Half way through our trip to Norway to redpoint Recovery Drink this month, Pete drops a bombshell on me.
“You know what, I’m actually feeling the pressure for the first time. I think knowing that other people expect us to do this, is making it harder.”
I think I can safely say that this is the first time I’ve ever heard Pete express concerns about outside pressure – the thoughts about what our friends, our “followers” and our sponsors would think. I know it probably sounds silly, but it really stood out to me. I’ve been climbing with Pete for something like 10 years now and we’ve done some pretty high pressure climbing (filming 24hr challenges at your margins with just one take isn’t exactly chilled out!) whether it’s down to time constraints, knowing we’d sacrificed a lot, accepting that brands had supported us to the max or just being aware that a cock up could lead to severe injury or death. Never before though, have I even heard the hint of Pete operating out of his mental zone. I’ve always been hugely inspired by his boldness, calm and collected thoughts in tight situations and occasionally genius fancy dress ideas!
This got me thinking. Do we as professional climbers, feel the pressure? Do I feel the pressure? Do I even like it?
So firstly, it’s got to be blindingly obvious that professional (or “in the public light”) climbers feel the pressure. But maybe they deal with it in a special way – they have a manner in which they process that expectation to make it seem normal and non-threatening. Talking to other good climbers over the years, I’ve rarely heard anyone bring it up in conversation, but I have heard many non-pro climbers raise the point.
“Ah I really feel like I need to do this 8a before Christmas. I said I’d do it on my Facebook and now I’m not even enjoying it any more.”
“This is horrible. I’ve only got 3 more days before I go home to the UK and I’ve got to send. I must send. I’m going to be so disappointed in myself otherwise”
These statements and variations of the above, I’ve heard many, many times whether it’s friends, coaching clients or people hanging out at the crag. I hear a distinct discomfort with pressure and not much positive outlook on why the pressure might be ok. I’m not saying everyone is like this, but I hear it a lot more in the non-professional community and I like to watch for patterns as there’s often something to be learnt from!
In comparison, those who do this for a full-time or part-time living, appear to be very quiet about the stress and pressure (there are exceptions of course!!). In my experience they’re very adept at internally processing it. I say this, because I still refuse to accept that they don’t feel it, they just to don’t express it to the outside world.
This leads me to my second pondering on whether I feel it. Do I get brought down by the pressure and does it present a problem? I know that for sure, I’m conscious of it but I can’t say that I see it as a problem. Perhaps that’s the difference here. It’s all about how we process that thought and feeling. For me, I see it as “a thing” but I acknowledge it and move on. I think to myself on some days (for example)
“What am I going to say to my wife when I’ve just come on a trip for 3 weeks and not got up my major redpoint project for the year? Will she be disappointed? Is it fair that I’ve made my family have less time with me all for the rewards of nothing on paper? No hardcore tick. No news headline.”
I get these kinds of thoughts frequently, but I try to just notice them, reflect that it’s an uncomfortable thing and immediately move onto thinking about my “process” and what’s going to happen that day. So no, I don’t have some kind of bulletproof brain that never feels the pressure, but I do have a mechanism that lets me acknowledge the issue, not obsess about it and quickly goes back to what I’ve got on my plate in the here and now. I’ve also used this same thought process to deal with normal life anxieties. For example, around 4-5 years ago I was having big issues with getting out to public places and I’d freak out about really random stuff that I couldn’t control. I found that if I actively acknowledged all of the “issues” that I saw in an uncontrollable environment I could stop the anxiety and stress so they became a background feature. I’d quickly make myself live in “the present” and with time I seemed to resolve the things that in reality have never disappeared. I still hate the same places (supermarkets) but I have a quality process.
Lastly, do I like it? Perhaps the ability to “see” or “feel” that pressure but not get bogged down by it, is because I don’t find it that unpleasant compared to others? In some ways this could potentially have some weight. I don’t see pressure as a bad thing. I just acknowledge it and how it makes me feel. Importantly, I also actively try to remind myself that there are elements of it that can improve our performance as individuals. That tight deadline can force us to get up and get on with things. The expectation of a friend can commit us more strongly to a goal and remind us that we did make a promise to ourselves. Even – dare I say it – a social media post can gather round us a tight circle of “supporters” who are also interested in our goal and they then become positive influencers in our motivation and will power.
So where does this leave us? Is Pete going to sack off his pro-climbing career? Am I going to double down and add even more pressure in 2019? No, I’d say that it was Pete making a rare externalization of his thought process and for me, I’m quite happy with current projects! Recovery Drink didn’t happen. It will happen and I’m perfectly content that I’ll just have to get back in that process again and keep plugging away.