February was a busy month with coaching sessions down in Cardiff, the highly enjoyable NICAS seminar, and a workshop for me on working with elite youths in sports. I think I have learnt a lot this last month, from thinking through a research project with an MSc student, transferring my child development and psychology skills into a sports context and translating how I work with my clients into useful pieces of advice for climbing coaches.
Its a convenient coincidence therefore that this evening I find myself putting the finishing touches to a presentation about Smart Climbing’s strengths and weaknesses for the North Wales Outdoor Forum where I will be speaking tomorrow. I think one of the most useful skills I learnt during my clinical psychology training was to be reflective. Thinking about what went well, what I could improve on, recurring themes in my practice and where I have knowledge gaps has become almost second nature to me over the last 15 years. When I came to think about my coaching business, I realised that asking these questions of myself has been a powerful tool in making sure that I give my clients a good service by seeking to continually improve my practice.
Its a variation of this skill which I teach my clients, particularly the ones who get stuck in very negative patterns of self evaluation (you know who you are :). Learning to let go of self criticism, which implies that you must be perfect, and instead to embrace self reflection, which implies acceptance of the process of continual learning can be a tricky habit to master. Practicing evaluating your performance with questions such as ‘what did I do well and what must I do more of next time?’ rather than allowing self talk to degenerate into self-flagellation (‘why did I do that? what an idiot! why didn’t I remember to’… and so on) is key to moving from a situation of self blame into self development. I can remember watching a video of myself during clinical psychology training and giving myself a hard time about all the mistakes I was making. As time went on, with guidance from supervisors, I came to learn that mistakes are how we learn, and with the right intention, that is, the intention to discover and improve rather than to perfect , I managed to start to feel more confident about my practice and accept that mistakes are natural parts of the learning process. Having this attitude helps you be more open to learning and stops the hidden destructive nature of self criticism.
So tomorrow, at the Outdoor Forum, I will be talking about what I have learnt over the last 5 years of running Smart Climbing rather than presenting a glossy image of ‘perfection’. Most of what I have learnt, I have learnt through the generosity of my clients where we have been able to have an open dialogue about what is working for them and what isn’t, learning together and in partnership about how to improve their climbing by embracing making ‘mistakes’ (though I’m not convinced there really is such a thing as a true mistake!)