For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


At the Harris Saddle, half way through the 'out' leg of an out-n-back
run of the Routeburn track in New Zealand
So what is confidence anyway? Lets see what Wikipedia has to say:

Self-confidence does not necessarily imply 'self-belief' or a belief in one's ability to succeed. For instance, one may be inept at a particular sport or activity, but remain 'confident' in one's demeanour, simply because one does not place a great deal of emphasis on the outcome of the activity. The key element to self-confidence is, therefore, an acceptance of the myriad consequences of a particular situation, be they good or bad. When one does not dwell on negative consequences one can be more 'self-confident' because one is worrying far less about failure or (more accurately) the disapproval of others following potential failure. One is then more likely to focus on the actual situation which means that enjoyment and success in that situation is also more probable. If there is any 'self-belief' component it is simply a belief in one's ability to tolerate whatever outcome may arise; a certainty that one will cope irrespective of what happens. Belief in one's abilities to perform an activity comes through successful experience and may add to, or consolidate, a general sense of self-confidence.

I like this - in fact, there's no way i would have articulated it as well without a great deal of effort. The bolded sections seem to sum things up nicely. The first bold bit speaks to the ability to deal (or accept) whatever may happen, even unforseen things, with grace and calm. This is reiterated down below, with the additional thought that such acceptance allows for more focused and reasoned action which makes a desired outcome more probable.

So how does one develop the 'self-belief' in one's coping ability for all possible turn of events? Well, in my estimation it is partly do to practice and perhaps partly due to something innate. That is to say while i think it can be developed, it is certainly easier for some people to do so.
I'm lucky in a way. I became fascinated with climbing during my senior year in highschool (in Alaska) and took a mountaineering course at the local college (it was this or Calc II). I loved it. The next year i went to college in Oklahoma (no mountains!) and so took up rock climbing - spending every weekend driving 2 hours with my twin brother, Jason (who was at the same school) and another aspiring climber to the nearest crags. we taught ourselves all the ins and outs of the craft and started lead climbing in the spring of that first year.

We were hooked. we read all the magazines and started aspiring to do bigger things. My brother and i were perfect partners and very close - we believed in each other, which helped us launch some attempted climbs that we likely wouldn't have had the courage to go through without the bond of twinhood. The first few years we nearly ALWAYS had an epic. An unplanned open bivy at 12000 feet in colorado in the middle of february. A huge snow storm on a spring attempt of Longs Peak. A forced retreat from 5 pitches up Petit Grepon (in the Rockies) in heavy sleet without any storm gear. We made mistakes, we survived them. We became bolder.

After a handful of epics in which a 3 day trip turned to 5 and we ran out of food we realized we could survive hunger. We started planning trips accordingly (5 day big wall climbs on 1200 calories a day). 12 hour pushes with huge packs were the norm - especially when descending from remote peaks. We developed, in my opinion, a much greater sense of the reality of what our bodies can do (when the mind agrees) than most people possess (and i'm aware that there are many who live far closer to this truth than I).

Beyond this, we learned how to deal with fear and doubt constructively. I remember a climb in Canada, this time not with jason, when my partner and I decided to head up with only one rope (to save weight), effectively eliminating the possibility of retreat. Half way up we ran into a part of the climb that traversed nearly straight to the left for 35 meters. It was a relatively straightforward bit (5.9) consisting of a good edge for a handhold running horizontally across the wall, with small knobs and smears for footholds. I was only able to place one piece of protection about a third of the way across the span, which ended in an outward sloping ledge two to three feet wide covered with loose shale type rocks. There was no anchor possible. I was petrified. My partner would be climbing with a pack. If he fell, he would pull me off the ledge and we'd both take huge swings across the wall. the one piece of gear was unlikely to hold. If he fell after getting to the gear, the end was certain. There were no options. I wanted to panic - i wanted to wake up from a dream, or push the magic button to be somewhere else. But there isn't a magic button and it wasn't a dream. I fought back the panic and forced reason into my brain. Although the climbing was steep, it wasn't particularly difficult. My partner was unlikely to fall. So I simply shouted across to him, unseen behind a slight bulge - "DON'T FALL" - and held my breath as i counted every meter of rope that came in.

Most of my experiences (even the epics) have been at a level well below this (the one exception being when Jason and I paddled a 12 foot long, 2 person open kayak - ie no spray skirt - to catalina island during a small craft advisory on Dec 31st of 1999 with no emergency radio and therefore no hope of rescue should we have capsized) - but have still taught valuable lessons and served to instill what is now a considerable degree of confidence in my ability to, as wikipedia says, 'tolerate whatever outcome may arise'.

One last thing - confidence is key because without it you end up relying primarily on the opinions of others. When you set out to do something near 'the edge' and others (rangers, other athletes, friends, etc) find out about your plans, you will invariably be told that you shouldn't or won't be able to do it. What people are really expressing is their lack of confidence that THEY would be able to do it. This is being projected on to you. It is important to listen and learn from the information others might provide (logistical and route details, etc) and to take these into consideration - but what you can ignore are the statements like 'its too dangerous' or 'you'll never make it in that amount of time'. These statements are both meaningless and useless, unless the person speaking has both an intimate knowledge of your abilities (mental and physical) and has actually done or seriously considered undertaking something similar to your plans. Even then they are so subjective and vague and provide very little actual information. You'll find that when the advice comes from someone worth listening to it will never be 'you won't be able to do it' but instead 'well, it's tricky, you might find it takes longer than you expect'. They likely know, at least to some degree, that what is seen as possible by the mainstream is significantly distant from where our true potential lies.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! Just listened to a similar podcast on radio lab. They were saying that people who constantly pushed past that "red suffering button" in their brain had a higher pain tolerance than others