(everyone sing!) Climb Every Mountain

Last week I hiked up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. This 2.5 mile hike starts with a zigzag trail called Walter’s Wiggles. Once you get to the top of that, you have the option of continuing another half mile STRAIGHT UP. The rocky terrain and the installed chains are there to help you along the way, providing both footholds and handholds. It is not for the faint of heart or for those who are afraid of heights. I am not afraid of heights; I am afraid of falling. They are two different, often paralyzing fears.

Because of my fear, it occurred to me as I slowly and surely made my way to the top that having the ability to focus is crucial. With no railings, any fall off the edge meant certain death. Since falling is my fear, it was important that I focus my attention and eyesight across the vista, never down. If I looked down, I would not have been able to make it to the top or back down again (which was the tougher part).

The Law of Attraction says you get more of what you focus on. I spent all my time during that half-mile focused on two things: the breathtakingly beautiful scenery and my pride in what I was achieving. The more I focused on those two things, the more I enjoyed myself. In fact, there were moments when I was suffused with joy.

Going back down was more difficult. At that point, I was focused on how much my knees hurt and my concern for my partner who had been having trouble with his knees before we went on the hike. The more I gave these two concerns my attention, the less I enjoyed the hike down.

Admittedly, it is difficult to ignore pain but I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed the downward trek a bit more if I had, in spite of the pain, continued to focus on the beautiful scenery and our shared accomplishment. I know that’s true because, every once in a while, a group of college students on Spring Break would pass us on the way down the steep hill and proclaim, “You guys are our heroes!” or “Way to go!” and, for those brief, shining moments, the pain disappeared and I felt terrific!

I am not an advocate of taking action when you are afraid; that is not what I did. Had I gone up the steep incline fighting fear, I would have put myself and my partner in danger. Instead, I replaced the fear by focusing on two things I love—beauty and challenge.

Could the metaphor for life be any more obvious?

We all face things in life we find difficult. Unfortunately, many of us have been trained to fight against them or take action despite them. Both only cause them to remain more firmly entrenched. You get more of what you focus on. If I had simply said, “I don’t want this fear to stop me,” my focus would have been on the fear, triggering the “fight or flight” response. This response corresponds to an area of our brain called the hypothalamus, which—when stimulated—initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing and chemical release that prepares our body for running or fighting. My brain would have responded by flooding my system with stress hormones, causing me to perceive everything as a threat, which would have been dangerous. Bottom line: I would not have even attempted the climb. Instead, I opted to enjoy the scenery and the challenge. The fear was not included in my focus and so I never felt it. Not once.

Focus is powerful and every one of us has the ability to control where we place ours. Is it easy at first? No, it takes practice but like everything, the more you practice, the more accomplished you become.

If your thoughts don’t serve you well, challenge what your mind tells you:
– Is your boss really out to get you or is he just unskilled at management?
– Is your co-worker truly an insensitive jerk or could she possibly have problems in her life you know nothing about?
– Did you actually get nothing done today or does it just feel that way?

Too often we accept our thoughts as the truth when in fact they are simply thoughts. If someone told you, “You didn’t get anything done today,” you would likely argue that you did and come up with evidence to support your assertion. You can do the same with your mind—argue your case (but not out loud; people get institutionalized for less).

Remember, you get more of what you focus on. When you control your focus, you can literally climb mountains.

Download a PDF of this column