Mental Fortitude In The Outdoors
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Overcoming mental limitations in backcountry sports (and life)
"Your mind is your limitation."
It's the classic quote meant to inspire strength, resilience and the mental fortitude to overcome all obstacles. I have never doubted the quote's validity, but I also couldn't vouch for it either. You see, I hadn't truly pushed myself out of my comfort zone. And when I say "comfort zone", I mean complex, questionable I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing comfort zone. That is, until I began my backcountry sports journey.
I've always been an explorer at heart. I reread books like Call of the Wild & Into the Wild because they sparked a curious, adventurous interest in me. I wanted to take my outdoor pursuits to the next level, beyond hiking. I wanted to explore remote areas, learn complex outdoor activities and push myself beyond physical limitations. But at the end of the day, I never had the courage to take the next step. I'm a methodical individual that loves to research before diving into something complex, yet at the same time, I found myself coming up with excuses as to why I wasn't pushing my backcountry boundaries.
"How do I know what gear to buy for backcountry skiing and mountaineering? When should I take the avalanche course? Will I even be able to assess terrain?"
I began to realize that all of my questions were holding me back from taking the next step, so I started changing my language from No to Alright, let's do it. From that moment, I began my true, personal growth journey that has molded me into the woman that I am today.
I failed a lot throughout the process, from navigation challenges, to summit bails, to hard falls climbing. With each failure, I quickly adapted and became a much more, well-rounded outdoors-woman. I realized that life is full of opportunities to fail, adapt and overcome based on experiences. Now you could say I have a lot of outdoor experiences in my "backcountry portfolio"—ice and rock climbing, backcountry skiing, mountaineering and much more.
So, what changed? Here are my findings (and friendly reminders) based on my experience:
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 or 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 reputable organizations in your area.
You'll look a little clueless... and that's okay. Everyone has 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, and maybe they are, but regardless it's important to learn from our mistakes 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.
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 uncomfortable, but not to a point where it's holding you back.