/ ARTICLE: Success Vs Failure in Climbing

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UKC Articles - on 29 Nov 2016
La Muerte del Sponsor, 7b+, Siurana, 5 kbTheo Moore discusses the importance of seeing past the dichotomy of success and failure as a climber...

In climbing and in life in general we distinguish between success and failure. Did you climb your latest project? Success. Fell off on the easy moves just before the top? Failure. We often consider our activities as either a success or a failure. Labelling things in this way helps us make sense of our activities, but using such a strong dichotomy can have disadvantages as well as advantages. In this article I use my personal experience of success and failure to explain how I refine the distinction, and how this has enabled me to enjoy and improve my climbing.



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Andy Peak 1 - on 29 Nov 2016
In reply to UKC Articles:
Fantastic read.
Michael Gordon - on 29 Nov 2016
In reply to UKC Articles:

Interesting article.

It is hard to look for certain emotions - we either feel them or we don't. So surely the best way of measuring 'success' is how happy we are afterwards with our efforts or how the day has gone. Expectation can play a part. A big tick of a multipitch classic, if disappointingly easy, may be less personally rewarding than a slightly harder but on the whole poorer route, snatched on a day when the chances of getting up anything (for whatever reason) seemed unlikely.

The best experiences are when 'success', 'achievement' and 'progression' happen at the same time (though by definition this is rare). Onsighting a route very near your limit, pushing aside doubts and fears and committing to hard moves above gear, would be one such example, regardless of grade. A similarly successful ascent of a higher graded route but if found in contrast to be soft and not quite as difficult as the above, might not be as rewarding as it lacks the 'progression' element.
thebigfriendlymoose - on 29 Nov 2016
In reply to UKC Articles:

the TL:DR version: even the days that don't go as well as hoped are money in the bank.
Fraser on 29 Nov 2016
In reply to Andy Peak 1:

Agreed, very enjoyable.

To the Web team:
FYI, the first 5 'thumbs' to the articles following this one don't display for me, Android 5.0.2 and Chrome.
AlanLittle - on 29 Nov 2016
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Totally agree. One of my most enjoyable climbing "achievements" of the year was getting the last three moves, and the first two moves, of a six move boulder problem. (Move #3 feels like it's going to need another winter on the fingerboard)

Otoh I got my first redpoint at a new hardest grade, in three or four goes in an afternoon, and felt cheated. It was a three or four move section in the middle on an otherwise easy route, and the three or four moves weren't even *that* hard.
jondo - on 07:46 Wed
In reply to UKC Articles:

it is a question of values in life, the same can be said of work.
when social achievement ('status' ) is a hidden intention behind activities, it can take away enjoyment, meaning, and lead to depression.
its all about intention...
theomoore - on 09:50 Wed
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> The best experiences are when 'success', 'achievement' and 'progression' happen at the same time (though by definition this is rare). Onsighting a route very near your limit, pushing aside doubts and fears and committing to hard moves above gear, would be one such example, regardless of grade. A similarly successful ascent of a higher graded route but if found in contrast to be soft and not quite as difficult as the above, might not be as rewarding as it lacks the 'progression' element.

Thanks for the comments.

This is the ideal experience isn't it - onsighting something at your physical and mental limits and only just making it. As you rightly say these experiences are rare.

How do we know what we have pushed ourselves to our limits on an onsight? When we onsight a trad route that has the same physical grade as our hardest sport grade? Perhaps this sport grade isn't our physical limit though. There have been a few occassions where I've been at the crag with a friend and asked "reckon you could solo that if someone had a gun to your head?". Point being, we aren't aware of our physical and mental limits, but that's not a problem - the complexity of climbing is part of the beauty of it!
1poundSOCKS - on 10:02 Wed
In reply to theomoore:

> How do we know what we have pushed ourselves to our limits on an onsight? When we onsight a trad route that has the same physical grade as our hardest sport grade? Perhaps this sport grade isn't our physical limit though.

If you're used to fighting on routes and falling off, you get to know what your limit is.
theomoore - on 10:04 Wed
In reply to 1poundSOCKS:

Unless you're falling off because you're too scared to do the moves - then your head is obscuring your physical limit.
1poundSOCKS - on 10:09 Wed
In reply to theomoore:

Obviously there are other reasons to fall off.

It's not hard to work out in reality though.
mrchewy - on 12:11 Wed
In reply to AlanLittle:



> Otoh I got my first redpoint at a new hardest grade, in three or four goes in an afternoon, and felt cheated.

Unluckily, every time I've increased a grade it's been an onsight - the last time, I felt so thoroughly deflated that I hunted everywhere for a guidebook that lowered the grade. Finally found a german one that called the climb 6b and not +. Normality restored in my mind despite Rockfax disagreeing.

That's grades tho, we don't always fit into them neatly and that can lead to the feeling cheated eh?

Kelvin

Mark Haward - on 17:09 Wed
In reply to UKC Articles:

There is also a perspective from N.L.P. that can be useful. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.
Or put another way, by learning to respond positively to 'failure' the 'failure' is the feedback that we can choose to analyse and learn from that can lead to new actions / behaviours that are more likely to lead to success. Failure can be seen as an essential and welcome part of the learning process - as long as personally acceptable levels of risk / safety and the safety of others are also taken into account.
I also feel that it is important to remember that our definitions of success or failure have to be realistic to ourselves personally. For example; For some people leading E5 would be easy, for others challenging, for others impossible at the moment and for some it wouldn't even be on their personal radar. ( For me it would be a miracle! ) Leading E5 may be success for one person, for somebody else leading a VS is their 'success'. Sometimes it is easy to feel a failure (or perceive someone else as a failure) because as a climber we ( or somebody else) may not be leading E5 or completing that awesome alpine route etc. We all have different reasons as to why we like whatever climbing we do, it is important to remember to enjoy it at whatever our personal definition for success or failure is.
So embrace a level of failure - which is all great news 'cos I fail a lot!!
bensilvestre - on 18:10 Wed
In reply to UKC Articles:

Well written article, nice one. As has been stated it all depends on intent. Failure or success is pretty black and white if my intent is to onsight a particular route, although sometimes the real success is forgetting the reputation and just having a go. If I go to a new crag in scotland in winter with the intent of exploration and adventure, I might be successful without even putting my crampons on!
sheelba - on 22:55 Wed
In reply to UKC Articles:

A nice article and I agree with the sentiment, however you haven't understood what eudaimonia means. It is not simply satisfaction or well-being and has nothing to do with reaching a 'goal', other than the goal of eudaimonia itself. It is right action in accordance with virtue. It is a process in which the virtues are cultivated, such as courage, temperance, justice, which I would argue have little to do with climbing. This Aristotle (with whom the idea is most associated) believed made you good at being a human and would therefore bring you happiness. It's important to get this right as while you are right to play down the importance of success and failure you are wrong to highlight achievement and progression as the key to a happy climbing life. Achievement is much too transitory, it will bring you temporary happiness until you crave after the next goal (a grade harder, or a better style of ascent etc.). Similarly you shouldn't link happiness to progression because progression never ends, you will not progress to point where you are completely satisfied with the level you climb. Instead you have to learn to be happy out climbing whatever you're doing, regardless of how the day goes (obviously this is not appropriate if a trad route goes really badly with serious consequences) which I think is the real message you are trying to get across.

Personally think climbing is mentally an unhealthy pastime precisely because of the things you mention. It is very hard not to measure yourself against the grade you climb. In other sports there is a less clearly defined spectrum of difficulty. For example I play badminton and I don't say I'm a 3.2 badminton player and get annoyed if I get beaten by a 3.1 or happy if I beat a 3.3. The grades encourage you to focus on measuring yourself against a standard rather than simply enjoying what you're doing.
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theomoore - on 23:46 Wed
In reply to sheelba:
> A nice article and I agree with the sentiment, however you haven't understood what eudaimonia means.

Whoa I didn't think we'd have any virtue ethicists in the room!

Thanks for your comment and you're right - I have abused the concept of Eudaimonia here.

What I was trying to get across is that the feeling we get from climbing success is not always simply an instantaneous shot of adrenaline, it is often more of a slow-burn of satisfaction. I do think that well being is a good translation of eudaimonia however, particularly in comparison to happiness.

My intention was not to prescribe what should or should not make one happy in climbing, but rather to suggest that there is success, and the feelings we attach to it, to be found in the areas of climbing we may overlook.

On the subject of Aristotle - source of climbing inspiration that he is - I have another idea for an article based on an analogy between the occurrence of climbing confidence and the idea of eudaimonia as the bi-product of other activities rather than something that is pursued in isolation. I may have to crack out the Nicomachean Ethics first though. Watch this space!
Post edited at 00:14

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