Going beyond what is “an acceptable level of performance”

This was sent to me today by someone who has taken the time to push me, encouraging me to go beyond “an acceptable level of performance” Thanks Will G.

Written by Joshua Foer

“When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it’s strange. We’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don’t they just keeping getting better and better?

In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we’re as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot. Most of the time that’s a good thing. The less we have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters. You can actually see this phase shift take place in f.M.R.I.’s of subjects as they learn new tasks: the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active, and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the O.K. plateau.

Psychologists used to think that O.K. plateaus marked the upper bounds of innate ability. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,” Sir Francis Galton argued that a person could improve at mental and physical activities until he hit a wall, which “he cannot by any education or exertion overpass.” In other words, the best we can do is simply the best we can do. But Ericsson and his colleagues have found over and over again that with the right kind of effort, that’s rarely the case. They believe that Galton’s wall often has much less to do with our innate limits than with what we consider an acceptable level of performance. They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough.

To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail. ”

Written by Joshua Foer. The entire article can be found here…http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html


stuck on the side of the road

So, ironically enough, as we speak i’m sitting in a lineup, on the side of the road, waiting for “the gate” to open (roads closed from avalanches). You gotta love technology–internet tethering off my iphone, giving me access to the net on my lap top, on the side of the road. Cool.

Anyways, the ironic part is that i had a crap day climbing, and now i’ve been given time to process it all…on the side of the road (and not whilst driving which is prolly safer). So, today there was an indoor dry-tooling comp in Canmore, Alberta. I’ve been goin to this thing off and on for several years. Some bouts have been good, others not so good. Today was one of those “not so good” bouts. Everything about my climbing today wasn’t climbing. I’m trying to figure out/analyze why. Thoughts: my onsight ability is still not good. And most likely one of the biggest things that’s holding me back in competition. Every comp that involves onsight, more often then not i make some sort of poor decision and that’s when things don’t go well. Today, a route that is pretty “easy”, although still required a bit of power and thought, shut me down today. Give me a second go on it and it would be a “cruizer”. But right there is what’s causing me to fall short. On the fly, in “onsight mode” my brain…it’s as if it becomes scattered. I’m not thinking right, i’m making mistakes. I need to be in a place where I can move on terrain for the first time, and be settled, yet confident. I need to practice utilizing the movement patterns that are stored in my head on unseen terrain. It’s like part of me is scared. As i write this, someone who has vested a lot of time, workin’ with me (which i’m so greatful for), just texted me and said, “it’s your onsight, i told you it’s weak. Training isn’t climbing”. And he’s right. I’m not climbing enough/and or working on onsighting enough. But the weird thing is, is that in the past he’s told me other things that were weak, and…eventually when he finally got through to me, i was able to work on “those things”, and improve. But, for some reason, getting better at onsighting is just not getting through to me. Is it a mental aspect that goes deeper then to what i’m acknowledging? I mean, the ability to onsight does take a lot of mental toughness…and of course experience but i haven’t processed the total importance of that yet. Maybe until today actually. Once again, a comp didn’t go well.

It’s funny, in my past, by now i would have given up on this. I would have been like, “can’t be done…i’m over it”. But, i can’t let this go. I need to figure out why i’m having such a hard time with learning to onsight, as well as allowing myself the opportunity to get better at it. Even as we speak, there’s a little part of me that’s getting fired up to dig deeper (Huh, this is a good thing, that my mental state is kinda changin from, “I’m an idiot” to “ok, so…we gotta figure this out…and try to improve). Over the last few years the amount i’ve learned in climbing is totally wild. It seems as though it’s taking a bit longer then I would like however. Maybe i’m not paying enough attention off the bat? Is there a reason why it takes me two or three times for something to sink in (and for me to actually accept and comprehend it)? Who knows. And i guess that’s a little frustrating too…always hard when you see other competitors pick things up fast. Whatever, this is clearly becoming a bit whine fest so perhaps i should end this note now.

I need to spend a lot more time onsighting and climbing (in the winter)…and i think today made that a lot clearer. Other things are in better shape then before, but this, onsighting, is something i need to truly commit to working on…a lot. And as i think more about it, i really haven’t spent a lot of time onsight climbing. And even with climbing in general…this season, i’ve climbed lots, but…on projects (which there’s no onsight involved) and on familiar routes (which again, no onsighting involved). It looks as though this factor is the common denominator to more comps then not, and even in my climbing in general. For some reason i’m hesitant to onsight routes. Scared. Probably. Well this is just BS. I gotta get over this if i want to progress in the competitive realm.

I need to spend less time thinking on this, and more time climbing/onsighting new/unfamiliar routes.


My brother in law and I came up with the radest playlist…and I gotta yell ya, kriss cross is gonna make ya…vanilla’s ice baby, the house is gonna make ya jump around…love it. Music gets me fired up before any comp. It helps me to relax, especially when I’m listening to ridiculous tunes from when I was 12. It’s about finding the fun in it all.

Warning regarding the presence of counterfeit versions of Petzl products


The strongest Bull Fighter

My wife expressed a huge sigh of relief today when I walked into her flower shop and told her that I “sent”.  After 11 times of coming home, bummed out, sometimes pissed off, on the 12th time, today, I sang a different tune.

4 years ago I stared at what I thought was going to be the perfect line in the Bull River Canyon.  But 4 years ago I had not the skill to develop neither this “line” nor the ability to tame such a beast.  Thus, the beast remained asleep, waiting for the right time to be woken.

Something inside me changed this year…something grew stronger, went deeper–it was as if I finally realized what I had to do to be a better/stronger climber.  I knew that it would take more commitment, more sacrifice, that it would force me to dig deeper then ever before.  There was to be no hesitation to this newly formed dedication.  I needed to stand steadfast, taking any punches that were thrown, and if hit, if knocked down…I would need to get back up and start fighting back.

In early December I found myself standing beneath a section of the Bull River Canyon wall.  As I stared up at this magnificent looking fragment I saw something different.  This time I could see the route.  It was as if someone painted a white line from bottom to top, guiding my eyes through the uniqueness of what was to come.  With great excitement and a somewhat sleepless night, the very next day I showed up with my paintbrush and paint, ready to create my long awaited masterpiece on a beautiful blank canvas.

Three days straight hanging from a rope, getting soaked by the near waterfall, contemplating my sanity.   What the heck was I doing?  Why was I doing this again?  Bolt by bolt, slowly I made my way through “the line”, hoping that what I was doing was in conjunction with the vision.  I didn’t want to mess up anything, but only to create a route that would challenge those who were willing to rise to the occasion.

Over the course of the last couple of months I just couldn’t seem to nail down enough time to spend on my new route.  Whether it was due to travel, the river flooding, convincing people to climb/belay, there always seemed to be something hindering any real dedicated/consistent time in pursuit of sending this project.  It actually began to eat away at me.  I was trying to link sections of the route together but was having no luck with any sort of promise in sending.  It wasn’t until about a week ago that I finally decided that enough was enough.  If I was going to have a shot at this route, I needed to focus on it.  So, I did my best to clear whatever schedule I had set forth and went at this thing full force.

My last solid attempt at this route I had actually surpassed the difficult sections leaving only a few moves to the chains.  It was near sent…until my pic broke a small section of a hold putting me into “thin air”.  I was speechless for at least 5 minutes.  I had fallen just shy of the end.  I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head.  Why, why did that happen?  And, like anything, after my emotions settled…I realized that my tool placement wasn’t sufficient enough.  I was pumped upon reaching this hold and didn’t place my tool with precision.  I was sloppy and inattentive to the meticulous move required.  However, despite the negativity rapidly running through my head, I knew that I needed to remain positive if I were to have any chance with sending.  Yes, I fell, just shy of the chains, but…I also had just crushed the hardest parts of the route…which had never happened before.  My head was now back in action.

As I looked over I found myself approaching my recent high point on the route.  Remembering what had happened last time, I moved my tool with exactness into the hold I had broken out of previously.  Only this time, my pic was locked in.  There was no falling with this attempt…only sending.  And sending time it was.  Carefully working my way up the last dagger of ice I reached the ledge and whilst screaming aloud, I clipped the chains.  It was over.  The beast was awoken, and then tamed with authority.  It took four years for this vision to come to fruition…but like when I stared up at this “perfect line” four years ago, deep down, something told me to just be patient…that it was to only be a matter of time.

Thanks go out to those who helped along the way (and to my patient wife for putting up with me through all of it).


Social Networking

Steph Davis shares her views on the importance of Social Media, and to why an athlete should make it a daily routine to keep up on it.


El Matador

This Photo was taken by Boone Speed

The Bull River Canyon sits itself 45 minutes from my house, and over the last four years has been developed into a mixed climbing destination. There are a lot of ice routes nestled in this canyon, but as of lately, this little gem has created a bit of hype.

For four years i stared at a particular area of the bull river. It was different from the rest of the canyon. This huge, polished, overhanging monster with a distinct seem that wove itself aprox. 110ft upwards, it stared back at me, as if we both knew what needed to get done. But for the past few years, I didn’t have the confidence in a) putting in the bolts for the “right line”, and b) having the ability to climb it. I knew that this line was going to be special, but i also knew that i needed to be patient with it, to wait for the right time.

2 months ago, standing below the bridge, 110 ft down from civilization…i stared at my new route. It took 3 straight days of bolting (thanks to Jesse for helpin’ me finish). It was physically taxing…like i had never experienced. Hangin’ upside down, drillin’ with one hand, getting absolutely soaked by the raging water fall 20ft away…it was intense. But it was finished. The line i had stared at for years, it finally took it’s place in the Bull River Canyon.

My first go on the route, like any route that pushes you, didn’t go well. I flailed around like a turkey that just got it’s head cut off. But that was ok, i knew that it was going to take time to sort through this thing. So, after about 6 or 7 goes, i figured out the beta for the first steep section (pretty darn overhanging for the starting 40ft) and was stoked on that. But really, out of all the hard parts of the route, that was the more manageable section. The traverse that comes next, that’s the hard part of the route. You see, there aren’t really any great rests until after all the hard stuff. From the moment you leave the ground, it’s in your face for 11 draws worth.

After the first section, you start this heinous traverse that requires about 6-7 figure 4/9 combos…with no feet…on fairly thin ice. This section took a bit to figure out. Throughout the first few attempts at this section…I took some pretty wild falls. One fall in particular was a result of a 50lb block of ice ripping and hitting me in the face–breaking my nose. That sucked. Anyways, after figuring out the movement on the traverse i then sorted the upper section. This last part, about 35ft, consists of pretty easy climbing. Once through the traverse, you get onto a fairly thin dagger, throw pretty high for the next hold…and then work your way up an M8 to the chains. Just before the chains you actually have to pull through another dagger of ice, but manageable regardless.

The route turned out to be a lot harder and longer then i expected. I mean, i bolted it…but you never really know until you get on it. I’ve been on some hard routes before, but this…this one was really hard. It’s technical, powerful, long, requiring a lot of endurance, and a good understanding of mixed climbing movement. It’s in your face from the moment you leave the ground…and it doesn’t let up for a long time.

Four days ago, after being gone for my “competition season” over in Europe, I was psyched to get back and get back on my route. It had been about a month since i was on it last…so needless to say i was chompin at the bit. Well, to my dismay, staring at the route, i could no longer reach the starting hold. The river, that freezes over, that we stand on, whilst climbing in the bull, had dropped 3ft. The ice shelf had receded so much to the point where the starting hold was too high. Luckily i found another hold lower down that worked out well enough to get going. But that wasn’t the end of the changes. The “ice rime” formed by the spray of the waterfall had all melted off near the bottom. This “rime” was good because you could use it as foot holds. You see, because the rock is so polished…foot holds are scarce. Now, instead of the first few moves being “manageable”, you needed to perform a few one arm lock offs to make certain moves work. At this point i was a bit concerned as parts of the route, near the beginning required harder movement. Which in turn also meant you needed more power endurance to get through this beast. However, after a couple of go’s, working through the new start, i familiarized myself with the first section again, and was able to link it together, putting me where i left off last.

After a day of rest, I returned back to my route–a little more confident as i knew that the first section of the route was pretty dialed. My first attempt of the day I got through the first section…and then to my shock…i kept going. For the first time I was linking into the hardest part of the route. I was able to make 3 moves into the traverse and then fell. This was pretty exciting as that was huge progress. Taking about a 30min break I hoped back on this sucker and gave ‘er another go. Again, cruizing the first section, i got into the traverse and began the “long trek” across. Shocked again, i passed my last high point…and quickly fell from being pumped out of my mind.

Making progress on my route was cool and all, but there was still a little part of me that was doubting my ability to actually get through this thing. There’s just no letting up on the route and i wasn’t sure i had what it took to pull it off.

Passing my last high point, trying to stay focused, trying to ignore from the raging pumped feeling in my arms, scrambling for the next hold…once again i fell off. My last attempt at the route, I thought that was a good go…but this attempt…this attempt brought a bit of hope. My mindset began to change a little. Suddenly…i began to believe. Suddenly I began to see the chains in my mind.

Move after move, on my second attempt of the day, i crushed the first section of the route. Without much hesitation, i cut my feet loose and began the powerful traverse. With the dagger of ice in sight, i was getting closer and closer. In my head…i was screaming, “yeah, you’re so close…come on, you can do it”. Pat, belaying me from below, was screaming the same things. I couldn’t believe it…i was actually making it across the hardest part of the climb. Stabbing my foot out, i had actually made it to the dagger. So pumped, arms screaming…throwing for the next hold above…easy street in sight. It was just about there. I had done it…the hardest section of the route, everything that i doubted…i had just crushed. It was only a few moves of fairly easy climbing to reach the chains. Changing hands, in my rest position, suddenly i was flying through the air. My tool, in one of the bigger “sinker holds” on the route had blown out the hold and i was ripped off the route. Pat lowered me to the “Deck”. We were both silent.

Climbing can be really hard sometimes. Not the actual climbing part, but everything that goes along with it. The pressures you put on yourself, the mental battles. It sounds like i’m whining, but seriously…it can be taxing at times. For the entire evening, and still ’til this moment, i keep thinking about what happened today. It was so close. Yet, it didn’t happen. And hopefully, in a couple of days i’ll go back and crush this thing. But it’s hard. When a route pushes you, when it demands your every physical ability, and when you’re that close to pushing back…wow…what a mind bender.

i was reading an article on Chris Sharma turning 30. He made a very valid point about climbing routes…and i thought it fit quite well with my rant:

Don’t you feel like on some climbs, though, that you’re trying to just get the job done? Does that still happen to you?

Oh, yeah. It totally happens. It’s a constant process. It’s like relearning the same things over and over again—kind of like every route. It’s hard to have that pure attitude. You know, you wanna send it, but that’s almost inhibiting you from just being yourself and climbing it like you know you can. When I climbed Realization, I was kind of feeling tired that day, and was like, well, whatever, I’ll give it a burn, just to remember the moves. And then you kind of trick yourself into not really caring about it, and then you’re free to just do it, I guess.

Anyways, that’s all i have for now. Resting tomorrow. Then time to take ownership upon “El Matador”, the strongest Bull fighter (the name of my route in the Bull River Canyon).