If you haven’t heard of it, the award-winning movie Free Solo is the story of climber Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t yet. But, watching it and understanding all that went into making this climb possible was a great reminder of all the work that goes into doing hard things.
The Power of a Plan
Free solo climbing means climbing by yourself, without ropes. It’s just you. And El Capitan is 3,600 feet high. So that means you’re just there with nothing but a plan and some chalk, and if you mess up you’re dead. Literally. Talk about pressure! But if you listen to Alex talk about it (which you can do in his Ted talk), he’ll tell you that he conquered his fear by leaving nothing to chance.
He practiced over and over (and over and over) with ropes and friends, until he knew every single move he wanted to make on every section of the climb. That’s thousands of moves. And he memorized them all, so he could tell you exactly what he would do at any given spot.
This plan is what kept him from being afraid. He knew that he would not be making any choices while climbing, it was all about execution. Let’s face it – a sheer granite cliff thousands of feet off the ground is not the place to pause and think about what happens next. And he didn’t! In fact, he did the climb, which takes most people several days, in just under four hours.
This made me realize that this kind of practice is also the key to being Thoughtfully Fit. You can’t just decide to do it and get it right every time. That’s the value of building your core: Pause. Think. Act.
If you continually work on it, reflecting and learning, then with time it gets easier, and one day can even be automatic. When you have a conversation that doesn’t quite go how you want, pause to take time to learn from it. Think about what you might have done instead, or what might have been missing. And then commit to doing better next time. If Alex had tried to just free solo without practicing first, he’d be dead.
It’s also important to practice on smaller things. Don’t jump right to the hardest situation or the most challenging relationship in your life. Practice on little things, with people that you aren’t in relationship with, or those who you are so close with that they’ll forgive you if you get it wrong. Alex did not start on El Cap. He had done hundreds of other, smaller climbs first.
You don’t need to be perfect
Will you ever get to free soloing El Cap level of mastery? Maybe not. I mean, even Alex would tell you that he really didn’t do much other than prepare for that climb for two years, and he had been thinking about it for nearly a decade before even considering trying it. You simply might not have that kind of time. But even if you aren’t ready to be a Thoughtfully Fit black belt, you can still be getting just a little bit better every day.
And here’s the good news: when you practice Thoughtfully Fit, there’s no risk of falling to your death. So don’t be afraid to get in there and give it a try.
Next week I’ll tell you about what I’m practicing (over and over). It has nothing to do with rock climbing but it’s still really hard!
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