BMC ambassador Hazel Findlay is famed for her cool, calm and collected climbing style. But, as she explains, anyone can train their mind to not only improve their climbing, but maybe their life.
The mental demons of climbing came to me early in life. I still remember the crux hold on my pink 7a project at Undercover Rock climbing wall. This thin, techy horror-show especially suited my tiny 9-year-old hands and I was especially keen to do it. I’d done the route on top rope, and I really wanted to lead it. But I was scared.
My relationship with climbing went through many stages growing up (and still does). Starting out, I would find it hard to climb above my Dad’s head. My Dad’s head represented safety and climbing higher was unknown and scary. Every time we went climbing, I’d try to push a little higher in to the unknown.
During other times I would be brave and confident. I remember standing in the queue for the campsite toilets in Pembroke, wellies sinking in the mud, I overheard two grown men talking about me: “She led Blue Sky, that VS!” “Yeah, she’s got bigger balls than us and she’s only 10!”
My parents separated when I was six so I only saw my Dad every other weekend. Most kids would be content to climb only at these times. Instead, I nagged my Mum to take me to our local wall twice mid-week and all weekend. Although I’m now a professional climber, I still think that this was the most motivated I’ve ever been.
I’ve often wondered why at such a young age this is what I chose to do with my time. Why not hang out with my mates, go to the park or watch TV? The answer is mastery. I just wanted to be better. Not to win, not for my ego, not to make money, just because, just because being better than I was last week felt good, because learning how to move up a wall feels good, because mastery is a worthy pursuit in and of itself. Of course at that age I didn’t think about it, I just continued to nag my Mum for a lift.
There were times when I forced myself to go to the wall. I was scared of climbing and I found it stressful. I wanted to go shopping with my friends and buy dresses for the next school disco. I still loved climbing, but it didn’t come easy. Maybe my womanly hormones were kicking in and biology was telling me as plainly as it could that evolution had not invested millions of years in humanity for me to hang off cliff faces.
Like most people, I thought this growing and waning of motivation, fear, and confidence was something you endured. One minute you’re confident and brave, next minute you’re not, but that’s OK because you can just sit those bad times out and wait until you’re good again.
Luckily for me, a few things challenged this belief. One was my Dad. He encouraged me to do fall practice when I was scared. More importantly was his general attitude to climbing. Unlike a lot of old-school trad climbers, he wasn’t of the mentality ‘the leader never falls’ he was of the mentality ‘if you don’t fall you’re not trying hard enough.’ If there has been one useful thing I’ve learnt from my Dad, it’s been this.
Whilst I was at uni, I read Aro Ilgner’s book ‘The Rock Warrior’s Way’ and it changed my life. I was already aware that I was slowly accumulating the mental strength to be a better climber but in the pages of Arno’s book, I became aware that you could train it. Just like you can train the muscles in your arms you can train the muscles in your mind.
This planted a seed that has slowly been growing. That seed resembles a plant in the shape of a small coaching business, specializing in mental training for climbers. So far it’s reached about 500 clients, offers remote, group and individual coaching and has one employee: me.
WATCH Hazel Findlay: from shoulder injury to sending 8c on BMC TV:
I used to feel like the professional climbing life was a bit empty. Coaching has filled a gap there for me. Watching someone lead their first 6a, watching someone take their first fall, hearing someone being inspired… all this fills a gap for me and more, because it isn’t tainted with the selfishness that a pro climber’s life can have.
Everything I’ve learnt has been doubly great because I can apply it to the rest of my life. Stress and fear management is not restricted to climbing. I don’t know about you but I have life-fear, life-stress and the same principles apply. If you can stay calm when you kick out your last piece of gear why can’t you stay calm when your boyfriend tells you something you don’t want to hear? Can you stay motivated to go to work without promotions but you climb only for grades? You can use the same techniques for public speaking as you can for climbing. You can use the same principle of exposure therapy for falling as you can for arachnophobia
You can be a climber and make full use of all the lessons climbing a piece of rock throws at you or you can blindly follow the motions and learn nothing. A good test is this: did you leave the crag smiling even though you fell off the last move of your project? If I’m honest, for me the answer isn’t always yes. But I aim to make it so.
BMC ambassador Hazel Findlay is currently touring the UK with her The Climb Within Tour.
Hazel Findlay presents a talk about her life and climbs to explore how we can use a sport such as climbing – something that we are passionate about - to put us in hard places that push us beyond what we thought we were capable of; how in this struggle we can discover the way our minds work and how to ‘hack’ them, so that we can enjoy the experiences we want and not be limited by fear
Runs until 27 Sept.
BOOK TICKETS https://www.speakersfromtheedge.com/theatre-tours/2019/hazel-findlay
MEET: Our Ambassador Team
WATCH: BMC Ambassador Hazel Findlay on BMC TV
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