Rock Climbing: A Metaphor for Reaching your Goals

January 14th, 2018

A couple of my friends are rock climbers, and they would often tell gripping climbing stories when we would go for beers.  Their stories most often focused on how they managed to climb a particular wall. They would describe the challenges with a smile on their face. They would share how they had to execute some insanely acrobatic move beyond the crux, and they would pass on to their audience the huge sense of triumph they felt as they reached the top after a grueling climb.

Rock climbing seemed like a lot of fun, and considering how much I love a good challenge, I decided to go with them.  My friends assured me that this wall was perfect for a first timer.  “It is a short hike from the road and only 150 feet high which allows us to secure the rope from the top of the wall for safety. It is also close to the hospital.”  They thought this last part was funny.   I felt much better knowing that the wall was only 150 feet high.

We drove for 30 minutes and turned left at a hospital.  “This is the hospital we mentioned”  They reminded me as I started to feel that this was a bad idea.  Shortly thereafter we parked the car at the head of the trail leading to our climbing spot.  We unpacked the car, put on the packs with all the gear, and started walking.  About an hour later we arrived at the bottom of a cliff.  I lifted my head, pushed my head back a little bit more, and only after arching backward could I see the top.  It was nothing like I imagined.

It turns out that 150 vertical is a lot bigger than 150 horizontal.  The reality is that the wall itself was not as tidy as a climbing wall at the gym.  There was water seeping through, dirt, moss, and small plants growing on it.   At the base of the wall people had dated and signed their name to substantiate their achievement.  One of them even installed a plaque to commemorate their ascent.  It turns out that the plaque was to remember the accidental death of a climber and served as a reminder to all climbers to stay safe.  The foot of the wall was littered with boulders of various sizes.  Some of them were pebbles while many others weigh more than three pounds and were the size of a football.  My friends reminded me that these boulders broke free from the wall and this is why we wear a helmet.  The rocks in question have almost razor sharp edges and these edges could lacerate your fingertips if you slipped.  I gently tested my helmet with a one-pound boulder I was holding and I did not feel any safer.  That’s when I remembered how far we were from a hospital in case something did happen. My feelings at that moment were in direct contradiction to all the riveting stories my friends recounted.  Will I fall and die?  Will I get stuck half way up and live with the embarrassment?

Fortunately, my friends kindly explained that my feelings were normal and that I will be more comfortable after a few times. Meanwhile, I was thinking, “If I survive this, I am NEVER doing this again!”

My friends coached me on some basic climbing techniques and helped me figure out a route suitable for me. Remarkably, after they demonstrated the climb, prepared me mentally for the ascent, and put me in a harness to make sure I wouldn’t die, up I went.   And I, too, enjoyed the thrill of reaching the top and overcoming a challenge.

Climbing the Wall: 5 Steps to Accomplish Any Goal

So many parallels can be drawn from rock climbing.  Fear of failure, fear of injury, and fear of losing everything are all powerful emotions that can prevent us from taking action.  To face and move through these challenges, we need to set goals, plan our route to the end point, learn the necessary techniques, be adaptable, and find compassionate and skillful coaches to help us along the way.

Here are five steps that are guaranteed to get you to your goal and beyond:

Set a Goal: A good way to start any meaningful endeavor is to visualize the end result.  What do you see when you visualize your future?  Do you see a beautiful family home, spending time with your family, traveling the world, etc. Maybe you attempted to reach this goal in the past and were not successful.  Don’t be afraid, take a chance, get out of your comfort zone, and choose goals that are bold and daring.

Plan Your Route:  Even the most grandiose goals are achievable with carefully planned-route of feasible intermediate steps or objectives.  Back to my climbing analogy, before scaling any rock face or wall, I learned to spend time to identify potential holds (this is what we call a crack, a bump, or a ledge where we can hold on to the rock wall) and planned my route all the way to the top before I even made my first move.  I would then visualize myself move from one hold to the next, trying various paths in my mind until I finally determined the best route for me.  Remember that the route you plan must be personal.  The route I planned out is specific to me because it is based on my skills, experience, and other personal constraints. Another climber would most likely have chosen another route based on his or her arm length, flexibility, experience, finger strength, etc.  It is similar when you are planning to reach your goals in life.  The route you choose is based on your experience, your skills, your connections, and your risk profile.

Take the first step:  People often come to me with business ideas.  I consult them on the fundamentals of the business.  Once we know the idea has potential we start the planning process.  We refine the plan, mitigate risks, review alternatives, and plan some more.  At the end of each cycle a decision is made whether to begin the business or plan some more.  People often get stuck in an infinite planning loop.  There are many reasons for this planning paralysis and we need to recognize the inherent fear of doing something different and to understand that the plan is not meant to cover every eventuality.  How do we know we’ve planned enough? Once you have addressed all your concerns.  Going back to rock climbing for a moment I was concerned with falling or being hit on the head with falling rocks.  These concerns were not were completely eliminated but they were significantly reduced.  Once these risks are mitigated it is time to stop planning and take your first step towards your goal.

Push through your fears: Rock climbing still remains a challenge, as I attempt more difficult walls, but the anxiety and fear I once experienced has been replaced by playfulness. I could have quit before climbing my first wall, but I pushed through my fears.  I analyzed what could go wrong and determined what was minimizing its outcome.  I could fall hundreds of feet to the ground and die but I wore a harness and was tied by a rope.  A rock could fall and hit my head so I wore a helmet.  Minimize the risks and push through your fears.

Be Adaptable: At the bottom of the wall you can more easily evaluate where you will place your hand or your foot for the holds close to you.  The higher up you look, however, the more likely you are to misjudge a hold.  It is only once you reach that hold that you realize that it is not as big, as solid as, or further away than you thought.  Remind yourself of what you achieved so far and stay playful and open.  Identify more feasible alternative paths.  Be adaptable and opened to all alternatives because sometimes you must take steps back in order to move forward, while the goal remains the same. Every objective successfully completed will boost your confidence and give you the energy to push you further.

So the next time you are excited about an idea or a project and you are not sure how go about it, just remember this rock climbing analogy and climb on.

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