Our ability to focus on the task of rock climbing, often means that we can utilise all of our technique and tactics to succeed on our chosen route. It is often a question of being able to focus on the right things, and not the things like feelings of anxiety or negative thoughts that will adversly affect our climbing performance.
Many people see focus having two major polar dimension, one of those is a wide versus a narrow focus of attention, whilst the other is an internal versus external focus of attention. This gives us four possible zones of attentions (See Diagram). In climbing just a single pitch of climbing we might visit all four of these focuses of attention.
Narrow/External: We may use this zone when placing a wire or actually making a move, often thought of as the action zone.
Narrow/Internal: We may use this zone to think through the crux of a route, often looked at as the problem solving/visualisation zone
Wide/External: We may use this zone to look at the route, and get an overview, often looked at at an awareness zone
Wide/Internal: We may use this to emotionally deal with exposure or position, often looked at as the analysis of the situation zone
In order to work on your focus it is first necessary to develop and awareness of your focus, then try to develop a sort of control in everyday life before trying to exert some control in your climbing.
Exercise One – Awareness
Several times a day spend 10 minutes on seeing what you mind focuses on. See if you can attribute the point of focus to one of the four zones we talked about earlier.
Exercise Two – Wide/Narrow
Whilst sitting down, try and switch your attention between a single object and the whole room.
Exercise Three – Internal/External
Whilst in a room or situation switch your focus from internal feelings to external atmosphere.
Exercise Four – Maintaining Focus
repeat exercises two and three, but try and maintain focus for as long as possible before switch your attention.
Exercise Five – Working through the Zones to Action
Stage 1 – use a wide external focus to become aware of a situation or route
Stage 2 – switch to a wide and internal focus to analysis that situation or route
Stage 3 – switch to a narrow and internal focus of attention to visualise/problem solve the situation or route
Stage 4 – enter the narrow and external focus of attention and act on the situation or climb the route.
This last process of working through the four zones will help you both before and during a climb. The important areas are that you are rational when you look at the awareness and the analysis of the situation. It is in these areas that we can adversely effect our performance by focusing on the negatives of a situation. It is here that we need to help focus on the positives of a situation, or see a way out of it, like a gear placement or a ledge or jug somewhere you can see a way to. See or search this blog for Self talk for some ideas for remaining positive.
As you develop the awareness of where your focus is at a given moment on a climb, you might see that there are times that it is better to focus on the narrow and external or action zone, rather than on internal thoughts and feelings.