Got that flow feeling?


Last week I finally made it to a climbing wall/indoor bouldering for a lesson (left).

I haven’t ‘climbed’ since I was a kid going up trees or playing a game of trying to get along the outside wall of the house without touching the ground so this was an exercise in learning a new skill.

What followed was an object lesson in flow so it’s worth sharing a few salient points.

Remember, 'Flow' is a concept from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which (paraphrasing greatly) says that the level of challenge needs to be in balance with your skill level to achieve an optimal state of complete absorption. Athletes call it being in 'the zone'. You can watch his TEDtalk here.

My instructor Robert started me off doing the type of traversing exercise that I remembered from childhood and as I started to get the hang of the moves he encouraged me to try different, more challenging moves. The beauty of these indoor climbing walls is the colour coded holds with a big range of difficulty starting with V0 and progressing. At any moment you can easily go to the next level of difficulty so there is no risk of boredom.

There were a couple of things that Robert did which were very impactful. He was able to demonstrate moves in a very simple, visual way which allowed me to picture the move and then have a go. Indeed I found myself relating moves to similar patterns that I was already familiar with e.g. one move was very much like a high jump take off

Then with the safety of the crash mats I was able to keep practicing moves and falling off until I got it – Robert didn’t jump in after each attempt with tips and feedback, he just let me have a quite a few goes before re-demonstrating the move for me and letting me go again.

As with any flow experience the time flies by and in 90 minutes I had progressed from V0 to V2 on the bouldering and was ready to go up the 25m wall with a rope. I can’t wait for the next time.