Language is powerful. The words we choose and how we use them both reflects and shapes our beliefs about the world.
Since reading The Rock Warrior’s Way I have become more cognizant about the way I label things, and how labels so often create limiting beliefs. It’s very common in climbing to hear someone describe a hold as “good” or “bad”, but what does that really mean? Using more objective language, a “good” hold might be large, positive and in-cut, while a “bad” hold might be small and sloped. It’s quite easy to find a climbing route with a plethora of “good” holds: just look for routes with easier grades. If that’s what you want to climb, awesome! However, most climbers I know want to climb progressively harder routes. As the routes get harder, the holds tend to be smaller and further apart. If the very thing we want is to be able to climb these routes, then why label the holds “bad”?
This morning I went to the climbing gym for the first time in several months. The first trip back to the gym is always a bit of a shock to the system because the routes are steeper and the holds are so different. Even though I stuck to grades that are typically well within my ability, the routes felt hard. Each time I encountered a hold that seemed too small or too sloped to be useful, I had to resist the urge to label it as a “bad” hold. Instead, I focused on figuring out the best way to use it. In most cases, all it took was a small change in my body position to change my perception of the hold from “bad” to “good”.
The tendency to label things extends to ourselves. Speaking personally, I think of myself as someone who runs, or someone who does yoga. But when it comes to climbing, I think of myself as “a climber.” Somehow, climbing has become more than something I do, it has become part of how I define myself as a person.
Obviously, we can choose how we define our own identities. However, it is interesting to note that the language we choose to use can create all sorts of self-limiting beliefs. Let’s say that I describe myself as “a 5.10 climber.” On the surface, I’m using a verbal shorthand to say that I can climb 5.10 routes. However, at the same time I’m telling myself that 5.11 routes are beyond my abilities. Here’s the thing: until I believe that it is possible for me to climb a 5.11 route, it’s just not going to happen. A simple change, such as saying “currently, I can climb up to about 5.10” conveys the same information while allowing for the possibility that I can climb harder routes.
I’ve used climbing as an example, however the tendency to label things shows up in all aspects of our lives. I invite you to pay more attention to the language you use, and how your choice of words reflects and shapes your perceptions of the world.