by Charlie Manganiello
You know that obnoxious poster you might see in a telemarketer call station. You know the one. The poster says “TEAMWORK” in blocky letters under a photo of someone being helped to the summit of a mountain by another climber. The sun is setting, their hands are reaching out to one another, and you can almost see their chuckling starry eyed faces saying “We did it…against insurmountable odds.”
This is not reality. Well, it could certainly be the end result, but what this poster doesn’t show is the struggles it took to get there. It doesn’t show the 3am alpine start, half numb fingers as you lace up your boots that now feel like ice blocks, the forgotten lighter for the stove and your dinner the night before being cold water and crunchy rice, the dropped approach shoe on pitch eight and being forced to walk out with one climbing shoe for the 9 miles back to the car, the upset stomach from bad water a few days before…the list goes on.
There is a huge difference between the process or habits that need to take place and the actual goal. The goal is sending the route, but the process are the habits you employed to actually send. A goal is nothing without habit change. We see this all the time. The athlete wants to send their first 13a. They are pretty strong, they have sent one 12c and maybe has climbed a few 12a or 12b’s. They regularly train and taking climbing relatively seriously. However, upon further inspection their average night sleep is 5-hours a night, diet is mediocre at best, they can’t stop themselves from limit level bouldering with their friends at the gym every session, the hangboard is too boring for them, and when it’s crag day they can’t help but get on their project. A classic example of habits getting in the way of the goal. All this athlete needs to do is tweak just a couple of habits and the desired result is going to be reached in a couple of seasons and they are a much better climber because of it.
It’s also important to remember that once you tackle the habits that are keeping you from your goal you start to win at so much more in your life and in your climbing. Sending 13a is a really good feeling, but that result is only unique to that one route and the couple of hours you have after the send and then it’s onto the next goal. If you can really focus on your habits, the sky’s the limit. You can become an overall healthier human that keeps you alive longer, a better family member, more productive at work, or knocking at the door of a grade you never would have ever dreamed of. All of a sudden you are drinking more water and less beer, you’re losing weight and during your next visit to the Doctor your blood pressure is down. You’re getting more reliable sleep and you’re less cranky in the morning, more productive at work, and enjoy a game night with your family rather than 8 episodes of The Office. You’ve figured out the minimum effective does of hangboarding and your fingers are stronger than ever. You know when to try hard during your sessions and when to dial it back when practicing your movement is more important. Goals are great, but habits are where your energy must go.
We all dream about our summit day, clipping the chains, topping out a boulder, and sweet sweet victory but forget about all the battles that are going to have to be fought to win the war. Some battles are won flawlessly, but honestly most are pretty ugly. Some are near wins and some are huge losses. The great thing here is that even if you don’t send that 13a you’ve developed all these amazing habits that will for sure get you there the next season. Maybe you got weathered out and had to shut it down for the winter. The goal or the result didn’t even happen, but the process (habit change) made you a 13a climber. You don’t always have to send to reap the benefits. Now let’s take a look at how one might keep their habits in check with some version of accountability.
Sometimes having some accountability is that extra edge you need to stay oncourse. We have seen it all. I can’t watch Netflix in the evening unless I’ve done my workout, no beer until I’ve finished my 12-week training cycle, or I must hit my protein goal before I reach for the ice cream. Some version of holding yourself accountable is a great way to stay on track. People certainly have different methods that work, but sometimes it’s just a partner.
This partner could be the person you’re tackling some big objective with, gym buddy, a spouse, or just a close friend that knows what your goal is and will make sure to check-in with you. Some of you just need a belay. Accountability partners are good though! They keep you honest and are by your side, figuratively or literally, through the thick and thin of your quest to be a better climber.
Stating your goal to someone can feel pretty scary, but if it’s a person you trust they can be a light tower when the fog is think and you don’t want to crash into the rocky shore. It’s worth stating your very specific goal, but also the specific habits that you are going to stick to to reach that goal. Offer how you would like to be given feedback too. Some people like the hard ass approach, “Suck it up buttercup…drop down and give me back-to-back boulders at your OS-level, no rest, get back on the wall, now!” While others like the more inquisitive and softer language like, “How did your session go today? Did you stick to the plan? How are you tracking your improvement?” It’s important to have the right partner here because sometimes it’s the partner holding you back.
We are talking about an accountability partner here, not some who enables you to do the thing you are trying to change (like drink beers and talk about climbing, rather than go climbing). Asking yourself, “Is my accountability partner the right person for the job?” is very important. Are they active in your pursuit and are they asking the right questions? Are they pushing you when you find yourself at a roadblock due to injury, lack of focus, declining motivation, and self doubt? Are they someone that can pick you up when you’re down?
I know this sounds a bit harsh, but I have plenty of good friends and even family who would make terrible accountability partners. People I love and hold dear to me, but not someone I would choose to go to battle with. When selecting a partner, here are some criteria:
- Is your accountability partner helping you keep on track by actively engaging in your quest?
- Are they able to look at your stated goal objectively?
- Are they able to show compassion, but offer honest feedback and solutions to your most difficult challenges?
- Can they keep on you for another year or ten?
If not, it’s time to look for a new accountability partner or have a conversation with them that you need help. See if they are up for the challenge to do this very hard task. Being an accountability partner isn’t easy. However, if you have someone to bounce ideas off of or even just have someone next to you during a workout, even if they do their own thing, could be the difference maker.
This also goes for all of you that have an accountability partner. It’s a two way street. If you’re getting help you’ve got to give some back, it might not even be the same person. Think of it as evening the karma scale. Remember though, the way you like your accountability partner may not be the way someone likes theirs. Ask how and when they like to get feedback? It can be a really delicate dance because emotion inevitability creeps in and if you’re a tender flower like me, it’s hard to keep things real. If you’ve picked the right person though, it will be quick to push the emotion aside and get back to work with your bestie.
I wouldn’t say this is a last resort, but often hiring a coach as your accountability partner might be what you need. Maybe your spouse is sick of hearing you talk about your project or your partner has switched to slacklining more than climbing. A good coach can really listened to what you need, ask the really tough questions and help formulate the plan that is needed to succeed. A good coach is way more than just a person who tells you which hangboard session you are doing this week, but a person than really takes care of your goals and does everything in their power to keep you on track. They will let you know when you’re slacking and when you need to ease off. A good coach is someone who also knows when it’s time to seek professional help when they are beyond their scope of practice because of some injury or something else out of their realm. A good coach also has a network of professionals that can also help too. They are constantly thinking about what you need and what is best for you to succeed. They can be your sounding board when you just don’t think anything is working!
If you find yourself being an accountability partner be honest and don’t blow smoke up anyone’s ass. Holding people from the truth is never going to help, even if you think you’re protecting them. If my accountability partner hasn’t told me to get my act together at least once in about a month, I know something is up! (Thanks, Steve)