Why a little can mean a lot
Dear Why Team member,
I hope this week’s message finds you well and making progress.
This past week I had the pleasure of climbing in the Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Springs, California. My friend and guide Matt Walker, who has taken me on several climbs, up Glaciers and to the Summit of Kilimanjaro - continues to push and challenge me. It’s amazing to me the routes he takes and expects me to follow. He has made thousands of climbs, climbed every major mountain in the world and has even Summited Everest twice; yet, while knowing this is all relatively new to me, I’ve come to appreciate the routes he picks for me- to challenge and improve me.
That’s why I follow whenever he says,
On this trip last week, as on all the previous trips I have had with him,
he put me in positions outside of my comfort zone, to develop my skills and give me greater access to new possibilities. It was from Matt that I received the powerful insight that all of our possibilities are found in the unknown; the more courage we have to go into the unknown, the more possibilities we discover.
Makes sense when you think about it, but it’s much easier said than done; the unknown can be a particularly scary place. Maybe the greatest discovery for me on these climbs with Matt is how profoundly our attitude can determine our outcome.
Over two days in the park - significantly distanced socially - I found myself several times in predicaments on the rock-face that would almost overwhelm me with fear. I would be in these situations where I could not find a hand-hold or a foot-hold combined with being alone and very high up on a rock face; Matt being over the top and waiting for me.
So, there I was, stuck and not moving - and the longer you don’t move, the worse it gets. Anxiety starts to creep in, a small voice gradually getting louder, wanting your attention with thoughts like what have you gotten yourself into, you’re up a creek dude, you’re not going to be able to do this, you’re in over your head.
It’s amazing how quickly all these limiting thoughts can flood-in when we find ourselves in unknown territory- with no clear route or solution to progress. And again, the longer you’re not moving the worse it can get. Many times, in difficult climbing predicaments over the last four years, Matt would just simply say,
“Keep moving Steve!”
Initially, his words would simply bounce off my ears and my fears would continue to flood-in but once I started listening, really listening, those words would have an amazing affect. I would just move and often on just the smallest of foot-holds or hand-holds; the realization being that no progress is not an option- and that the smallest of progress is progress.
My very first significant climb with Matt, back in the Fall of 2016, was not only nearly 700 feet high, but I completed it on only the second day I had ever been outdoor rock climbing;
yep, second day.
When it was all over and my mind was completely blown, Matt was smiling at me at the bottom of the rock face; of course, I asked him “why” was he smiling. He said, “Steve, most climbers don’t attempt what you did today without at least 4 to 5 years of experience.”
Now, this was not comforting for me to hear. I said to him, “then why did you take me up this climb?”
I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, “because you didn’t know that”.
Wow, what more could we accomplish if we weren’t so educated on all the ways we could fail?
I learned something particularly powerful during that first major climb four years ago- an insight that came back to me last week in spades.
Matt took me on some particularly difficult runs, certainly difficult for me; routes that required me to do things I had never done before; for example, to make progress on one lateral route, I had nothing but my hands pulling back against a thin rock overhang, to apply pressure against the rock-face with my feet. Moves I absolutely would not have even attempted four years ago and even now were best to just do, in pursuit of my objective, and to not think about too much.
The insight that came back to me again, was the absolute waste of time and energy of contemplating failure.
In the heat of the moment, and even at other times, there is absolutely no value in negative contemplation.
If I was to reach my objective, it absolutely served me best to believe I would succeed.
That what was lying dormant within me would make its presence known out of shear necessity. And since failure was not an option, it only made the work harder to contemplate it.
Last week, for the first time, Matt took me up these routes with nothing but a crack in the rock to climb. I’ll never forget our last climb; the crack was the width of an arm or a leg in places, which presented the added possibility of putting in a limb that you couldn’t get out. High up the rock face, I reached a section of the climb that had no hand-hold or foot-hold outside of the crack. It seemed impossible and of course that thought rose up inside my head. To get beyond the fear and anxiety that I realized would not help me out of my predicament, I repeatedly said, out loud: “Come on Steve, you can do this, you can do this, figure it out!”
In this moment, I didn’t need Matt to tell me to move; he has done it enough in the past to where I knew I needed to move, and I needed to move now!
And so it came to me, I shoved my entire arm into the crack as high as I could reach, bent it at the elbow the few inches I could manage, to gain a hold, and hoisted myself up a few inches while my feet desperately scrambled for a purchase below. It was so crazy, but I was going up that mountain and there was nothing going to stop me- certainly not any thoughts of failure. And while I only gained a few inches, it made all the difference as it put me within reach of a new handhold, and then a new foothold that were not available to me just moments before.
No doubt you are picking up on all the metaphors here and how no matter where you might find yourself on the climb of your life, consider dropping all the contemplation of failure and get busy moving.
Wayne Dyer once said, “we didn’t discover how to make a ship float by contemplating it sinking”
Our minds, equipped with a survival instinct, are so quick to see what’s going wrong because they cannot see what will go right in the unknown future. It is written in the ancient text, “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Dr. Kevin Elko often says, “are you living in vision or are you living in circumstance?”
Time and again, when I go climbing with Matt, he specifically chooses routes just on the outside of anything I have ever done. I don’t know where he gets the faith that I can do it, but it is just that kind of confidence you want from a leader. When doubt lifts its limiting head, I have leaned into his confidence in me - a confidence that has grown within me and is now having me speak directly to myself:
“Come on Steve, you can do this!”
No matter what you are facing - believe, believe you will find a way. Believe that what you will need, WILL make its presence known when you most need it. Move, don’t stop, get past the stuck as quickly as you can and coach yourself through the difficult patches. Just look at what all you have already come through - you’re alive with skills developed from those tough segments life has given you.
Choose that next route confidently because it was given to you- someone out there knows YOU can do it as long as you tell yourself: “Come On, you can do this!”
And then you’ll discover more of those possibilities lying dormant within you.
Contemplate success more often and know that a little progress can mean a lot!
Make it a great week!
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