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A Climbing Mind: psychology of environmental impact

words by Allan Evans

If you are reading a blog post from Dirtbags Climbing, I imagine you probably have an interest in the environment, big or small. I also imagine that like me, you may be confused, angry and frightened by the little to no interest that the majority seem to have, especially given this years IPCC report.  Rather than sit and stew in these feelings, I thought I would do some research and reflecting to try and find out why? Why are people not panicking or changing their ways, when the science is reporting that things are going to get very bad! 

My aim is that by understanding people’s positions, I can have conversations that can facilitate change in a positive and respectful manner for all. 

Defence Mechanisms

Defence Mechanisms are tools that our subconscious mind uses to protect itself, it will employ these tools when reality is too much for it bear. Two that may be employed for climate change are denial and rationalisation. Denial is self-explanatory, we simply deny the reality of a situation. You would hear a person with climate change denial say, ‘the climate has always changed, it’s natural, we once had an ice age’. Someone who is rationalising might say something like, ‘hotter summers, that sounds great’ or ‘it won’t affect me in my lifetime’. The person rationalising isn’t denying the situation; however, they are making it more comfortable for themselves. 

The best way to engage with people who are employing these defence mechanisms, would be to ask them questions and reflect what they say back to themselves. As an example, you could say, ‘are you sure it won’t affect you?’ or ‘what about the younger generation?’. To the denier, you could ask, ‘are you sure that human activities aren’t playing a part?’ This will make them question their beliefs without getting defensive, when we state things at people it can come across as aggressive, which leads people to go into a defensive mindset. 

Capitalism, Politics, Self-Identity

Most western countries have a religion which has surpassed all others in terms of a strict following, capitalism. I realise that capitalism isn’t a religion, however it has become a belief in something larger than oneself and I merely use it as a comparison having read Sapiens, in which Harari states :

‘It now encompasses an ethic – a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children and even think. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good, or at least a proxy for the supreme good, because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth.’ 

He goes on to describe how ‘this new religion’ is even ingrained into science and politics, as scientific research is typically funded by private investors or governments, typically with the aim of improving ‘economic growth’ in some way.


As our governments are so invested in economic growth, we have been too, people are generally indoctrinated into a belief that they are ‘British’ or whatever nationality you are. This then goes on to develop into smaller tribes within the large tribe of nationality, what town you are from, what sport, music etc you like. These are all microcosms of identity. Many of you reading this are likely to identify as a climber, wild swimmer, runner; the list goes on. All these smaller tribes have their own set of values and ethics within the larger tribe. It even goes into smaller tribes from there, are you a boulderer, trad climber, sport climber etc. 

The point I’m hopefully making here, is that we all have our own unique set of beliefs dependent on how we identify with ourselves and those around us.

Most of our belief systems develop from an early age, from when we are a baby to around seven years old. Any beliefs which were developed at this age are very ingrained into the subconscious mind and are difficult to change. I’d argue that the capitalist doctrine is ingrained into us at these ages, with adverts for the various toys available shown between cartoons, our parents taking us around shops, we are consumers from an early age. We learn that we can acquire goods with relative ease, no one discussed where they come from or what impact they have.  If I look at myself that was me for a long time, my awareness of the environment didn’t start developing until my early thirties (I’m 37 now). I feel I was open to changing my belief system and to reject capitalism for several reasons, I was going through a period of change with my mental health, I was studying psychology to become a counsellor, I got into climbing and got interested in its history of anti-establishment. 


So how do we change things?

Ultimately, we can’t make people change and it would be ethically wrong to try do so in my opinion, we can only hope that by using some of the language I have suggested, we can have positive conversations which allow people to decide what is best for themselves as well as the planet and their fellow humans. 

We could also change the system, for those who want to remain with the consumerist mindset, we can do so by us switching to a more circular system, rather than using fresh materials, we repurpose. Dirtbags are one of those companies leading the charge in this field, it seems larger companies are starting to follow suit, particularly in the outdoor industry. 


If you want to see a change, be the change

I feel one way we can have a positive impact is by making changes ourselves, I have made small steps in being more environmentally friendly over time, I know there is more I can do and shall continue to do so. Through making changes I have seen that this inspires people around me to also make changes. Our subconscious is a bit like a sponge it soaks up all the information we consume, it stores it away to learn from it. Conflicts will arise as that old capitalist and consumerist mindset is still stored, however the newer information our mind receives the greater the influence it will have and the stronger it will become in fighting the old belief system. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you occasionally take a step back. 

 Set a goal

I set myself a task for 2021, to not purchase any clothing or shoes, to repair or resole. Honestly, I didn’t achieve this, I bought three items of clothing and one pair of shoes. Which could be viewed as a failure, however my decisions for the items were more conscious and not from a simple consumer angle. The items either replaced worn out items or fit a specific purpose within my life that other items didn’t achieve. While this goal is a personal one, in setting personal goals where you make a change, you can talk about these publicly creating a conversation with others. Your changes can have ripple effects within your tribe. 


Final words

I realise that the climate crisis we are facing can seem daunting and overwhelming, I certainly feel that way sometimes, especially when I don’t see the change happening as quickly and as urgently as I personally feel it needs. However, change happens over time and the more we engage the bigger this change will be, things might start small but over time will have a larger impact. I also feel by staying in a positive mindset with our goals towards making changes, is something people are more likely to want to embrace and become a part of. 


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A Climbing Mind: Breathing Power

Breathing Power – by Allan Evans


We often hear our fellow climbers reminding us to breathe when we are climbing, and, likewise, it is us shouting it up to the climber.

When we are climbing at our limit it can often be the first thing we forget about. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to breathe while climbing, or for just generally living. But I do want to explore just how important controlled breathing can be while climbing.


Breathing and particular types of breathing can help you manage your fears and anxieties – pre and during climbing. Regardless of what type of climbing we are doing it’s common to have anxious feelings at times, whether it be a fear of falling, of failure, of blowing an Onsight attempt on a route you have been saving for years! The list goes on.

A technique I came across in researching breathing techniques to use with my counselling clients was hacking the Vagus nerve.



What’s the Vagus nerve I hear you ask?

This nerve secretes a fluid which helps regulate our heart rate. As our body can’t distinguish the difference between what our mind is making up or what we are imagining, it responds to whatever story the mind is telling it.

Therefore, if we start getting fearful or anxious before a climb, our body responds. It elevates the heart rate and will produce adrenaline and a whole host of bodily functions are affected.

That explains the sweaty hands…

We can hack this nerve by performing longer exhalations, simply take a deep inbreath and on your outbreath make it slow and controlled and slightly longer than the inbreath. This stimulates the Vagus nerve and therefore slows down our heart rate, putting the body into a calm state.

Breathing deeply also has the added benefit of allowing more carbon dioxide to enter our blood stream, and having more carbon dioxide in our system slows down parts of the brain, including the amygdala, which is where fear is generated. Deep rhythmic breathing can also help us focus, when we get scared it takes our attention from the task at hand, to climb, to place protection well.



Do breathing techniques work?


In my own personal experience yes, they do. I can remember countless times on routes where I have been scared for whatever reason, a little voice in my head tells me to focus on breathing, in doing so I’m able to shift my attention back to climbing and continue.
Unfortunately, that little voice doesn’t always appear, and my fearful mind takes over, I hesitate, get pumped and either down climb or ask my belayer to take. I’m still working on using this powerful tool myself.


Disclaimer
These breathing techniques can be used to help you manage your mind and body whilst climbing, including your fears. I am however not suggesting you should not be fearful, fear keeps us alive and stops us from hurting ourselves. Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity and managing your risk is your responsibility.
It’s science!

I have linked a few articles I used as inspiration, they go into greater detail about the techniques used as well as the science behind it all, it’s interesting stuff.


Thanks for checking out the first instalment of my blog, I hope you find using the power of the breath useful not just in climbing, also in your day-to-day life.


If you see me at a crag, say hello and let’s do some breathing together!


Allan

References
https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-athletes-way/201905/longer-exhalations-are-easy-way-hack-your-vagus-nerve


https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/mind/stress/why-deep-breathing-makes-you-feel-so-chill


https://neurohacker.com/breathing-technique-focus-mind



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