Theo Moore reflects on how a passion for climbing can turn into an unhealthy obsession...
It's easy to long for the rare but beautiful days not only to enjoy them but to capitalise on the best conditions for climbing hard. But I've found that sometimes this balance can tip the wrong way and I become so obsessed with the conditions and climbing hard that the enjoyment is a secondary consideration. What's worse, this obsession can also impact other areas of my life.
This article comes very much from my personal experience of trying to do something I love - climbing outdoors - and how I was able to quickly and surreptitiously turn it from something extremely positive in to something that was starting to become negative. Whilst it's personal, hopefully my account can be useful to others in maintaining their climbing as a passion rather than a restriction.
Interesting article Theo. Thanks for writing so honestly. Recognising there's a problem is the first step to fixing it.
In some ways 'the weather' is the perfect backdrop for this sort of self-examination that can have application in many areas of our lives. If there was ever anything in life that 'just is' and over which we have no control, it's the weather. All that remains therefore, is our reaction to it. It'll be rainy, or sunny, or the wind will be in the wrong or right direction, however we feel about it. You can create your own misery around it, but it only exists in your mind: the rain doesn't care.
Your article reminded me of the first six months of parenthood (about 6 years ago). I was miserable about the lost opportunities, all the other people out climbing, my growing belly and shrinking forearms.....then I realised that being a father (like the weather) wasn't going to change, so I could choose to be happy and stop punishing myself for things I couldn't change. Coming off Facebook and withdrawing from sources that would stimulate jealousy and FOMO helped, and enabled me to enjoy the blessings right in front of me, instead of lamenting the climbing I was missing. I've been a lot happier since then (and totally love being a parent despite all the compromises that come with it)
I hope you continue to focus on what makes you happy and let go of making yourself unhappy! Sounds obvious when written succinctly, but is much harder in practice in our 'performance driven' culture.
Great article, Theo. I'd be amazed if most of us didn't recognise elements of this as we go through our climbing lives.
Personally I remember when our first child was born, it took me at least two years to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer just head out climbing whenever I wanted. I actually resented it, rather than being delighted I was a dad. Not in a big way, but it was there all the same.
Now I'm just about to turn 58 and there's another factor I'm slowly becoming aware of. I'm pretty much climbing at the same grades I always have, but I have time against me. I can feel time slipping away and feel I should be on the crag as much as possible, while I'm still fit and able. But there's the family stuff, houses to clean, admin etc...
I guess what parenthood taught me - or forced me to find - was patience. And being grateful whenever you can actually get out on the crag.
Speaking of conditions though, there's a route I want to do Tuesday night and it's looking like the only damp day of the week.. grr
Thanks for the replies Chris and airborne. You've both given lovely examples of something we cannot change but to which we can change our attitude and thereby turn it from something that restricts our lives in to something that enriches them. Parenthood is something that I'm yet to encounter but I can see how it brings a similar challenge to the ones discussed in the article.
"All that remains therefore, is our reaction to it... let go of making yourself unhappy!" - I think this sums it up nicely Chris!
Great article Theo. Pretty brave to describe personal demons in the open.
Personally, I've found that the 'banter' is much more important than the route (I haven't always thought like this). I have a massive memory issue, to the point that I can turn up at a crag and have no idea whether I've been there before, never mind which routes I've climbed. When looking back at my hardest ascents I remember very little, if anything, of the actual route. What I do remember, and treasure is the messing around with mates, the walk-ins, the camping, the relentless piss taking or the talking bollocks as it goes dark on the walk off. I've slowly come to realise that these golden parts of climbing happen, no matter what grade you climb. Infact once the stress of 'the tick' has gone, the good times flow much more easily 🙂
I am still ambitious with my climbing and I don't think that will ever go, but not letting it be the 'be all & end all' anymore is a massive relief.
Great read. I got that way about road cycling and Badminton, it becomes an obbession just as you described. I don't do either now as I exhausted all the joy out of it so took up climbing and sea kayaking. My approach this time is just for the joy of doing it, much happier.
Really interesting article, thanks! Echo others about quitting social media being a huge help. An unintended side effect of the perceived endless psych that instagram / fb provide is endless jealousy and unhealthy comparisons. There is more to life than just thinking about climbing, and really important to be able to balance it with non-climbing activities and non-climbing relationships!
Very interesting read Theo. I was about to post something about similar feelings when becoming a dad but I've obviously missed that boat with Chris and airborne articulating those feelings better than I ever could.
I've just had a fab weekend climbing and camping in the Lakes, doing classic rock routes with friends who don't climb much. It was pure joy, from the climbing, to the belay stance banter, to the whiskey as the sun went down. It's taken a while to let go of pushing for the next grade every outing and finding the joy in the other aspects of climbing, all of which were why I started climbing in the first place.
Just what I needed before getting back out there on real rock!
Really enjoyed just being at the local wall over the last couple of weeks.
In 2019 I was getting a bit obsessive about bagging enough multi-pitch VS+ routes for future MTA qualification when I haven't even done the RCI training yet! It was starting to impact both my enjoyment and my partner's enjoyment of the climbing experience as a whole.
But, if it's a goal, you have to work towards it, right? I think I just needed to set my timelines a little further into the future and take my opportunities as they come rather than trying to force it to happen ASAP.
Living miles away from rock and watching people smashing it out on social media was a big problem for me. During 2020 I took a long break from Facebook altogether which really helped, then when back on FB I took a long "unfollow" from all the climbing groups as local only travel was winding me up.
Don't even get me started on winter climbing conditions this year!
Happy climbing everyone!
It's heart-warming to read stuff like this here, and I applaud you for being honest and true. I have seen the culture of climbing change so much in the last 20 years or so, and personally, I think it's way, way healthier than it used to be (I'm not saying everything is better, but it's a lot less toxic). It's a wonderful activity that involves thinking and acting with your whole body, but the mind sure can get in the way sometimes. I love that people are more prepared to openly discuss motivations, mental health, unrealistic expectations, negative self talk, shame, vulnerabilities, and all the other things that can derail us from having fun and enjoying life.