Climbing isn't just physically intense, it also requires a ton of brain power. Our brains are working hard to keep us balanced, motivated, safe and focussed. But what happens when we start to think too much? Is it possible to over-think?
In German, we say "verkopfen" when someone thinks too much. The English equivalent would be to "fry your brain" or "over-think". We see this all the time in competition climbing. Competitors that feel nervous (and are therefore stuck in a negative mental zone), might struggle to maintain focus. This lack of focus can mean a lack in physical control and a sub-par performance.
Whether it's a competition, a project outside or a route at the gym, the way we handle ourselves mentally can make all the difference.
So how can we prepare ourselves mentally? Can we train the way we think?
The good news is our brains are very malleable – they also love structure. If we can find ways to navigate our mental thoughts in a structured and strategic way, we'll have a better chance of handling our mental stresses later on.
You can start by actively reflecting on the thoughts that pressure you most. Have you ever thought one of the following?
I really would like to make finals. I really want to win this competition. What if I fall? I want to beat my opponent. This route looks too hard. I‘m too nervous. I'm sweating. My heart is jumping out of my chest. The others look stronger. Will I look bad if I fail?
I believe we‘ve have all had thoughts like these before. If not in competition climbing, maybe in other situations like outdoor climbing, school exams, important presentations at work and so on.
As soon as we start over-thinking and feeling stressed when such questions arise, we instinctually perform our own "mental training“ – and everyone does this differently. Because we do this automatically in a way that is often unstructured and self-taught, the results can be unpredictable.
Of course, some people are naturals when it comes to controlling their internal stresses – others not so much. For most of us, it depends on the situation. Regardless of where you stand, it's important to remember that we can all improve. All we need to do is create systems that help us navigate our mental thoughts strategically and with structure.
Reflect for yourself, what are your strategies? Do you have ways of working through mental obstacles? Do you find it hard to stay focussed when you have to perform on demand?
This is where sport psychology plays a big role. For most climbers, the emphasis is on physically training . It makes sense to train our body to perform better. But we often forget that our brain is a muscle, too. It needs as much training as the rest of our body. And that's exactly what mental training does - we train our brain.
Cool fact: A strategic combination of mental and practical training can increase our progress by 15% – and when every little bit matters, that kind of boost can make all the difference.