Pushing Through: How to Get Out of Your Head Once You’re In

You’re on a pretty run out and gnarly lead climb. The bolt placement is sketchy at best and you’re completely pumped from your previous routes. Not only are you not up for an epic lead fall, certain to scrape the hell out of your extremities, but you also aren’t quite sure you trust the bolts in general. Your heart rate is up. And you think to yourself, “ Holy crap. I’m gonna fall.”

You, my friend, are what they call “in your head” and it happens to the best of us. Outdoor sports like rock climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering, and mountain biking can, often times, get you in your head much faster than your average soccer or basketball game. Why? Because the stakes are typically higher. One wrong move in the wilderness doesn’t just land you in the hospital; it can land you 6 feet under. So how do you get out of your head once you’re in it? Sports Psychologists and counselors are all the rage now and are helping athletes to do just that: Get out of their heads, into their bodies, and into the game. But if you don’t happen to be a professional athlete or have the big bucks to throw away on your own counselor, here are some nifty and effective tricks for getting out of your head and staying out.

Know Your Mantra
Often times when I’m climbing or hiking these thoughts will pop into my head:

“ I’m exhausted.”

“ It’s too far.”

“ I can’t stick that move.”

“ I’m gonna fall.”

“ I’m scared.”

When these thoughts flood my mind I go into what I like to call “Mantra Mode.” Now, I’m not saying that you have to audibly chant on your epic multi-pitch climb, but what I am suggesting is that replacing these “negative” thoughts with a more positive mantra that you say again and again can get you out of your head and back to the task at hand.

My personal mantra: “Your mind thinks you’re not capable but your body knows that you are.”

I know my capabilities as a climber and hiker. I know when I’m reaching my limits and when I’m not. But, sometimes, my mind wants to give up long before my body actually needs to rest. Enter Mantra Mode. Come up with whatever saying is most helpful and meaningful to you. It could be clichés like:

Just Do It

You’ve Got This

Keep Going

Or you could always infuse a little humor. When one of my friends encounters a tricky situation in the outdoors, he recites the Gettysburg Address. I’m not even shitting you. I’ve hear him on routes belting out, “FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO…”. And you know what? It works.

Just Breathe
Deep breathing reduces stress, floods your extremities with oxygen so they can perform, and gets you “into your body.”  Though this may sound hippy-dippy, there’s hard science behind the benefits of deep breathing and athletes the world over practice yoga and meditation to assist with their performance on game day.

When you get in your head, try taking 5 deep and controlled breaths. Breathing in through your nose, letting the air fill your lungs completely, and then breathing out through your mouth will calm you. What’s more, you’ll be so focused on your breaths that you won’t be able to think about a lead fall, face-planting on your bike, or tumbling down the mountain.

One Up Yourself
Let’s say that you’re really struggling on a black diamond during ski season. The weather is harsh on this particular day and your lack of experience on blacks is really starting to make you question your abilities. Regardless, you know you’ve got another run or two in you. More importantly, your ultimate goal is to make it to those coveted Double Blacks.

Now is the time to push through by “’One-Upping” yourself. In other words, start thinking about how good it’s gonna feel when you finally make your first Double Black run. Envision yourself frolicking through all of that powder; hooting and hollering as you go. By putting the image in your mind of you doing something even more difficult, your current situation will seem more doable. I do this all the time on climbing routes where I imagine how difficult it would be to lead-climb a 5.11 or how tired I would be after a 6 pitch climb.

Unleash Your Inner Sinatra
Sometimes when I’m climbing, I’ll find myself singing. It stems from the pure joy of being out in nature and on the rock but I’ve also noticed that it’s a way to help me focus. Once, on my best climb to date, I noticed that I was singing Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It May Way.” Now, I’ll occasionally bust out some Beyonce or, my new favorite, Sail by Awolnation. Whatever type of music or ditty does it for you; sing it, hum it, or just say the lyrics in your head. This will remove negative thoughts from your internal monologue and will inspire you to push through.

There’s no shame in getting in your head; just remember that you don’t have to stay there. You can push through to that next hold, to that next run, or to the top of that mountain.