Mental Fortitude In The Outdoors
Updated: Dec 19, 2018
How to overcome mental limitations and radiate confidence in outdoor sports (and life).
"You can do anything that you set your mind to!"
We have all heard it. The classic quote meant to inspire you, remove all self doubt, and remind you that your mind is your limitation. I always preached it to my friends, but I never truly believed in it myself... until I began my climbing and backcountry ski journey.
Outdoor recreation has always been a critical part of my life, but my passion catapulted three years ago when I began dating my significant other, John. As our relationship progressed, so did our limits and goals. When we completed our 30-mile snowshoe trip through Yosemite, we thought 'Wow, Yosemite is a mecca for climbing. We need to learn so we can come back for climbing trips!' When we failed to summit Quandary Peak in January '17 due to strong winds (just 300ft shy of the summit), we thought 'It's not winter that makes hiking miserable, it's your gear. We need to be more prepared... but also did you see that guy backcountry skiing with his golden retriever? Now that's what we need to do!'
We always had new goals and learning experiences from both our successes and failures. But there were also thoughts of doubt circling through my mind...
How does someone even begin climbing? All of the ropes look so complicated... what do words like anchors, bolts, lead, trad, multi-pitch even mean?! I'm going to look so ridiculous.
Backcountry skiing is a serious time commitment and financial investment... how do I know what gear to buy? When should we take the Avalanche course? Will I even understand it and be able to assess terrain?
My mind was running into light-speed. Suddenly I was analyzing every scenario, the what-if's, and all of the things that could possibly go wrong. I communicated these hesitations to John... but continued progressing. Fast-forward 1.5 years later... we are avid outdoor climbers, we have a solid backcountry ski set-up, and we're currently completing our Avalanche Course through the National Ski Patrol.
So, what changed? Honestly, nothing. I am proud to say that my determination has always overcome my hesitations. With that said, I learned a lot about myself through the process and what gives me the confidence and mental fortitude to continue moving forward (list below):
Research is key... the only reason you feel uncomfortable is because you don't understand it. We are lucky to have a database of knowledge right at our fingertips... take the time to read, watch videos, and speak with sport/industry experts.
Get hands on... go into the field with a (really) good friend who doesn't mind taking time to show you the ropes. If you don't have an expert friend, then look into taking a course through organizations like Colorado Mountain School or National Ski Patrol.
You're going to look silly... and that's okay! Everyone had to start from square one at some point. Maybe you forget to flake the rope and now it's getting all tangled as your partner is climbing. You suddenly feel like everyone is looking at you! Maybe they are, but regardless it's important to learn from our 'oops!' moments so we can correct it in the future.
Your mind is your biggest limitation... is what it all comes down to. It's important to understand if it's mind or matter that is pulling you back. If you practice pushing yourself, even when your mind is saying I can't do it!, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
If you would have told me five years ago that I was backcountry skiing, lead climbing outside, or running trail half marathons above 10,000ft - I would have laughed.
Now I look back and laugh at my doubts.
Whether it's outdoor sports, personal relationships, or professional goals - it's important to understand that we grow as individuals when we are put into uncomfortable situations. It's okay to be scared and to doubt yourself, but only if you let determination prevail.