Over the past 20 or more years, I have hiked up some of the world’s highest peaks. When I started climbing many years ago, I wasn’t much of an athlete. But over time, it was a thrill to see my stamina escalate and my body strengthens.
More startling is how mountain climbing helped me gain greater control over my mind. I even learned to master my emotions and anyone can do the same.
Facing your fears
Fear is one of our deepest emotions. It can either motivate us or inhibit us from taking action. When fear overcomes us, it can cloud everything else we are experiencing or thinking. That can happen no matter how intelligent or well-balanced you are.
Fear helped our ancient ancestors recognize the danger of predators, inspiring them to flee and survive. Since we’re rarely chased by lions today, fear has become a more complex emotion. Many times we are reacting to perceived dangers rather than real ones.
Fear can affect your thinking in many ways today keeping you from pursuing an opportunity as well as telling you to flee danger.
Helpful: Whenever you sense that fear is preventing you from trying something new, ask yourself why you’re afraid. Think about it. Write down your fear. Identifying your fears and recognizing when they are working against your best interests is a liberating experience.
Example: I was terrified before my first climb many years ago. Logic told me I had nothing to worry about I knew the rope was more than strong enough to support my weight, and I had tremendous confidence in my climbing partner’s ability to swing me back to the cliff if I slipped.
Getting ready, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t scared of injury. I was scared that I wouldn’t succeed that I wouldn’t be up to the climb. That surprised me I never realized that I was so scared of failure. But as soon as I identified the fear, I was able to overcome it.
We live in a rapidly changing age, when technology permeates much of our daily existence. Technology has made us more productive and has increased the amount of information we experience and absorb.
But technology has also made us less patient. More and more happens in an instant today, so we become frustrated when phones are busy, ATM machines run too slowly or the checkout lines are long.
Our general impatience also prevents us from enduring temporary obstacles when pursuing larger goals. The easiest response to trouble at work or with a relationship seems to be giving up.
Helpful: Think about what really matters to you and remind yourself of its importance. Whenever you become frustrated with yourself or with forces you can’t control, ask yourself if your goals are still desirable.
If the answer is yes, remind yourself that the greatest rewards are possible only if you’re willing to stick it out through tough times. Life’s greatest achievements are never reached without some struggle.
Example: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro taught me this. The mountain doesn’t require a tremendous amount of technical climbing skills, just the desire to reach the top.
At first the climb is wonderful. The mountain is beautiful at low elevations. But before long, it’s just volcanic rock with nothing to distract you from the next step in front of you except the increasing cold and thinning air. Succeeding requires stamina and focus on the result.
Despite the organizational shift at work from the individual to teams, the person who makes his/her own way is still greatly admired in our society. That’s why many people feel like failures when they must ask for help.
But few people succeed on their own even when it seems they did it alone. Isolating yourself from others and being embarrassed to let others see the real you fosters dishonesty and limits your exposure to opportunity. You’re more likely to cover up personal flaws than address them.
Helpful: Force yourself to open up by creating a personal board of directors. Speak with them individually twice a year or when you need help or have a tough choice to make.
No one person has all the answers on his own. Good judgment depends on asking great questions of smart people.
Example: I’ve found that on difficult climbs, the encouragement of the group plays a big part in each individual’s determination and success. I’ve come to realize that needing help now and then isn’t a sign of failure. Climbing is a personal experience, but you can’t do it alone.
Dealing with setbacks
We all suffer reversals now and then. That’s part of life, and without them, we would never fully appreciate our triumphs.
But not everyone reacts the same way to setbacks. Some people see every failed expectation as a major failure, which causes them to belittle or berate themselves. This negative view can prevent you from taking actions or help you sabotage your efforts.
Helpful: Recognize that living life means taking chances. Taking chances, on occasion, means conceding defeat. When we have to make a decision, we do so based on the information available to us. Sometimes, we later find additional information which leads us to conclude our initial decision was incorrect.
When you suffer a setback, take a look at why you made the decision in the first place before labeling yourself a failure. Was it failure or feedback?
Example: My first failure came on Devil’s Tower, an almost mile-high rock monolith in Wyoming. I barely had been able to complete the first leg of the climb, and I knew more difficult sections lay ahead so I turned back. I felt humiliated and defeated.
Boosting personal excellence
Few things in life are as psychologically difficult as putting ourselves through an experience at which we failed in the past.
Revisiting a failed experience carries painful memories of personal failure. We automatically tell ourselves that we’re bound to fail again, in many cases robbing ourselves of our best chance to succeed. Or we don’t even bother trying at all.
Helpful: Prepare in advance for these apprehensions. Focus on what you learned on your first attempt, not how you were hurt.
Then consider how you’ve changed since your first try. Have you done additional research? Have you spent extra time practicing in preparation? Chances are, you’re not the same person who failed the first time around.
Example: I returned to Devil’s Tower a year later. There were still lingering doubts in my mind, but I had done a lot of climbing over the year, and I knew I was much more skilled than I was on my first attempt. I made it to the summit.