Talking to Hazel Findlay about some of the hardest—and most important—mental tricks to focus on when attacking your project.

The Kraken (V13), Hardland Quay, Devon, England. A hard problem with fickle conditions a long way from home, strong mental game mandatory!

One thing that many of us do in outdoor season is try projects that we’ve been dreaming of for the last six months. Most of us will take the approach that it’s about doing the training in those slow months, getting better and then letting it all come together. But will it?

We often find we’re plenty strong and fit enough for our goals after doing all the hard work but somehow it doesn’t happen. We get nine tenths of the way there but fall at the last hurdle if the project is genuinely hard for us. In my experience as a coach and climber, there are three areas that people often neglect; if they could just put some time into these, then they’d be way more successful in their final execution.

In a series of three articles (of which this is the first!), I’m going to look at the some of the elements of how we address these three critical areas: mental games, replica building and maximal recruitment for top end strength.

First up is a chat about mental games and training that I had with Hazel Finlay, who I’ve worked with at Lattice Training. We designed her a plan to get her up her long term project, Fisheye, in Spain. She’s already written at length about some of her own personal approaches with the mental game in a three part series on the Black Diamond site. In particular, the third installment looks at strengthening one’s mindset at the crag and offers 10 distinct tips for improvement.

I share many of Hazel’s thoughts and have experienced the obstacles she describes in my own climbing and with my clients.  After reading her 10 tips for improvement, I wanted her to expand on a few areas that I feel would help a lot of people who train for projects to really make gains. In the following Q&A, I pushed her on a few of these topics.

“Don’t allow excuses”

TR: So Hazel—Is the action of not allowing yourself to think about excuses in some ways about freeing up that valuable mental energy and instead putting it into thinking about the project? In some ways we only have a certain limited capacity for mental processing and therefore if we keep freeing up that capacity and not getting distracted we’ll improve our performance?

Findlay: Yeah it’s in two parts really. You’ve got the right idea and in my experience excuses fall in the category of “distraction” and instead we should be focused on the task at hand rather than the negatives.

If you’re there at the crag and you’re too busy thinking about things like conditions, that disadvantages you and you don’t have much mental energy to dedicate to what you want to achieve. Equally, being too focused on the end achievement can also be distracting because you’re not in the present moment. It’s likely that you will also have fear of failure and potentially too much performance pressure to perform well. Try to be more focused on trying, learning and the fun experience you’ll have. Successful projectors will do this repeatedly over the years.

“Fear of falling adds a grade”

TR: I can certainly agree that fear of falling holds us back and actually with some clients I’d estimate it could add up to four grades! My question on this front is has to do with fall practice. could it be possible that some climbers might get over-stimulated and jittery by doing fall practice on the day of redpointing and therefore end up performing worse?

Findlay: Well, of course every situation has its nuances and it’s really hard to say an exact answer as people are so different. It hugely depends on the person! The thing to do, is to be self-aware about how you deal with falls and what kind of response it produces for you. If you end up nervous and tense for hours afterwards, it’s not going to be an good idea to get on redpoint an hour later. Take your time and wait to relax. Also you’ve got to be aware that if falling is an issue, then clearly it’s going to affect your project. I’d focus on dealing with that fear as a priority (as you gain something long term from this) and then work on the project redpoint when you’re ready.

“Process vs. Goal”

TR: I’ve noticed that you talk about “the process” a lot in terms of your advice and experience but don’t mention “the goal” as much. Why is that?

Findlay: Goal setting is important, but once you’ve selected the right goal for you then the process of training and practice is 99% of the work. Goals are useful for channeling our energy, testing our progress and setting bench marks. However what makes us better climbers is the process. To succeed in a goal that is hard for us we need to grow as climbers and it’s this which makes us better climbers not just ticking the grade. Many people fall into a trap where so much of their energy is thinking forward to the end goal that they lack dedication to the process. After all, it’s very unlikely that the goal will be achievable unless you follow the process!

[End of Q&A]

I would also like to add a few thoughts on “end goals” versus “process goals”—the distinction between these will be really important for a lot of people.  An end goal is something that focuses our energy and acts as a benchmark, such as climbing a certain grade. A process goals is something that doesn’t ever end, such as improving footwork or improving stamina.

It’s useful to have both end goals and process goals and think about how an end goal will force a process goal and actually make you a better climber. You can have an end goal of climbing 5.13b, but it may be irrelevant unless you work on, say, improving your footwork (the process goal) to get there. It’s basically thinking about the bigger picture: one allows you to master the sport, the other just lets you tell your mates that you climbed a particular grade. Many climbers fall into the latter mindset at a huge detriment to their enjoyment and progression in the sport.

So there you have it. In my experience even making alterations to how you operate in just a single one of the areas that Hazel and I discussed will significantly improve your ability to apply all those hard-won training gains and get you up your season’s project. While they look relatively straight forward on paper,  making a difference in just one of the aspects above isn’t be easy—but it will be worth it.

Stay tuned for the second and third installment in this article series! Next time I’ll be talking to one of Lattice Training’s most successful, project-focussed clients who has got some amazing tips to share on how to build replicas and train on them.