I spent some time this morning watching a video of Nalle Hukkataival, a Finnish climber, establishing the hardest boulder problem in the world. For the uninitiated, bouldering simply means climbing at low level over crash pads without using any ropes. They are called 'problems' because you have to work out how to climb them, and in this way are similar to mathematical problems and brain teasers. For Nalle, this particular problem was challenging because it had never been done before, and was at a level of difficulty that had never been achieved. Was it even possible?
Nalle had to wait for a very specific set of circumstances to enable him to climb this problem. The temperature, the wind, the humidity, the state of his skin, his physical strength, where his head was at... all of those things had to be perfect at the same time. As he mentions himself throughout the video - at this level of climbing he can only control a small number of the things that would lead to success.
He spent 80 days trying to climb the same boulder over a 3 year period, and if we look at that mathematically, it means he spent 79.9 days falling off and failing. In the end (spoiler alert), he climbs it in only a few minutes.
One of the things that allowed Nalle to succeed was his mindset. He holds that "the only true failure is giving up" and embraced what many have termed as a 'growth' mindset (read more about this here). Growth mentality leaves ego at the door, and simply embraces dedication, hard work and all the discomfort that might come from trying really hard and failing anyway. This perhaps also recognises that what you do is separate from who you are. You are ok as a person even if you fail.
Each time he 'failed' he learned something new about the climb - and slowly over that 80 day period, he tweaked and changed his movements to give him more and more control over his success. Interestingly, it was his process of repeated failure and dedication that made this climb possible. It was the fact that whatever happened, he kept showing up, trying it, taking responsibility for everything he could control, trying new things, asking others for input, absorbing that new learning and trying harder, failing better. Without this process, and leaning into the discomfort of failure - the climb truly would have been impossible.
Nalle himself says:
"On a personal level, pushing beyond your limits really comes down to the battle between the unconscious and conscious mind. You can rationalize and prove to your conscious part of the brain how you should be capable of something. And you can be genuinely convinced that you’ve got what it takes. But your subconscious mind may disagree. Your subconscious mind—in control of your survival instincts—has to be the realist"
I can't help but feel this is a fantastic comment on life in general. We all have internal battles going on between our conscious and unconscious minds, between head and heart, growth and protection. Nalle was able to placate his subconscious through his process, perhaps by repeated proof that he is safe - falling thousands of times and remaining intact is a pretty good convincer. Or perhaps allowing the evidence of each bit of progress to persuade his mind that it really was possible. In life though, the subconscious can be a little harder to persuade, and many people need external help to calm this inner conflict. As I've learnt through training in Cognitive Hypnotherapy with the Quest Institute, dealing with subconscious resistance and conflict can be the difference between living small and dreaming big. Not only dreaming, but actually living your best life - having the most fun you can have just by being you.
To succeed we have to have the conscious and the unconscious on side. When that happens the understanding of 'failure' as a concept changes completely. Limiting beliefs such as "I'm not good enough" can been updated to something more useful. It's not about you - it's about what you can learn from what's happening. It's a process of learning, adjustment, growth and transformation. It's not always comfortable - but with persistence and hard work, it can lead to incredible things.
I'll be opening my practice in Sheffield from 6th May, but until then you can find a Cognitive Hypnotherapist through the Quest Institute therapy finder on their website.
All quotes and information on Nalle Hukkataival's ascent of Burden of Dreams, the world's hardest boulder problem was taken from the Black Diamond website. I believe the video is free to watch for 5 days and then you'll need to purchase it to watch. I've embedded the trailer below to give you an idea.