Unconscious Competence

While I was rock climbing today, I was struggling up a certain 11c and after eventually struggling my way to the top, one of the instructors said I needed to relax. I was putting way too much stress on my arms and I almost never had straight arms. In rock climbing you want to try and have straight arms as much as possible. This puts way less weight on your arms, and muscles, making it so you can climb for time, and do more difficult climbs. After this climb, I focused on my breath, and on making intentional moments. I didn’t do anymore 11c’s because my arms were fairly shot, but I was able to easily scale 11b’s once I started relaxing. In the rock climbing world, these aren’t difficult climbs, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made since I’ve started climbing a few weeks ago.

I want to talk more about this idea of relaxing in order to do more, and to do harder things. It’s one of the great oxymorons of life: relax-take it easy, and you’ll be able to perform better.

How does this work? Well, I know how being tense doesn’t work. When you’re tense you stay out of the flow state. It takes a lot of effort physically, and mentally, and you’re more prone to make mistakes. Think of a musician performing. If they’re super tight, and nervous, they’re much more likely to make mistakes. If they get in their element and play like it’s easy, they sound beautiful and it’s uncommon that anything goes wrong.

Perhaps the root of this is fear? When someone is fearful, they’re focusing on failure, or on something bad happening. This increases the likelihood of failure, or something bad happening. The opposite is confidence, someone who feels confident in their crafts able to perform relaxed, and with joy.

So how does someone switch from fear to confidence? How does someone relax? I think that one of the keys is to focus on the right things, or in some cases, nothing at all. Or perhaps on the right thing, until you don’t need to focus on anything at all. This goes back to the four stages of competence:

After you have gained awareness and done some training, which is where most people are in their craft, it is important to spend a little bit of time in this conscious competence, where you’re focused on the most important things, just 2-3 at a time, until you become an expert and can perform without much thought. This is when the flow state is most easily achieved, and peak performance takes place.

What seems to be tricky is figuring out how to stay relaxed during the conscious competence stage. That’s where I was on the 11c. I was able to do it, but it required a lot of effort and thought, which made it easy to tighten up. Finding the bridge between focus, and relaxation is what can separate excellence, from being good. I think that the way to do it, is to focus on the right things. If your focus is intentional, and careful, it can help you stay relaxed. Perhaps one of your focuses is to breath, or to do something that helps you relax.

For example in mountain biking one of your focuses while you’re in conscious competence could be to have heavy feet and light hands. It’s helping you ride better, but it’s also helping you relaxed.

So stay focused, and stay relaxed. Relaxed + Focus = High performance

On another note, Alta finally hit a 200 inch base today!!! For some reason that is something I’ve been wanting to happen all season. So I was very satisfied to see that number go up throughout this storm and finally hit 200. We still have a lot of skiing.

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