Improving Concentration – Part 2

This is the second in a series of articles on mental training, based on concepts from my new book, Maximum Climbing, available April 2010. View the first article here. –EH


Photo: Jim Ewing focused and sending on Ridiculissima, Gunks, NY. Hörst photo.

In climbing, a focused mind joins you to the rock like a fifth appendage, whereas an unfocused mind weighs you down like a heavy pack. Your pursuit of a better performance experience, then, demands that you develop the ability to create and maintain a focused mental state, despite whatever distractions or adversity you face. Here are two more techniques for narrowing and maintain focus before and during a climb.

Use Rituals to Narrow Focus
Use of preparatory rituals is a natural, and powerful, way of narrowing focus before you climb (or engage in any important activity). By engaging in a sequence of steps and procedures in the hours and minutes leading up to a climb, the conscious mind is given a series of operations on which to target focus. For example, going through a progression of physical warm-up and stretching activities followed by a familiar sequence of preparing your gear and examining the route, the mind becomes engaged in task-relevant processes and is less likely to stray toward external distractions or internal, nonproductive thoughts.

In this same way, you can develop rituals to help focus your mental state in a wide range of life activities. Given the complexity of the world we live in and the ease of getting distracted, using rituals that deflect distractions and narrow focus will not only improve your concentration in all you do but also elevate your mental state in a way that increases the effectiveness of your actions. It should be no surprise, then, that peak performers in sports, business, and elsewhere habitually employ well-refined rituals to narrow focus and shelter their eyes and ears from irrelevant cues and potential distractions.

Use Self-Talk to Direct the Conscious Mind
Earlier you learned the harmful effects of negative self-talk to your conscious state and ability to concentrate. It is obvious, then, that proactively directing positive self-talk is an indispensable tool for maintaining a focused, effective mental state. Examples of beneficial self-talk include simple instructions such as Relax, Stay in the moment, Keep breathing, Focus on footwork, and Soften the grip, as well as encouraging statements like I can do this move, I love adversity, Keep going, Hang on, and One more move. By filling your conscious mind with copious positive self-talk, it makes it difficult for outside distractions or negative thoughts to enter your stream of consciousness.

An important distinction in directing effective self-talk is that you never state the effect or outcome that you don’t want to happen. Saying to yourself, for example, Don’t feel nervous, Don’t fall, Don’t blow this move, or Don’t feel scared brings the unwanted outcome into your conscious mind and thus makes it more likely that you will experience the very state or outcome you hope to avoid. This is often called the pink-elephant effect, since if you say to yourself, Don’t think of a pink elephant, you will instantly see a pink elephant in your mind’s eye! Such reverse polarity self-talk might be viewed as a form of self-sabotage, and it’s actually a common bad habit of internal dialogue for many people. Make it your goal to forge a new habit of thinking. Strive for a greater awareness of your self-talk as well as better quality control in the words you speak to yourself.

Announcing the much-anticipated release of
Maximum Climbing: Mental Training for Peak Performance and Optimal Experience

  • Maximum Climbing is a useful and fascinating read for climbers of all ability levels.
    –Lynn Hill
  • Maximum Climbing teaches you how to climb better by flexing the most critical muscle, the three-pound one between your ears.
    –Duane Raleigh,
    editor-and-chief, Rock & Ice
  • In this fascinating book, Hörst reveals many of the secrets to climbing your best by tapping into the vast potential of the human brain.
    –Ally Rainey
  • In this book, Eric Hörst provides climbers with a clear path to athletic mastery.
    –Steve Bechtel
    , Elemental Training Center

Learn more at:

Copyright 2010 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.