Trust This: What Rock Climbing Taught Me About the Fear of Moving Forward

Rock climbing has taught Xandra Robinson-Burns a lot about life – and it all starts with letting go of that ledge.

by Xandra Robinson-Burns

The thing I love about rock climbing is that its a physical puzzle: it’s just as much about technique as it is about strength. On top of figuring out the puzzle, and getting my body to move through it, there is also the mental component that keeps me from making what I know logically to be the next step.

Sometimes – often – I find myself on a route, perfectly comfortable, supported, and stuck. I could hang out here all day, and might even prefer to, because moving on to the next hold means literally reaching out of my comfort zone.

But of course, move I must. At this point my body is paralysed and my mind flooded: What if I fall? What if the hold isnt as sturdy as it looks from this angle? What if it breaks off entirely? Ive found the best way to shut off the chatter is to tell myself: TRUST THIS. I pick a thing – my left foothold for example – something Im pretty certain but not entirely certain will be okay. I pick a thing and give it my complete trust while the rest of me propels into uncertainty.

I have to, because sometimes second guessing is more inhibiting than any of the scenarios I cook up in my head. My freakout over ‘what if?’ is worse than any of the actual ‘what if’s. So I say TRUST THIS, and lean my weight into what Ive chosen to trust. 

It takes the urgency of hanging off the rock for this lesson to become clear to me, but TRUST THIS is essential to my daily life. In all other hours of the day there is no literal fear of falling, slipping, losing grip, but those fears nonetheless exist, slow me down, and deplete my energy. I fear that Im choosing to work on the wrong task. That if I throw myself into a project, I might be wasting my time. What is the worst that could happen, in climbing or in life? I could fail, and it would hurt. 

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Standing still sounds safe, but it too uses up energy. This becomes clearer when Im hanging vertically off a wall, feeling my arms tighten and my feet grow numb. The longer I wait, the harder it will be to move forward. But when Im safely on the ground, indecisive, wondering whether Im doing the right thing, whether Im following My True Purpose in Life, as if that even exists, I am also expending energy. I could sit for hours, staring blankly, overwhelmed with choice of whether to write this, that, or anything at all. Or . . . I could just start. I could start, try, and give it my best instead of doing nothing. 

Shakespeare has taught me that there is no such thing as nothing. King Lear tells Cordelia that ‘Nothing will become of nothing’, when really her ‘nothing’ is what drives the entire story. There is no safe option. ‘Nothing’ is not neutral. It is moving, making its own action. King Lear teaches us that if we do nothing, everyone will die. Well. More or less dramatically, its true. 

And so, to make progress, we have to trust. I have to trust that if I let go of one hold, another will support me. I have to trust that the work I set out to do will be beneficial in some way, and that trust will help me through the scary parts. 

Doing nothing is okay for a little bit. It is encouraged. But when it starts to panic me, its time to move on. When I reach that comfortable, supported place on the rock, I breathe for a second. I let myself indulge in my newfound security for a second. Then I figure out what the next move is, what I need to do, and what I have to trust to do it. The planning is essential. If I just flung myself any which way, I would surely get injured. The trick is to find that transition, that moment in which I know what has to be done, and make sure I actually do it before I talk myself out of it. 

Ive only ever figured out what to do with myself by trusting in something. I trust in my passion for a certain pursuit, and lean into it. I trust that doing something now will help me later, even if sometimes it feels like Im running around in circles. I trust that Im learning and growing. I trust that even if I do fall, I am still moving forward.


Xandra Robinson-Burns is a Gryffindor Disney princess from Boston living in Edinburgh. She writes personal development courses about being your own heroine.

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