Books: The Mind Gym

I received a copy of The Mind Gym from the Rockrats for one of my birthdays a couple of years back. I think Simian Boy chose this book after I’d been complaining about not having the “mental” to climb better. The Mind Gym is an excellent book for training that “muscle” sitting inside your cranium and I took a lot out of it.

A common mistake a lot of people make is in assuming that a sport like rock climbing is all about brawn. I’ve often heard people telling me that they would only pick up climbing after they get stronger. That proves to be the first weakness of the mind – the acceptance of the fallacy that one must be strong in order to be able to climb.

Rock climbing is a sport that requires the physical as much as the mental. When I first started climbing, it was creativity with my moves that helped me to get through routes that others could just “power” their way through. I found that as I got stronger, that creativity was overtaken by my growing muscles. It was as though my increased muscle power was making me more “stupid”. For instance, I would make energy-wasting moves that could easily have been managed with some energy-conserving moves. It was as if I left my brain on the ground because I was thinking less on the wall.

What I found most inspiring about The Mind Gym was the idea that one could excel in a sport without talent if one has the passion and desire to strive for it. For someone like me who has never been talented in sports, I certainly knew about pouring my heart and soul into something I yearned for. Take Michael Jordon’s story for an example. When he was a teenager he couldn’t even make the highschool basketball team and yet we all know him to be one of the best basketball players of all time. It was his determination and desire that got him where he longed to be.

Another story that comes to mind was about another basketball player who would stay back after school on Friday evenings shooting basketball hoops. When asked by the cleaner why he wasn’t out partying with the other kids, he simply replied, “That won’t get me where I want to go.” Now that’s focus!

One of the stories that I kept close to heart was about a golfer who was trapped in a POW camp for many years. To escape from his environment, he would imagine himself playing golf everyday. When he was finally freed, he found his golf handicap had improved even though he hadn’t touched a golf club in years! That’s called visualisation.

I first used visualisation in rock climbing when I was projecting a route. Just before the crux, I would imagine myself working the crux a few times before actually physically attempting it. It is said that the mind cannot differentiate between a real memory and some fictitional daydream. The more you visualise something, the more the mind perceives it as something you have done and succeeded in plenty of times before, therefore there is no reason why this occasion should be any different.

Another lesson close to heart was discussed in the chapter called “Permission to Win”. When you come from nothing, the pressure to perform becomes enormous when people start expecting you to do well. When you’re nobody, you have nothing to lose. The moment people start noticing you, the pressure to maintain the reputation is so great it can be as bad as lacking ability.

One example the book quotes is about a golfer who was a dark horse. During a tournament he came out of nowhere and appeared as if he was going to win. In his last round with one easy swing to go, he totally botched it up and lost the championship. He was an unknown golfer who wasn’t used to being in the limelight. Suddenly when he was in it, he didn’t know how to handle it and as result, his game suffered for it.

The Mind Gym is an excellent book for overcoming all the obstacles that our minds set up for ourselves. I found the lessons applicable not only to sports but also to other aspects of my day-to-day life. Definitely a great book if you feel you need to toughen up that muscle between your ears.

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