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In this three part series, ambassador, climbing coach and twice Swedish bouldering champion, Daniela Ebler, will cover the science behind the mind’s excuses and how to conquer them.

Part 2. Steps to Conquering Your Excuses

By Daniela Ebler

Image: @kiellgram

This is the second post in a three-part series about how to battle your excuses to improve your climbing. If you missed Part I on learning about why we make excuses, you can find it here.

There are two main steps to conquering excuses. Firstly it’s important to be aware of your thoughts and feelings and to try and identify when your brain is using excuses. If you don’t know when you’re using excuses, it’s going to be hard to do something about them! For some people, making excuses is so natural that they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Secondly, it’s important to leave your ego at home. Be curious and have an open mindset that is ready to learn something new.

Now that we understand where our excuses come from, the next step is to deal with them by asking questions. I’m going to focus on examining a wide range of excuses we might say to ourselves that convince us not to try a climb in order to help you look deeper into your mindset.

See Part I: Why We Make Excuses

Excuses for Not Trying a Climb

A common excuse for not doing a climb is: It’s not fun/I don’t like it or I don’t feel good enough to do it. I agree, training and climbing should be fun and motivating overall.

But if everything always was fun, I don’t think we would get a lot of things done. I also think we would never evolve, because we’d always be in our comfort zone! If you have a long-term climbing goal, you will hit obstacles and unavoidably have to do things that don’t feel very fun.

But there are two sides to this coin. Some people are aware of this and just “push through”. They go to the gym or crag and plow through the climbs just waiting for it to be over. Even though you could argue this is conquering excuses, I don’t really like this approach either, because it lacks intention or awareness. You likely didn’t learn anything from them (or enjoyed them). Conquering the excuses mindset means even if it’s hard or boring, try to focus and make sure to perform it well, even if it’s not fun. Don’t avoid the tough stuff, but use it as opportunities to grow. Short cuts are usually never short, and in training they mostly lead to injuries, inefficiencies or plateaus.

Related: Pushing Past Your Plateaus

I don’t want to climb this because I don’t like it

Before you dismiss a climb because you don’t like it, ask yourself, why don’t you like it? Try to answer that question as specifically as possible. Most people can’t really say why they don’t like it, but the answer can tell you a lot about yourself and your climbing!

1. The climb is not challenging enough 

This is a simple one, it means you need to step up your game and try something harder (Yes, if this is your answer. I suggest you don’t repeat the climb unless for warming up or technical training).

2. The moves are weird 

What makes the moves weird? Does it feel like there’s a foot missing, or is it a lot of twisting and turning? Do you blame the setter for making it weird? What if it’s a rock climb - who do you blame then? Is it that you have a hard time with the moves?

Keep questioning yourself. Unless your answer ends up with the moves being painful or somehow harmful to the body, they probably target a weakness of yours that might be good to practice. Although it’s important to avoid injury, if moves cause discomfort or pain in any way, that could be a sign of a weakness and muscles that need to be strengthened.

Don’t forget, the brain will tell you things to protect you, so if you go looking for finger-pain, the brain might find something that isn’t really there.

See Part I: Why We Make Excuses

3. I don’t like the holds 

How come you don’t like the holds? Are they causing pain in your fingers or body? Is it because of the actual hold or the angle of the hold, or because you are weak in your tendons/muscles? Take it easy with that climb and bring that information with you.

If you don’t like the holds because they’re hard to hold, find the same holds on an easier climb. This is a perfect way to build strength and increase confidence on those holds!

4. I don’t like the angle of the wall 

This probably means it’s a weakness of yours! If your shoulders or elbows always hurt when you climb overhangs that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t climb overhangs! Instead you should find out why they always hurt. Are your shoulders not engaged? Are you always climbing on semi bent arms? Do you climb very dynamically without control? Are your hips always falling away from the wall? Do you lose the tension on your feet a lot?

Are you avoiding slabs because you think you might fall and hurt yourself? Why do you think that? Did you have a bad fall or is it a story made up in your head from other people talking about it? Try some short falls close to the bolt to see what it feels like and to teach your body how to handle falls on slabs. Don’t avoid them - that’ll just make it even more dangerous! Another common reason for not enjoying slabs could be that you have poor footwork - this is also a great opportunity to work on that, so let’s get going!

Athletes with an excuse mentality fear negative outcomes and make excuses to avoid responsibility.”-TrueSport

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I don’t want to climb this climb because I’m not “ready

1. Why are you not ready? Is it because you don’t know if you can perform the climb the way you think you should? Let’s put that feeling aside for a second and try it out! If it is actually too hard for you, add footholds or find an easier version of the climb to work on so you can progress. If you don’t know how or where to start, ask someone!

2. If you are too weak for a climb it points to a clear area to improve on. Here is an opportunity to learn techniques/movement patterns so the muscles can get stronger. Instead of saying “I’m too weak” and moving on to the next climb, ask yourself in what way am I too weak? What is actually the reason why I can’t do this? Is it muscles, balance or coordination? Is it that I can’t hold on with my fingers or that I can’t move in between holds? If you can’t figure it out alone, film yourself or ask someone to help you out!

3. Are you scared of what others will think or say? The best way to get past this thought/feeling is to do the climb anyway. The ego always wants to perform well. But remind yourself that everyone is a beginner at some point, and you can’t be the best at everything you do. As mentioned before, if you always do the things you like and are good at, you’ll stay where you are without progressing.


Common excuses

1. I'm too tall/short

There are some basic things for both of these people - work your weaknesses! Why do you feel too short/tall?

Does it feel far in between the holds? Work on bringing your legs higher. Work on shouldery movements (IYT, wide pull ups, wide lock offs), extended core exercises and dynamic moves.

Does it feel like the feet are too close? Start stretching your hips and work on deep squats and pistols, work on high lock offs and compressed core exercises.

2. I can’t hold on

What part of your body is letting go first? Is it actually your fingers or is it your feet, hips or shoulders? If those parts are not engaged or strong, it will feel like it’s your fingers that can’t hold on.

3. I can’t keep my feet on

Work on your core, especially in extensions (you most likely won’t benefit from exercises like toes to bars because they don’t help your tension), and work your glutes, hamstrings and calves (deadlifts, harrop curls, balance exercises on one leg).

4. I can’t do the move

Look at what move it is and break it down:

What makes it hard?

Could you do it if the holds were bigger or different?

Could you do it if the feet were bigger?

Could you do it if the holds were closer or differently positioned?

Could you do it if the feet were closer or differently positioned?

By asking these questions you’ll get a pretty good idea about what you actually need to work on - muscles, fingers or movement.

5. I don’t have enough time

One thing that you do have is time, always. You may say this because you prioritise
other things before climbing/training that make it feel like you don’t have time.
It is fully understandable to prioritise work, family, friends and other activities over
climbing/training. But if that is what you do, don’t make it an excuse to why you’re not
climbing/training - instead that is your reason, very different to an excuse.

You will set your goals depending on what you value in life, and prioritise your time
after those values and goals are made and there is nothing wrong with that!

These are quite a few examples but there still are so many excuses we can use in climbing. If we look at the mental aspect of it (being scared) this list can go on forever!

Even though we know we use excuses and why, it doesn’t mean we’ll stop using them or prioritise working on how to handle them. But the more you make a conscious effort to identify and evaluate your excuses, the more you can use them to stop limiting beliefs and learn about your own climbing weaknesses to improve.

Stay tuned for Part 3 when I'll discuss Goals and Values in climbing.

Daniela is a professional coach, yoga teacher, rock climber & 3RD ROCK climbing ambassador based in Sweden.

Follow Daniela on Instagram

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