Recently, I had dinner with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in many years. I first knew her back when my sole obsession in life was rock climbing. She shared some of my stories with our common friends – friends who have never known the climber I once was. They stirred the memories that I have kept locked up in that dark and hidden recess of my mind, breaking the dam that held them back.
Giving up rock climbing was one of those decisions I often look back on and wonder how differently my life would be now if I had chosen the other path. Back then, it didn’t seem like there was any other direction I could have gone in. My friend gave me an easy out – she said that things would have been different if only I had other strong female climbers with me to help me keep going. I had reached a level where even the male climbers had gotten scared of me. Well, I don’t think that was entirely true, but let’s pretend it is.
The choice has gone and I cannot get it back. There are people who tell me I can still become all that again. Yes, I know I can. But it would require more sacrifices from me – ones I can no longer afford to make. I am not genetically blessed. Rock climbing did not come easily to me. I spent an enormous amount of time honing that craft – time I now cannot afford because my life is not my own.
There was a post I wrote as a bit of a laugh, but it wasn’t really that far from the truth: How to Climb a 7A. Twice a week, I would rush to the rock climbing gym immediately after work, eat “dinner” in the car on the way, and climb until the gym closed. After that, I would join my climbing friends at the mamak and talk climbing until it was time to go home. On the weekends, I went to Batu Caves and climbed from morning to night. There were even times when we had to shine the car headlights at the wall to save gear because we’d stayed too long.
We planned all our holidays around rock climbing:
- Down to Singapore to climb at the outdoor artificial wall in Safra Yishun and on the quarry rock in Dairy Farm.
- Up to Penang to climb on sandstone in Jesselton, bouldering on the beach, the outdoor artificial wall at the Youth Sports Complex, and Penang hill.
- Up to Gua Kelam in Perlis.
- To Gua Musang in Kelantan.
- To Krabi, the climbing mecca in Southeast Asia (even chancing it during SARS and the insurgency in Southern Thailand).
Rock climbing is possibly one of the few things I have ever stayed with long enough to become good at it. It taught me that you don’t have to be genetically blessed to be able to climb decently. Through experience, I learned a lot about the practical aspects of the growth mindset and deliberate practice – lessons I wished I had learned and understood when I was younger.
I think the reason I was so obsessed with rock climbing was because I knew I was not good at it. I knew that all my achievements came through training and practice. I was afraid that if I even missed one day of practice, I would somehow lose everything I had built up until then. If I didn’t keep up my insane schedule, I wouldn’t be able to continue climbing at that level and I wouldn’t progress further.
So the answer is “no”. I will never get back to that level of rock climbing proficiency because I can’t train at the rock climbing gym until closing or spend my entire weekend rock climbing at the crag. It’s not just because I can’t afford the time, but it is also because I don’t have the supporting people to train with. I made the choice to come this way and I must stop looking back and wondering “what if”.
Rock climbing was like a beautiful relationship I once had. I can still remember it fondly, but now it’s over and it’s time to move on.
The Power of a Journal
There is one thing I used to do that I think I will pick up again. I used to keep a journal on my rock climbing experiences. Most of the time, it was largely rubbish, but occasionally, I wrote about the milestones I reached, like the day I red-pointed my first 7 and when I completed the route Chess. I also made notes about things to work on, stuff to improve – this, I believe, had a significant effect on my progress in rock climbing.
There is power in reflection and in articulating those thoughts through journaling. Thinking via reflection is the first step. Writing them out clarifies the thoughts and gives them solidity.
It would seem that the hunch has some scientific backing. According to a Harvard Business School study, such reflections can help boost performance – by as much as 22.5%, it seems:
We argue that once an individual has accumulated a certain amount of experience with a task, the benefit of accumulating additional experience is inferior to the benefit of deliberately articulating and codifying the experience accumulated in the past. We explain the superior performance outcomes associated with such deliberate learning efforts using both a cognitive (improved task understanding) and an emotional (increased self-efficacy) mechanism… Our results support the proposed theoretical framework and bear important implications from both a theoretical and practical viewpoint.Di Stefano, et al. 2014
Based on that premise, reflection is necessary for further gain and improvements – perhaps, even more so than extra practice. So let’s see what journaling can do to support my personal fitness journey. Even if it only adds an additional 22.5% increase in performance, that is still 22.5% more than it would have been. I’ll take that.