Determine why you're scared
Climbing is scary—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Yes, climbing is a high-risk sport. But is it the act of climbing that is scary? It certainly seems to be if you suffer from a fear of heights. But if you dig a little deeper into this statement, most people will find that no, climbing is not scary. Falling is scary.
You cannot climb without falling. It's part of the sport. Professional climbers will even admit that falling is 90% of climbing. Because how can you improve if you never lay a hand on something more challenging than your ability level? You can't.
Whether it is a ground fall every fall as a boulderer, an awkward whip on a lead route, or even a soft fall onto the rope while top roping, falling will always be associated with fear thanks to our good friend, gravity, the first question you need to ask yourself is, what exactly are you scared of?
It might feel challenging to pinpoint precisely what you're scared of, but spend some time thinking about it. Are you scared you will get hurt? Are you scared your climbing partner is not going to catch you? Are you scared of the gear failing? Or are you afraid of failing? Maybe you fear heights, so you start shaking uncontrollably every time you get 30 feet up on the wall? Whatever your reason is, try to recognize it and don't be afraid to admit it.
Once you identify the why, it's time to be realistic with yourself. For any of those roots of fear above, analyze the situation. If you're scared of getting hurt, determine the likelihood of that happening. If you know how to fall correctly and there are no dangerous obstacles in your falling zone, the chances of a severe injury are pretty low. Once fear has decided, it settles into our heads. It can sometimes be unclear whether you are experiencing rational or irrational fear. Being realistic with the danger level of your climbing can help clear the fog of irrational fear.
You might be able to recognize your fear as irrational, and it's the first step to overcome the fear of falling, but there's still a lot of work to do so that this irrational fear doesn't hold you back from your true potential. There are three things you can control to help curb your fear of falling.
First, and arguably most important, is practice. As with everything we do as humans, we can only improve by practicing. Practicing falling, yes, on purpose, can help you gain confidence in your falling techniques and desensitize you from the act of falling. Whether bouldering or lead climbing, start your practice with minor falls. Maybe you're only a few feet off the ground, or your body is below the last clip. Start small and, slowly but surely, practice bigger and bigger falls until your hips are above the previous clip and you're taking a sizable whip. The goal here is to find the edge of your comfort zone. And when you do, push that edge ever-so-slightly every time you climb.
Lack of confidence often results in an increased level of fear. If you pretend you're confident, you can convince yourself that you are optimistic, even if you don't feel that way. Picture yourself gliding up the wall, climbing fearlessly. Imagine you are sticking every move. The more confidence you have, the less likely your fear will start to take over.
Positivity is so crucial because fear can easily slip into a downward spiral. To avoid this, practice positive self-talk both off and on the wall. Tell yourself you are confident. Tell yourself you have nothing to be scared of. Imagine yourself climbing flawlessly. Surround yourself with climbing partners who feed you encouragement and positivity.
Positivity and confidence usually go hand in hand. If you are practicing confidence, you are also practicing positivity on the back burner. But if you consciously practice both, fear doesn't stand a chance!
Kick fear to the curb
Practicing all these tactics will go a long way in battling your fear of falling. But it's essential to remember that there's no such thing as getting rid of your fear forever. It's part of our instinctual nature to protect us from danger. Overcoming your fear of falling is about constantly managing your fear, keeping it realistic, and pushing the edge of your comfort zone. Fear is something you have the tools to control. It's just a matter of putting those tools to use.