Quite a while ago, I bought my first eBook – The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers by Arno Ilgner. I was looking for books about climbing and came across this one. Unfortunately, it was only available as an eBook (I prefer my books to be made with paper). I started reading it, and then, for whatever reason (I can’t remember now) I put it aside. But, I picked it up again the other day. And this time, I found it a much more interesting read. Especially when I realized how much of what he was writing aligns very well with grad school.
As the book is about mental training, it focuses a lot on your thought process as you climb. What kind of negative self-talk are you doing? Are you evaluating your self-worth on your ability to do a route on a specific day? It talks about various mental pitfalls you can get into when climbing and how they can prevent you from achieving your best.
When I was reading it the other day, I came multiple statements and paragraphs that jumped out at me. With a few small changes, they could have been aimed directly at grad students. One such paragraph is quoted below.
Here’s the complete scenario for performance-oriented self-worth: If you have a string of weak performances, you’ll be down on yourself in general, creating a destructive downward spiral. If you climb well half the time, you’ll be the passive recipient of reward half the time, and of punishment the other half. If you mange to climb well all the time, you’ll get the dubious reward of becoming an egomaniac with a precarious self-image, destined for a crash. You can look forward to an old age spent in endless rehash of past days of glory. If you think about it, no matter how well you climb, tangling up your self-worth with your performance is a lose-lose situation.
I know and have known grad students who fit into the second category really well (those who “climb” well all the time). And I’ve witnessed a lot of them hit that crash, which generally seems to be followed by an exit from grad school. However, I think many (most?) of us, probably fall in to the group that feels like things go well half the time and not great half the time. And are therefore continually swinging from elation to depression (kind of bi-polar like).
In this same section of the book, he goes on to talk about how the more important way to look at these events, is to be examining what you learned from them. Do you know what you could do different next time? Can you figure out where you failed? Or how you managed to succeed? And then to use each experience to improve upon the next.
I’m looking forward to finishing his book, because with the way I’ve felt towards grad school lately, I know I can use some help to mentally reframe what’s going on. And, I’d like to improve at climbing as well.