A Small Victory: How Rock Climbing Keeps Me Sane

November 24th, 2010 | Category: Marginalia, Videos

In my “How To Do Stuff and Be Happy” talk, I tell people that everyone should have one “head-clearing activity.” Let me explain that by example. My friend Ben Hiltzheimer used to ride motorcycles. When he started learning how, he said that you can’t think about anything else while you’re negotiating the streets and traffic because all you’re thinking about is not dying. I have equated this experience to learning to ride a fixed-gear bicycle.

I started rock climbing a little over ten years ago, and since there’s a wall on campus at UT, I’ve been going in the last couple of years more often than ever. I didn’t realize it until recently, but this is my main head-clearing exercise. While on the wall, you’re only thinking about your next move, about how to position yourself to make the next hold. It’s as mental as it is physical. I can’t think about deadlines, paper revisions, book chapters, magazine articles, student issues, bills, etc. It’s just me and the wall. I do this for an hour or so three times a week, and during that time, I clear the mental cache and leave to start anew. This is what I mean by “head-clearing activity.” Find yourself one. It’s good.


The video below is of a climb that took me all of fall semester to figure out. For those that don’t know, the routes are marked off with colored tape, so only specified holds are allowed to be used on certain routes. I’ve been stuck on the last two moves of this purple route for the last two months. Well, I finally finished it on Monday: A small victory. Here I am sending it clean on Tuesday [runtime: 0:50]:

Further Posting:


  • Expanding Minds: Books on Hacking Your Head | Roy Christopher said:

    […] Speaking of programs, Andy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking and Learning (Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2008) tackles maximizing the mind from a programmer’s point of view, and it overlaps and complement’s the books mentioned above nicely. Maps, models, recipes, and other scripts and schedules are a part of Hunt’s push, but you don’t have to be code nerd to get plenty out of this book. It has helpful tips for everyone. Chapter four, “Get in Your Right Mind,” even suggests rock climbing, which I regularly use to clear my mind’s cache. […]

  • A Writer Runs Through It: A Guide of Sorts | Roy Christopher said:

    […] get at the issue of distraction. Having time away from writing is also important, as is having a head-clearing activity, but I have colleagues who can’t write at home due to things like dishes, television, […]