Want to be more Decisive? Be Sure to Build Proper Anchors in Your Life: A Lesson from Rock Climbing

 

The Rocklands, Western Cape, South Africa
I want to talk to you about a parallel Life Lesson I learned while rock climbing, but first, some interesting considerations:

Do you know that we live in a time where there are more jobs than any other time in history, yet nearly 65% of people are unhappy with what they do.

We live in a time where we can connect with millions of people on the other side of the world with the click of a mouse, yet we are experiencing more disconnect from those who live just next door.

How can this exist?

I believe one of the major causes is that people are not creating the right anchors in their lives.

I’d like to tell you how rock climbing taught me what to anchor myself to and how to build anchors you can trust.

When learning how to traditional climb, often called “trad” climbing, I was taught that your anchor must have multiple points of protection and be built into something stable. The anchor is the mechanism that keeps you attached to the rock at all times and is your lifeline between a having a great day climbing and being a bloody mess on the ground below.

The process in which an anchor is created ensures that if one piece fails, the other pieces will hold up and protect the climber. This is a perfect parallel for how to live our lives: we must not have all our well-being (safety) rooted in something unstable.

Generally speaking, two types of people exist in this world: those with unstable anchors and those with stable ones. On one hand, you have a wealthy, outwardly successful person, who, by societal standards, has “made it.” This was me for a long time. If that person’s source of happiness and self-worth are only assigned to their material wealth and fleeting accomplishments, as long as their fortune and fame remain, they can sustain a sense of security and happiness. However, the moment their fortune or success staggers, they’ll be exposed and vulnerable.

On the other hand, you have a person of maybe lesser economic status and career success, but finds their self-worth from a higher power, the impact they have on others through volunteering and other non-tangible, intrinsically motivated causes. Because this person has other sources of self-worth, other anchors, there is less of a chance they will be traumatized when one of their other “anchors” give way.

With this type of reasoning, you can see the practical value of having spent time building solid anchors into secure foundations.
With all the choices out there, the question is: what do I anchor my life to?
This reminds me of a tragic moment I experienced climbing in Australia. I was visiting the infamous Araphiles mountains, one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world where the landscape rises up from the colorless desert into majestic red and orange cliffs. As I approached one of these magnificent walls, I noticed something that I’ve never seen before in my climbing career. At the base of the mountain was a plaque dedicated to a climber, a climber who built his anchor into something unstable and paid the ultimate price for it.

Anchoring into something unstable or uncertain will inevitably fail you, however, solidly build, stable anchors can save your life. Tragically, this young climber built his anchor into something unstable and it cost him everything.

Just like building an anchor into something unstable and uncertain (like your job, bank account, what you “own”) can lead to being vulnerable, building a stable anchor (into your education, your health, your relationships) can keep you secure. So was the case in my recent expedition to the world-renowned Shawanagunks in New Paltz, New York.

I was climbing a difficult route that was at my limit for trad climbing and what started out as a beautiful climb became treacherous when rain began to fall. Fortunately, I was able to push through most of the rain exposed section, but the “crux” or the most difficult part of the climb, remained. The crux consisted of approximately five moves where I would jam my fingers into a crack in the rock and pull my weight up and over a horizontal roof, using only the tension my fingers created against the hard granite for support.

I strategically worked my way through the sequence, methodically placing my hands and feet in precise spots throughout the crack, but I soon realized something: the place where I had to make the most critical move of the climb had become wet and slippery so I was unable to create the proper tension in my grip to support my body weight. While completely parallel to the ground below, I faithfully placed my hand and began to pull up and over the corner of the roof. The next thing I know, I could feel my hand slipping, my feet slowly peeling away from the rock and my body swinging out into the open air.

What realistically only took a few seconds, felt like minutes as my entire body left the stable rock and hopelessly met the open air. My stomach moved into my throat and my hands frantically grasped at the thin, mountain air. Just when I thought all hope was lost, my hips began to pull back towards the rock, the limp rope stiffened and my fall was arrested mid-air as I sat suspended 250 feet off the ground below. Because of experience, I anchored into something solid before going for the crux and having a proper, solidly built anchor saved my life.

In rock climbing, like life, it’s critical to build solid anchors. Building solid anchors will ensure that if you do fall/fail, you ARE protected, supported and safe. They give you the confidence to take BIG steps out of your comfort zone and the support system to catch you when you fall. Solid anchors are critical in rock climbing and they’re even more critical in life.

I want to leave you with this question: What in your life is worth building an anchor into? Your work? Your bank account? Your family? Your relationships? How about your faith or your character?

Time is the ultimate commodity in life. You can never buy more of it and once it’s spent, you can never get it back. Because of this, we must protect and use it with the ultimate discretion. In life, we are given chances to place value and use our precious time to build anchors into things that are temporal or things that are lasting, so I encourage you to use your time wisely and choose your anchors carefully.

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