Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Psyche...and chocolate cake

There is a boulder problem which is part of the current green circuit at the Arch climbing wall which I desperately want to get up.  So far I have inched my way closer and closer, and there is now only one more hard move to conquer, before linking it all together and going for glory.  Yesterday I had planned to only have a short training session at the wall, but the problem drew me in, calling to me to try it just once more, following my failures on it last week.  Perhaps this time, it seemed to say, it will be different.  

I fell rarely work on projects at the bouldering wall, generally preferring to give a problem a few decent attempts then move on. But every now and then I get sucked into a problem - usually a problem I can't quite get, but which seems that may, with a bit more effort and strength, be doable.  And then I get psyched.

One of the key ways of identifying a group of climbers in the pub - other than the random waving of hands that reenacts their current project - is the overuse of the word 'psyche' in conversation.  It is a sin I am as guilty of as any, and possibly stems from watching too many American climbing films, where the terms 'dude', 'rad' and 'send it' are also commonplace.  But what actually is psyche?  A quick Google search yields various definitions, none of which seem to wholly encapsulate that amazing feeling you get when you're truly psyched for something.  Psyche is the drive to try a problem again and again, even when you fail, because you know that one time you will succeed.  Psyche is pushing yourself up the hill circuits because you know that someday they will help you win that race.  Psyche is walking past the cheesecake in the supermarket - and the wine section.  Psyche is what will make you achieve what you want to achieve, and is often what separates the top athletes from the rest of us.

Psyche can also make you fail, by pushing yourself beyond what your body can physically take.  It can make you ignore that nagging voice in your head that tells you that you are pulling too hard on that tiny hold, that you are running down that steep rocky slope a bit too fast, until it is too late and you are left cursing that tweaked pulley or twisted ankle.  But for most of us it is a lack of psyche, rather than too much, that holds us back.

So, how do you get hold of this mysterious nonentity?  Well, I am far from an expert - I guess I spend around 60% of my training time in a definite low-psyche state.  But from experience, there are a few things that make all the difference to me:

Have a goal
If you have nothing to train for, you have nothing to get psyched for.  Whether it's to climb a particular route or boulder problem, to run a marathon PB or to increase your orienteering ranking points, if you have something you want to achieve, it makes it so much easier to train and try hard.  If your goal is long term, then perhaps set smaller goals to keep you motivated along the way. Succeeding at these will feed your psyche.

Train with positive, psyched people
Some people are naturally full of psyche - the type of people who have boundless energy and enthusiasm, who try and again and again, and are the first to encourage those around them.  Other people are natural mood-hoovers - they suck the life and soul out of a party, and completely drain your psyche.  If you train with a group of really motivated people you're pretty much guaranteed to pull harder, run faster and get one step closer to your goal.  If you hang around with mood-hoovers you're on the slippery slope down to failure...  That said, if you are one of life's natural mood hoovers it  isn't all over - tell yourself to have a positive attitude, find a super-psyched group of people and feed off them!  Before you know if you'll be feeling positively cheerful.

Eat well, sleep well
It's stating the obvious, but if you're properly fueled with food and rest, you're more likely to perform better than if you were up until 2am drinking, and breakfast consisted of a couple of doughnuts.  Some of the UK's best climbers seem to have been exceptions to this rule, but I'm not sure this necessarily endorses this lifestyle approach as a route to success!

Train, even if you don't feel like training
Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.  Sometimes I go to the wall feeling knackered and demotivated, I fail on a few easy problems and decide to call it a night.  Other times, I go feeling like I'm going to have a rubbish session, get stuck into a problem and end up feeling super-psyched.  The same applies to running.  You don't lose anything from trying, and even if you stagger round for half an hour, you at least feel like you've earned the chocolate cake your self-indulgent, depressed inner-self demands afterwards.

For those with the dedication and self-discipline (both of which I lack) to create and develop their own psyche - to push themselves when training on their own, in the snow and the rain, I take my stripey, pom-pom decorated hat off to you.  The person who encapsulates this most to me is Dave MacLeod, whose levels of dedication to training are only exceeded by his self-discipline - check out his cheesecake blog on resisting temptation!

Sadly, I do not have Dave's self-discipline, and temptation just has to raise its head and I jump on it.  Which is why this evening, my resolve of reducing my cake and pudding intake has failed after just two days and I have been baking.  I could try and justify this by stating that I did go for a run this morning, or that the drinks I had planned for tonight were cancelled, so I am only eating the calories I would otherwise have consumed in wine....but the reality is I was just too tempted by the yummy looking chocolate cake recipe on Ruth Clemens's The Pink Whisk blog.  Which is, incidentally, delicious.  This is why I will always be an average, and never a great climber or orienteer.  But at least I can have my cake - and eat it too.






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