We Spoke to Pro Climber Sasha DiGiulian About Overcoming Mental Obstacles
Climbing a mountain is often used as an analogy of taking steps toward success. For professional climber Sasha DiGiulian, it’s both a metaphor and a reality as she scales some of the biggest faces in the world.
While climbing may seem like it’s mostly a physical exercise, as DiGiulian tells us, you have to be impeccably strong mentally to make it to the top.
After a scenic drive from Denver to Vail, we caught up with her at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail Colorado, an event sponsored by GMC. Here is some of the wisdom she shared with us:
Goalcast: What attracts you to climbing?
Sasha DiGiulian: There are so many reasons that I love climbing. For one, it’s an input-output formula: what you put into it is what you get out. It’s a mental and physical experience.
You are not only working your body but also your mind, to solve these puzzle pieces of what enables you to get to the top. It’s also an amazing gateway to experience the outdoors.
GC: It’s easy to see a lot of the physical challenge you face but what are some of the mental ones?
SDG: Not knowing if you’re capable of doing something. When you’re trying to climb, initially it can feel impossible.
And the mountain is going to be standing there whether or not you succeed, so you’re constantly fighting with yourself. You’re not competing with anyone else except these natural elements and yourself.
GC: How do you mentally prepare yourself when you get ready to climb?
SDG:I’m on the Red Bull team and we recently had a Performance under Pressure camp, which was all about training the mental side for sports performance.
What’s helped a lot is ice baths and breathing exercises, learning to control my heart rate and learning to be in control of my mind.
It’s practicing recreating tense situations – like interacting with a grizzly bear or machine gun drills that we did, for example – and using the skills that we learned, so when I’m out there climbing, I have the skills to be mentally strong.
GC: Your job requires a lot of your mind and body, so you constantly have to be ‘on’ and engaged. How do you like to turn it off and recharge?
SDG: I definitely recharge by having moments of solitude. I see my job as being this externally focused, engaged personality whether it’s climbing or the public relations part of the job.
When I’m home, I like to meditate on my own. I use Headspace, which is a cool app. I also like yoga.
GC: Do you ever have the fear of failure and how do you deal with it?
SDG: For sure. The fear of failure exists in all of us. It’s just about how we deal with it. There are days where I feel weighed down, like I don’t even know what I’m doing. Thoughts roll around like “what’s the point of climbing?” or “what’s the significance to me?”
How I recommend to get through it is to bring it back to what are you passionate about doing? And what you believe in. Then I remember that where I feel most at home and where I feel most confident about myself is just climbing and not thinking about those negative “why” questions, which aren’t helpful.
GC: A lot of people are scared to step outside of their boundaries because they might fail or fall short of their goal. What advice do you have for people who are thinking like that?
SDG:If you’re afraid of stepping beyond your boundaries because you’re afraid to fail, the truth is you’ll never know until you try. You can stay in a state of stagnancy and not really change anything or you can expose yourself to failure and then expose yourself to success.
GC: I’ve been in a GMC Sierra Denali for the weekend and I’ve been immersed in the culture for a few days now, taking in the epic scenery, listening to some rock climbing podcasts on the Apple Car Play and watching you work in The Rockies.
Although you have a cool line of work that many people would trade their desk job for, everyone has stresses that aren’t always visible. What are some of the things that stress you out?
SDG:What stresses me out is when I have bad days and I feel like I’m not where I want to be physically or where I need to be mentally. That ranges from my personal life to my professional life. I think we all have our ups and downs, and that’s normal. What I’ve learned is to be kind to yourself and accept the process to life. That’s the key.