Have you ever had a project? Outside on rock or inside, in lead climbing or bouldering? Well, if you have, you know projecting requires a lot of physical and mental energy and focus. You'd try a hard route or boulder again and again, and mostly failed on it. But when you do send it, it is very rewarding. This rewarding feeling of topping out a route or boulder we have been working hard on is incomparable – it's a mix of so many overwhelming, positive feelings like joy, relief, pride and happiness. We project routes to test our boundaries and push our personal limits, and because we love to be challenged. Pushing these personal boundaries can be a tough but interesting learning process – we learn a lot about the route and ourselves, how we deal with problems, how we handle difficult situations. And well, projecting is not always easy or fun and there might always be the chance of not doing it in the end.
In this blog post, I'll share different personal experiences when projecting. At this early point of the post, I'd like to anticipate that there (luckily) has been a happy ending to all given examples. This time, I don't focus too much on possible negative aspects of projecting such as when you don't send or when your self-confidence suffers under personal pressure you've forced upon yourself. In contrast, I try to focus on several strategies that fostered a positive outcome.
A personal example – projecting in South Africa
We just came back from a bouldering trip to Rocklands, South Africa, 1,5 weeks ago. To make it short, the climbing was simply amazing (and if you have never been there, you should go!). My project for this trip was the Hatchling, a relatively high 8a boulder which I found scary due to its exposition and movements requiring getting used to (such as a really high heal hook). Well, you might climb 8a boulders easily, for me it definitely was and is very hard. When I saw this magnificent bloc for the first time two years ago, I absolutely wanted to climb it. Knowing there were no real long-reach moves in there, I was sure I could do it. But well, projecting always has its obstacles. First of all, this boulder isn't close to anything else, secondly I was the only one of our group who wanted to climb this boulder. So every morning when we discussed where to go I had to convince the others that we'd go to my boulder for an hour in the morning or evening (I was dependent on all pads we had with us). You might have experienced this feeling before when you are the only one trying a boulder and everyone else is pretty much waiting for you – you feel a bit guilty for making them go with and wait for you. As consequence, you might feel a bit stressed as if you have to climb the boulder quicker in order to be able to go to the next boulders, where everyone else wants to go, afterwards. Well, of course this feeling doesn't help because you put too much thoughts into doing it quickly rather than learning the movements thoroughly. I had this feeling quite strongly, particularly when I got close to sending. What if it didn't work this time and we'd need to go back? My strategy of dealing with this dilemma was trying to make sure the others got to go to their projects so it was fair. The feeling of fairness which was really important to me made me feel much better.
Using mental strategies while working on projects
So which mental strategies did I actively use while working on the Hatchling? (I personally believe that it's a necessity to be able to apply mental strategies yourself when you later tell athletes that they are useful. How can e.g. trainers tell you what to do if they have never trained like you themselves? It's totally unauthentic!). Once I found out how I'd do the moves, I'd start visualise them as often as possible – before bed, while waiting for dinner. Visualising is a really useful tactic as – if well applied – it helps your muscles memorise the movements better. The better you remember the movements, the better you can recall them at the crucial moment. I'll soon write a separate blog post about the do's and don'ts in visualising.
Additionally to the visualisation, I followed self-instructions (which is generally recommended when visualising). What do I do first? What do I do next? What are the hubs and the essential moves? Talking to yourself (loud or in your head) supports to follow the right procedure. I remember that I already started with visualisations and self-talks after our first session at the bloc. So when we went there for the second time, I really felt as if we had already been there so many more times, but in truth it was just the second session. To get into the right mind-set for climbing, I focussed on breathing before I started to climb. While I used to never like breathing exercises when I was younger (maybe I just never did them right?!), I now swear on them! Breathing in deeply (when you have to calm down) or doing fast and deep breaths (when you have to activate) helps a lot to get in the right mindset and activation level. For me personally, I realise that I'm doing better when I breath in deeply to calm and lower my pulse. However, this obviously is not the rule that counts for everybody. If you're too calm you might not have the perfect activation level either. Finding the individual balance, is the clue.
I'd now like to share one other experience while projecting (sport psychologists can sometimes get into a negative mindset, too... most of us wouldn't admit it though). The day I ended up sending the boulder, I had an upset stomach and didn't feel really strong due to this. All of our group had gone through having eaten something wrong and well, it had just hit me that day. Despite this, I knew that I could easily do it, it was just a matter of time and nerves. I had done all the moves and had fallen several times at the last move. That same day, there were 15 people at the boulder wanting to try the Hatchling (we arrived a tiny bit earlier than the others so we had a tiny advantage but still...). But when I saw all these other people coming, plus I had an upset stomach, plus I had failed to do the last move again, oh, I got stressed. I was so close and all these people were now watching and it was getting warmer as it was getting later in the day and if everyone was trying it, the holds would become slopier as well. This was when my friend Tom told me "stop talking about these negative things, you're really close. You can actually do this – just focus on yourself and the climbing and do it as focussed as possible". In hindsight, it's funny how I slipped into this mindset finding excuses why I could possibly lack doing it this time. And yes it's true, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, having been told this, I suddenly was aware that my behaviour and thoughts were not expedient. There was still the pressure on of all these people around, watching, talking, running around. But when I started my final try, what I now did differently, was that I used positive self-talk (again – such as in those tries when I still had to work the moves out and didn't get that far yet). I didn't think about possible consequences but talked myself through the boulder step by step. At my personal crux (getting my fingers into a two-finger-pocket) I told myself to do this move really slowly and focussed, knowing that if I did this move well, the next moves would flow. Objectively recognising negative thoughts, and changing my behaviour and attitude was the best thing I could have done. Hardly anyone is super positive and confident all the time, we always have times when we slip into negative mindsets. However, it's important to know how to deal with such situations, how to get yourself out and change your thoughts and behaviour! And that was it – I sent the boulder ! I was so happy and relieved! :-)
When projecting, you go through so many emotions: from motivation and high psyche to frustration, from excitement, when you've linked a new move or figure out that you can actually do this boulder for the first time, to being really upset. You can get really nervous once you're getting really close. It's quite a procedure to go through so many emotions and yet it's so rewarding, to send after you tried so hard. 99% of projecting you're failing and the crux is to stay motivated and keep pushing yourself. It's particularly hard to stay psyched and not give way to the pressure once you're getting really close. You might feel as if you've already sent it as you might have done all the individual moves or have got really close several times. Being aware of this process, these emotions and personal weaknesses in dealing with different situations is very helpful to learn how to better deal with it. It helps to find solutions for how to improve this process (e.g. as for me, talking positively with myself in the crux move and doing it really slowly). Generally, if we only recognise our emotions and way of dealing with things objectively, not judge them and accept them, we'll find it easier to keep on going. Many factors play a role when "it all comes together" and we send a line. It's important to find out your personal strategy.
What experiences have you made when projecting? What were obstacles? What did you find easy to deal with? What would you like to improve? Do you already have a personal strategy?