Have you ever experienced a point in your life where there is a decision - stay or go, continue or stop, push on or retreat? In mountaineering, there is a point in time that a person must make that decision. I refer to that time as "The Point." Your physical and mental fitness enable you to make the decision easier but that decision rarely comes with ease. Each of us has a different threshold for discomfort, pain, misery, or any other factor that we find disagreeable. I remain motivated to press through "The Point" and do so with confidence that I can return unharmed. Passing "The Point" and moving toward a goal is what keeps me motivated. The more I prepare, the more confident I am to be successful when I get to that decision. Nobody knows how they will react. I sure don't.
"The Point" arrives for every person at different times. We cannot predict the time nor how we will fare at "The Point" until we reach it and pass it. Laurence Gonzalez wrote many books on surviving extremes and the one common theme throughout his books is that the survivor - the person who decides well at "The Point" - does not know that she/he will decide until that moment. We all think we will do well in dire situations but we are almost certainly wrong. Moreover, we often think the macho tough guy will be the one who reacts well but more often it is the person we would never suspect that survives.
Surviving and passing "The Point" comes from staying in the moment. The old adage "BE HERE NOW" is one that differentiates the successful (living) from the unsuccessful (dead). The more we can stay in the moment, keep our wits about us, and make an informed decision, the more likely we will survive. Gonzales documents many instances where people become future oriented and catastrophize or become past oriented and search for sources to blame for the situation. Neither orientation works for survival. A person must be present oriented and ready to react when the time comes.
Athletics and survival share that common instance. Every athlete feels "The Point" and can often explain exactly what went through their heads as they experienced it. Sometimes, we just say "it ain't worth it" and dial down the intensity. Those times come to us all. Other times, we press through and confidently experience the aftermath. I recall many vivid moments where I pressed through and was amazed at how I fared. Similarly, I can recall several recent times where I met "The Point" and backed off. I hate the way I feel when I back off so I prepare myself to handle "The Point."
I just finished Tyler Hamilton's book The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France where he talked about the power of EPO and blood transfusions (i.e., doping). If you have any interest in cycling or bicycle racing, I highly recommend the book. During his account, Tyler described the feeling of being able to push through fatigue when he was doping. Hamilton said he was reluctant at first but then came to accept the fact that when he was doping, he had the ability to sustain efforts well after those internal warning signs were triggered. That awareness is what I strive to gain by preparation. I want to KNOW I can press on when I experience those moments of uncertainty.
Now I am not advocating doping but Hamilton's experience provides an excellent justification for preparing and preparing well beyond what is necessary just to climb. To push yourself beyond your imagination, you must experience "The Point" repeatedly. Tyler Hamilton knew his body and could accurately gauge his situation. He had a few other qualities that are best characterized "training your brain." We put in long hours to bank the experiences. Training your brain often consists of several facets:
- Objective evaluation of your situation - KNOW THE SITUATION
- Be in the moment - BE HERE NOW
- Power of positive thought - VISUALIZE SUCCESS
- Use attention/concentration to your advantage - STAY FOCUSED
One other thing keeps me motivated - purpose. I intend to describe this motivational force in a subsequent post. For now, "The Point" suffices as my main motivation.
On the lighter side, I stay motivated on indoor exercise machines by watching action movies, reading books, and answering email. Without these distractions, I would never get through a 4-hour stationary bike ride at 19,000 feet.