How Algebra Advice Actually Helps You Climb Higher
Some wise words from my high school math teacher help me break through a plateau; and I think they'll help you out as well.
The squat-start of this slab problem forced me into a bit of an uncomfortable position. My foot rested on the curved starting hold, with my knee bent almost as far as it could go. From my low position, I wrapped my fingers around a side pull caked in shoe rubber, chalk, and sweat.
I ignored the slimy sensation, tucked low, then pushed off my foot into a standing position. I moved with precision, not wanting to fall away from the wall.
These slab problems — as they’re called — have always been a bit of a mixed bag for me. They’re extremely balance and skill focused; no way to just muscle through. But because they have a positive slope, you don’t always have a clean fall down to the ground. It’s not uncommon to hit the wall on the way down, and the sandpaper-ey surface will be more than happy to take some of your flesh on contact.
This was on my mind as I balanced on the ball of my foot, trying to fully extend my leg so that I wouldn’t feel quite so wobbly.
The balance here was so precarious, I couldn’t even turn my head to look for the next hand hold. Instead, I felt along the wall with my left hand, reaching for the bit of plastic I knew was almost directly overhead.
Thanks for reading Cole's Climb! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
My middle and ring fingers wrapped around it — there was no room for the others. It was so miniscule, it would’ve been easy to confuse for a foothold, or to miss it altogether. This thing certainly wouldn’t bear my weight. But on the slab, the tiny bit of leverage it offered was game-changing.
Using my newfound support, I shimmied further along the narrow, downward-sloping ledge I stood on. I squished my body against the wall, willing my arm to grow longer as I reached for the next hold.
My fingertips brushed it. Still not close enough. Just a little more…
“Don’t forget your right foot!” My friend called from back on the ground.
I hesitated, then retreated to my (relatively) stable resting place. I considered their advice. There was an open foothold farther along the wall. It may very well let me shift my weight farther. But moving to it could also cause me to barn-door right off the wall.
I abandoned the idea, resolving to try the reach once more instead. With a bit more commitment, I felt the pads of my fingers make contact with the side pull. I’d done it. From there I could reach up to the next handhold, barely making that maneuver as well. But now what?
My limbs stretched out across the wall, each almost fully extended, none really generating enough tension to give me sure footing. When I tried to move my foot, everything fell apart.
I pushed away from the wall to avoid scraping off my skin, and hit the mat on all fours.
“You’ve gotta move your foot first,” my friend repeated.
“I can get past the move without it,” I replied.
“Yeah, but then what?” He asked. “Then your foot is in the wrong place for the rest of the problem, you’re locked off. I’ve seen you do this like a dozen times!”
Back in high school, I had a math teacher who was tough, but brilliant. She had short gray hair, glasses, and seemed to be surrounded by a perpetual cloud of chalk dust. She also had a ton of great, quotable sayings that she would spout off in an accent that sounded oddly reminiscent of JFK. And some of them would transcend the world of 11th grade algebra.
My personal favorites:
“You can, legally, make a right turn onto a dead end street. But that’s not going to help you get on the highway!”
“You are on the slow boat to China!”
Reserved for situations where you haven’t done anything technically incorrect, but you’re needlessly complicating the situation, or doing that won’t bring you closer to your objective.
Man, I felt that advice on this problem. I had tried it so many times, I’d gotten comfortable with the steps I was taking. I could stay on the wall longer, and get farther from the start — never mind the fact this wasn’t helping me make actual progress moving up the wall.
When this hit, me, I realized I’d been having a ridiculous argument with my friend.
“If I do it this way, I can figure out ‘X.’”
“Yeah, but you’re supposed to be solving for ‘Y.’”
Sometimes we get so entrenched in our way of doing things, the thought of doing it a different way can be scary. Even when we know that the change of course is necessary, many of us would rather repeat the same comfortable routine that’s getting us nowhere.
It’s nice to be able to say we at least tried. But ultimately, it’s unproductive.
Break the routine.
Take the uncomfortable next step that leads to your goals.
I want to Hear from You
What's a piece of advice someone gave you that has always stuck with you? Leave a comment with the button below!
And if you did enjoy this post, consider clicking the like and share buttons. This just takes a second, but it’s huge in helping me reach new audiences for my writing; and helps to grow the responsible outdoor community.
If this is your first time here; sign up below to get access to news and resources to help prepare for your next adventure!
Thanks Cole, another great piece. I’m taking your advice... Just started my new job yesterday, trying to get onto the path less traveled!
This is one that has stuck with me throughout the years.
“Today is the day you worried about yesterday”.
We do get through many scenarios in spite of ourselves.