The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for The Psychology Of Climbers


What can we learn from serious climbers? Mike Levenhagen from Santa Clara University outlined three themes that emerge from his study of such people.

Serious climbers climb for reasons of achievement and for the attainment of flow.

Serious climbers climb to build or define character.

Serious climbers climb to experience a sense of deep spiritual self-realisation.

Let’s explore these themes that he outlined in his paper. This was called A Stage Model of Why Climbers Climb And How It Frames the Discussions of Recent Climbing Controversies.

Serious climbers climb for reasons of
achievement and for the attainment of flow

Mike explains that serious climbers often set out to achieve certain targets. They may aim to scale a number of summits or achieve a certain grade of climbing.

As in many other fields, the initial focus is on learning technical skills that enable them to progress. Putting these skills into action can lead to experiencing a feeling of being in the zone. This can lead to the next stage.

Serious climbers climb to
build or define character

“They do so to prove their worth to self and others in more and more difficult, high-stress situations,” writes Mike.

“The deeper the pressure, the more their character is revealed.”

Serious climbers begin putting themselves into more high-stress climbing situations. This enables them to hone their discipline and test their mettle.

Mike says that such climbers venture more into ‘the head game’. They want to develop as practitioners of climbing and also as people.

Such climbers go on a journey to achieve excellence. Mike writes:

“As they do so, another shift in consciousness begins to unfold as their individual personalities get in the way of their learning and growth.

“It is likely that repeated, voluntary, high-stress experiences engender far-reaching new perspectives on life.”

Sometimes this involves moving on from enjoying a sense of flow to experiencing personal agonies. They can choose to go on or turn back.

Joseph Campbell described similar tests in his description of The Heroic Journey. You can read more about Joseph’s work via the following link.

Slides Heroic Journey.001

Some climbers choose to press on and embrace the tests. This leads to the next stage.

Serious climbers climb to experience a
sense of deep spiritual self-realisation

“In the last stage of climbing, a climber transitions from the mundane everyday world into a more sublime and heroic world,” says Mike.

Serious climbers sometimes experience a sense of spiritual transformation. Seeing things in perspective, they feel part of something greater than themselves. Mike writes:

“Death in any guise is conquered by the birth of something new, by a spiritual transformation, by redemption.

“Indeed, the most creative acts in the world derive from some kind of dying to the everyday world so that one comes back reborn, made great, and filled with creative powers.

“But first, the individualized self – the ego – must die.”

Joseph Campbell described how the Hero often experiences a sense of enlightenment on their journey. But sometimes it is hard to describe this to other people.

How to make sense of what they have learned? Will people be able to understand? That is when the wisdom begins to seep into their bones and they are changed forever.

The person returns to the ordinary world. They rest for a while, but then becomes restless. There is another mountain to climb, another adventure to pursue. The person sets out on another external and internal journey.

Serious climbers sometimes experience this feeling, says Mike. He writes:

“The great majority of climbers’ insights, reflections, and recollections in the writings – when they occurred – look to be about self-realization, about spiritual growth and expansion of the self, and about the meaning of life itself.”

He quotes John Long who wrote:

“Most extreme climbers are looking for an ascent to show them one more thing about life or themselves.”

Looking at your own life and work, are there any lessons that can be learned from serious climbers? When do you follow your passions and experience some of the emotions mentioned in the article?

What is the specific activity in which you develop your skills, enjoy a sense of flow, develop your character and develop spiritually? When do you feel part of something greater than yourself? How can you pursue this activity more in the future?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific activity in which you experience some of the things experienced by serious climbers.

Describe the specific things you can do to pursue this activity more in the future.

Describe the specific benefits – both for yourself and other people – of pursuing this activity.

Slides Climbers.002

Slides Climbers.003

Slides Climbers.004

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>