A lot of the best lessons that I’ve learned about life, I’ve learned from rockclimbing. When I first got into indoor rock climbing, it was through six classes, meeting every Tuesday, at Planet Granite, and our instructor was Kris, in case she’s still teaching there. She is an incredible instructor. She’s a young rock climber, and she climbs wonderfully. Our class was six women, and the best part about it is that we worked on one new technique every week.

That’s it. One new technique. This means that we learned six new techniques. All those are still the basics of what I use to climb today. It is my favorite way to learn anything: one habit at a time.

You could try to learn two at a time, but then one of the things your mind becomes engaged in is monitoring the transitions, “Am I climbing close enough to the wall? Oh, I forgot – am I using quiet hands? Oh, close enough to the wall? … Quiet hands?” Just the mental switching from thought to thought can make you less effective in addressing either new habit.

Like I was telling a friend recently in an email, the best thing I can do for myself when I’m going for a run is to think only about the running (the running, my breathing, the road, but really only about the run itself). Once my mind starts to wander and think about work or friends, I physically find myself slowing down and sometimes stopping! One thing at a time.

Daniel Gilbert in his Stumbling on Happiness says a similar thing – the mind can either imagine something visually or it can observe something visually – it does not do both at the same time because the brain uses the same wiring to IMAGINE seeing as something as it uses in actually SEEING something. So, if you’re running, and start to picture an issue at work that you’re working on resolving, then your mind starts to IMAGINE the work issue in all its details, and STOPS SEEING IN YOUR MIND the road, seeing your lungs getting healthier, seeing your fast-paced stride.

The mind is a powerful motivator of the body. This is one of the benefits many people that meditate regularly give about their meditation – that just learning to focus on one thing is initially difficult and incredibly rewarding as a feeling.

Finally, Ben Franklin in his life worked on changing fifteen of his habits, including temperance (moderation in food and drink), laziness, organization, etc. Franklin addressed one habit per week. His goal was to be impeccable in that habit in that week, and to ignore the other habits during that week. he succeeded in going through all fifteen habits in fifteen weeks, and then he started them right up again for the following fifteen weeks. But again, one at a time. Focus.

One thing at a time. Simplicity. Making it easy. Making winning easy. If I were Mr. Miyagi, I would end this post with “wax on, wax off.”


  1. Posted Wednesday August 23, 2006 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’ve mentioned this before in passing: some people take lessons they’ve learned from an athletic activity and integrate those lessons seamlessly into their lives. I had never been able to do that with a sport before I started rock climbing about a decade ago. But rock climbing is apropos: rock climbing is relevant to all these various parts of life! There’s enough about focus, persistence, problem-solving, aesthetics, overcoming yourself, mind over matter, and euphoria in rock climbing that for me, it’s eaaaaaaaaasy to draw lessons to real life!

  2. Posted Wednesday August 23, 2006 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    FYI, the six techniques are: your core to the wall (your center of gravity close to the wall), quiet hands/quiet feet (hovering above the hold before using it), shifting weight (left and right, like dancing), flagging (throwing one foot and leg out for balance), high stepping (stepping up usually above your knee), and dynos (jumping while letting go of other holds, “dynamic movements”).

  3. Posted Wednesday August 23, 2006 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I never thought about the poetry in rock climbing, but that’s what the six steps you’re describing reminds me of. It also strikes me that yeah, there are lots of things that are appropriate too. It seems that when one is rock climbing, it’s like a very intimate and careful dance that is nevertheless very dynamic.

  4. Posted Thursday August 24, 2006 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    That’s interesting. In my martial arts class my teacher usually only focuses on a couple of techniques or so every lesson, and the whole night is spent just on variations of the same technique.

    It’s a very interesting way of experiencing that there’re multiple different ways of applying the same principle.

    What I love about drawing parellels from sports is that you experience it, you have to because you’re engaging your body, not just your mind for an intellectual exercise.

  5. Lila
    Posted Friday August 25, 2006 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Weight Watchers is similar! It encourages you to do things step by step, little by little, instead of telling yourself: I’m going to start from day one eating only salads and exercising two hours a day every day.

    I’m totally different from you on running, though. (Well, if only I could run anymore. Haven’t been able to in over a year because of injuries.) If I think only of running, I realize how tired I am and I stop much sooner. But if I’m thinking about work or fun or a book I’m reading, I can go on for much longer!

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  1. By senia.com » SENIA.COM Summary - August, 2006 on Wednesday November 22, 2006 at 2:07 am

    […] Doing Can Be Easier Than Not Doing – get something done (like watering your plants) when you think of it rather than wasting brain space by remembering to do it later. How to Diminish Effects of Stress on the Brain – mainly, the answer is exercise (and sleep, diet, and physical activity). Change One Habit at a Time – focus on one habit with examples from rock climbing. Quantum Speech – jardon is key to understanding a field or industry. […]