you want to overcome are irrational?
This reminds me of a chapter in the book "Vertical Mind" by Don McGrath. There is more to it than just taking a whipper, you have to do an assessment between likleyhood of injury vs severity of injury during a fall.

To the OP, I, and a few people that I climb with are in the exact same boat as you. Practice and experience seem to be the key, trusting your belayer (very important) and knowing when your fear of falling is good (where a fall leads to injury) and where its just your mind freaking out (zero risk of injury)

I recommend reading Vertical Mind, it goes into much more detail and use than Rock Warriors Way
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 10,634
rgold wrote:even on sport climbs you can find yourself in places where a whipper may not be a good idea.
There are lots of places on lots of outdoor (so-called) "sport" climbs where taking a fall can result in injury.

For one thing because lots of outdoor bolted "sport" routes are less than vertical. So hitting any little irregularity after falling a significant distance could result in a severely sprained muscle (I was once out for four weeks, and even now years later my right calf muscle despite lots of specific rehab is still not quite as strong as my left) -- or broken ankles from hitting a ledge are fairly frequent.
. . (Consider the possibility of hitting the next bolt below).
If your foot hits an irregularity and then you start tumbling, injuries could be much worse.

Second, the distance of the fall is usually longer than you expect -- so a larger range of little or big bad things for your feet to hit.

For another thing, on multi-pitch bolted routes (esp ones with long approaches), often the bolts are placed mainly at the crux moves -- so you need to have your outdoor footwork really dialed for some long sections in between.
. (multiple weeks of indoor climbing is normally negative for outdoor footwork perception).

Or if you get a bit off-route -- sometimes it's difficult even to see the next bolt on remote multi-pitch routes.

So a key safety capability might be down-climbing.
. (and down-climbing on outdoor rock is completely different).

Ken
Paul Deger · · Colorado · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 35

I question your "fear" as irrational - typically you can climb higher ratings in the gym than on real rock. You are probably about the right level for both.

Troy S · · Somerville, MA · Joined Oct 2015 · Points: 75

Sounds like you need to do a week long trip where you're climbing outside everyday (or every other, 2 on 1 off, whatever). Repetition is the key to getting over your lead anxiety, doing it day after day will force you to let go. Sounds like you should be able to crank out 10's, I would get after a bunch of those and maybe work some 11's with clean falls.

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 451

Hey Steve...

A good metaphor is to consider your mind to be a muscle (no jokes please!). How do you strengthen a muscle? By regular use and slowly increasing the resistance. If you were lifting a bar bell, you might start with 35lbs, and after a week move up to 40lbs, etc.

When your muscles get sore, they are telling you to back-off some, or rest. When you feel fear, your mind is telling you to back-off, or rest.

Anyway, be assured that your mind can become very strong by slowly increasing the intensity, and NOT getting really scared. Getting yourself really scared on lead actually sets you back.

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

Your fear isn't irrational. Outside and indoor is 2 completely different things. Indoor grades are normally inflated. Indoor routes are set so a fall will be safe unlike outdoors where a fall could mean injury. Gear indoors is normally maintained and is in an indoor controlled environment where as outdoor it could go bad.

I don't know about all gyms but the one thing easier about outdoor vs indoor is normally I can find rest spots on most things I climb outdoors. If the route at the gym where I climb says 5.12 don't expect a move easier than what they consider 5.12 and that isn't realistic for climbing outdoors.

Lets face it though we are climbing rocks, this in it's very nature is an irrational thing to do so if you don't have any fear at all I probably wouldn't climb with you.

Steven Arant · · Augusta, Georgia · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 70

You guys have been so helpful. I really appreciate the input about determining if a fall is a safe or dangerous fall, as well as it being normal to have some level of fear while leading. But if there was no fear in this sport, everybody would be climbing.

Arlo F Niederer · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 460

I went to a seminar by Don McGrath who co-authored Vertical Mind. I think that is a good book to read to deal with your fear issues. I had an a-ha moment in speaking with Don.

Fear often stems from unfamiliarity - our mind exaggerates the risk of something unfamiliar. The "video" of our imagination is way worse than what will probably happen in real life. Think about Hitchcock movies or Jaws - our mind did a much better job of filling in the "terror" than the special effects guys could ever do. Your mind is doing a good job of filling in the terror when you climb outside!

How many climbs have you done to get to the 5.11 level? It's very many I'm sure, with quite a bit of variety, and likely many more in the gym than outside. Consequently, your increased uneasiness ouside over the gym, because of less familiarity.

Then think about how many falls you have taken - I'll bet your experience with falling is way less than your experience with climbs, and there probably isn't much variety in the length or types of falls. Don McGrath advocates practice falls (we practiced falls in the gym) to build up your experience and knowledge of falls. This improves your ability to judge what are safe falls and which ones are not.

You've probably taken many falls in the gym, but not so many outside. If you are afraid of a fall outside, climb a small distance above your pro and take a small practice fall. If that's ok, take a little bigger fall - this will provide good feedback on whether the fall is safe or not.

I was leading a climb at Shelf Road and was afraid to commit to the crux move over a small roof - I thought I would swing back into the dihedral which led to the roof - so I took a short fall to see what it was like. I didn't swing into tbe dihedral, so I committed but fell just before clipping the next bolt - the fall was still clean and the same - just longer. So I went for it and made it.

It still involves judgement and trust in the gear - but having a successful fall builds your "inventory" of falls to judge future falls and pro.

Think about the really hard climbs in the world - the moves AND the falls have been completed many times, so they are familiar with both - and why they are able to climb such hard climbs. The answer to your problem is it's a combo of the advice given above - lots of experience on the climb but also with the falls.

For example, I really liked watching the video of Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra work La Dura complete. Definitely an advantage falling on overhanging rock with small holds!

josh-works · · Golden, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 35

Hi Steven,

Your fear isn't irrational. Your conscious mind *thinks* it is, because you try to convince yourself, but your subconscious mind isn't buying it.

The good news is - you can train your subconscious mind to feel comfortable on lead outside. You just first have to embrace the discomfort.

Here's the quick-and-dirty of something I'm working on fleshing out much, much more. Take a gander at at this article for some gifs discussing the belay. climbersguide.co/everything…

Step 1: Make sure your belayer can give you a soft catch. A "soft catch" is defined in the above article, but it's the foundation for feeling comfort and peace when you fall. If you can take little tiny lead falls comfortably, and know your belayer is doing a great job, you can slowly crank up the intensity from "tiny baby fall" to "huge fall".

Step 2: Swap places with your belayer, and make sure you can give *them* a soft catch. See, you're about to take your belay skills to "expert level", and you both need to know what the other can do. If you (as a belayer) are totally confident in your skills and encouraging your climber to commit to difficult moves, when you and the belayer are switched and now *you* are the climber, you can say to yourself "when I was belaying a moment ago, my climber was safe. Therefore I am safe."

Step 3: Take progressively larger falls from the third bolt, starting with tiny top-rope falls (I.E. from below the last clipped bolt) and take a few falls as you move a foot or so higher each time. Make sure you're still getting a soft catch.

This sheer volume of safe and comfortable falls is reworking your subconscious mind to be more accepting of the idea of falling.

Step 4: Get back on your project. You should be feeling quite a bit better by now.

If you're not feeling awesome on your project at this point - don't be dismayed. You've taken your fall practice far, but there's some pieces missing. Shoot me an email (I run the above linked website) and we'll talk. Hopefully I'll have something way more well written to offer, if you're interested.

Good luck!

Russ Keane · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 140
"Get lots of mileage on real rock. Lead everything."

^^ That's it.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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