How to Overcome Mental Challenges When Rock Climbing

Climbing Psychology Tips How to Overcome Mental Challenges When Rock Climbing

Climbing Psychology Tips: How to Overcome Mental Challenges When Rock Climbing

4 Strategies to help you get out of your own way

The sport of rock climbing can range from small indoor climbing walls to extreme, 3000ft vertical rock faces. No matter what the level, success in this sport requires mental skills including mental clarity, focus and emotional management. You could be the strongest and most physically talented climber on the wall but if your mental game isn’t on point, you won’t achieve all you’re capable of!

Read on to learn about common challenges climbers face plus psychological strategies which can enhance your performance.

What are some Psychological Challenges For Rock Climbers?

Fear of Falling

Exactly what it says on the tin, fear of falling involves thoughts that one will fall, inducing anxiety and fear which can then spiral into lost focus, physical and mental freezing or even quitting. 

Fear of Failing

Another anxiety-inducing state, the fear of failing can come about when the climber sets realistic goals for themselves that they then doubt they can reach. Goals could be a particular climb, a move or even leading a group. In turn, confidence, motivation and determination are negatively impacted.

Mental Limits

Mental limits refer to the phenomenon of thinking you can not do as well as you actually can. You might imagine limitations to your skills or performances which then holds you back from reaching your potential.

Psychological Strategies to Try 

If these or any other psychological barriers are affecting your climbing, read on for some scientifically proven strategies for improving your mental game.

Relaxation: box breathing

Your mental state is tightly linked with:

  • your emotional states, 
  • physical sensations and 
  • behaviours. 

As such, some of the most effective strategies for quietening the mind involve relaxation.  Box breathing is a strategy so effective at reducing stress it has been used by Navy SEALs.   This simple practice requires just a short moment. You can set a timer (say 5 mins) or simply do a couple of rounds as follows:

  • Gently take a deep breath in for a count of 4.
  • Hold that breath for a count of 4.
  • Gently exhale for a count of 4
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4.

Repeat as desired. 

This technique can instantly begin to calm your nervous system, quiet the mind, relax your body and allow for clearer thinking.

Positive thinking

When anxiety and stress kick in, they can trigger a cycle of unhelpful thoughts (many of which won’t even be factual!) feelings and behaviours. Seeing as we can only focus on one thing at a time, you have a choice: Focus on the positive or the negative.  By actively choosing to think about positive facts like “I have done this before” “I am strong” or “I am safe” you can trigger a more calming state of mind which in turn allows you to focus more and improve your performance. Thus creating a helpful, upward spiral of thoughts feelings and behaviours.


Mindfulness is the act of paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, non judgementally.  Benefits of the strategy include:

  • Calming the nervous system and emotions
  • Understanding unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Increasing alertness to our surroundings

If you’re a beginner you can try mindful breathing, as follows:

Sit comfortably. Begin to pay attention to the physical sensations when you breathe. You can focus on the feeling of air moving through your nose or mouth, or the sensation of the stomach rising and falling with each breath. When your mind begins to drift or chatter, gently bring your focus back to the breath. Each moment you notice your mind wandering is a moment of mindful awareness.

Do this for a few minutes.


Visualisation is the act of imagining an event in your mind’s eye. This influences a part of the brain called the ​​reticular activating system (RAS), an important part of the mind a bit like Google for all the sensory information around you. Whatever you search for, the RAS helps you find. If you focus on failing, it’ll find tools and evidence for that, and if you focus on success, it’ll find tools and evidence for that! 

So, actively choose to visualise what you want to happen. These can be brief visualisations during a climb, imagining the next step going well; or in-depth visualisations when you’re away from the wall, imagining a whole climb or tricky parts of it going well.

If you enjoyed this post please feel free to share it. Alternatively, for more in-depth or personalised advice from Alex, get in touch and see how you can work with her.

Alex Harper

Best Wishes 

Alexandra Harper

Mental Skills Performance Coach and Sports Counsellor located near Liverpool, UK supporting climbers and other extreme sport enthusiasts worldwide with Online Sports Psychology Services.  

E: [email protected]

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