Indoor rock climbing is my new “it” sport. As a daughter of an experienced climber, I’ve always wanted to try it. But it’s not something that I could start nowhere, and in fact I didn’t know how or where. The chance presented itself in Glen Coe, Scotland, at the Ice Factor National Ice Climbing Centre. It’s the home of the biggest indoor ice climbing arena in the world, and the UK’s highest overhanging rock climbing wall. Was there a better place to start this ‘challenge’?

After four hours of intensive indoor rock climbing, ice climbing, and an aerial adventure course, I decided that I quite liked climbing. I mean, I’m not in the best condition to fight gravity (you know the basic physics equation, F=mg), but I liked how my body felt afterwards, and the fact I was so concentrated on one thing. There are places in Seoul to practice rock climbing indoors – they’re not as big or as grand as Scotland’s, but I decided to take advantage of it, registered myself, and am still going strong.

While I was training to be better at climbing, I’ve realized a few valuable lessons that can be applied to life in general. When you are hanging onto a wall by a small lump of fake rock, you tend to think about stuff.


You don’t need to be the best

I like trying new things. By trying new things, I learn more about myself little by little. It also always reminds me of a very important life lesson: I don’t need to be, and cannot be, the best at everything.

We’re always told not to be a quitter and to be the best. The world is competitive and titles are so important. We are living in an era where only gold medals are celebrated, not silver or bronze. But I think that message has been misinterpreted over time. “Be the best” means be the best version of yourself, not objectively the best. At least that’s what I believe.

If I start a new activity today, it’s obvious and makes sense that I can’t excel at it straight away. The problem is, I’m not good at not being excellent. I have an urge to be good at everything I do. While I’m learning how to climb properly, I’m training my body and soul to do the best I can, not be the best.


learning how to rock climbing properly at Ice Factor
learning how to rock climbing properly at Ice Factor – Photo taken by Laurence Norah


You have to commit and invest

It’s okay not to be an expert, but commitment is necessary to improve: at sports, study, relationships, everything. I registered for the beginner’s month-long class at Art Climbing in Seoul that includes three classes per week. It’s close to where I live, but it’s further than my normal gym.

After two weeks of training, I got my own climbing shoes (expensive!). It’s extra money I don’t really have, but I thought of it as an investment. I learned workout routines that will help grow the necessary muscles for climbing. So far I’ve only missed one class (when I was quite sick), and am learning new skills and workout routines every time.

Commitment is the only way to progress.

You need to take three deep breaths

Whenever I do something crazy, I always remind myself of the rule of three deep breaths. It’s not always that easy. When your mind and body start panicking, there’s nothing to do except stop and take three deep breaths. Emotions rule the logical brain in challenging situations. It happens to everybody. By breathing deeply three times, the logical brain starts gaining its power back.

Breathing deeply is important to both not get hurt and save energy. During climbing, you have to climb high up the wall, and it’s difficult. Every climbing facility has safety systems, one way or another. They allow you to give up anytime you want. But even if you’re attached to a safety line, it’s important to jump or let go the right way, so that you won’t hurt yourself. If you jump in mid-panic, there’s a high chance that the artificial rocks will bruise parts of your body.

In addition, breathing deep breaths will relax you to hold on to the rocks a bit more naturally. It’s human nature to cling on tightly in scary situations like this. But if you’ve overloaded your shoulders and arms, your arms will be useless the day after. Trust me, I’ve gone through the same thing. If you try to relax, the weight of your body will shift to your legs, which have a lot stronger muscles than your arms.

So, three deep breaths.

If you have no pain, no gain

Such a cliché, but it couldn’t be truer. What genius said this widely-applicable phrase? Without experiencing trembling limbs (you know that feeling the day after), muscles won’t grow. You have to push your limits every time. When you feel like your hands and arms can’t hoist yourself on the wall anymore, you have to take one more step. There will be calluses and blisters. There will be the day that you can’t press the ‘shift’ key. You’ll hate your body and gravity at least once. But I promise you that the day will come when you can finish the routine. No success comes easily.

Lawrence on the wall at Ice Factor
Laurence on the wall at Ice Factor


Don’t jump to conclusions

When I mentioned my new challenge to people, half of them said, “It doesn’t need any skills, does it? I think it’s pretty easy.” Maybe. We try not to fall, and climb with our hands and feet. It’s not like snowboarding that needs lots of gear and protection.

However, you’ll never understand until you place your feet on the rocks and climb. The techniques, which are mostly our basic instinct, are not that easy to execute. They require us to use muscles that we don’t really think of in day-to-day life. It is damn hard. How it looks doesn’t necessarily mean how it actually is. Don’t jump to conclusions before you really understand it.

You CAN do it too

When I mentioned my new challenge to people, the other half said, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” It’s quite simple: you CAN do it too.

You CAN do anything you want in your life. You are the one who makes the final decision. At least, you are supposed to. If not, you need to make some changes.

What new challenge have you taken up recently? Have you learned any life lessons?


9 thoughts on “Rock Climbing and Life Lessons”

  1. 1) You are a brave soul to try climbing like that 🙂
    2) I appreciate how thought-provoking your post is, especially, “The problem is, I’m not good at not being excellent,” as that is something I struggle with sometimes too

  2. I also just got into rock climbing! I have absolutely fallen in love with it, but you are right, it definitely is an investment. My favorite piece of knowledge you shared is this: “If I start a new activity today, it’s obvious and makes sense that I can’t excel at it straight away. The problem is, I’m not good at not being excellent. ”

    SO with you there!!! It takes a lot for me not to get frustrated with myself, especially when I am not “good” at something right away.

  3. Thats’s some great lessons life lessons learned from rock climbing. I did it few times when I was in Sweden because our office had a small climbing wall. No way near the size of the one in this picture but I found it fun. Unfortunately can’t seem to find anything like that in Sri Lanka.

  4. That is a perfect activity for any serious traveler, in my case, I started to climb the wall in a gym to learn the technique, but after a few minutes, I realized that I need to lose a few pounds because my hands and legs were pretty weak compared with my body weight.
    So, now I run every day on a running pad until I get in shape.

  5. Great post and so true. Indoor climbing looks so easy but just try it and you will soon realise it takes more effort and concentration than is thought.
    I have been wanting to take a serious course for a long time. I’ve only been playing with it till now……. maybe it will help my “natural” clumsiness while out on the trails. And i love that about the three deep breaths……….. need to try that too.

  6. You’re awesome, Juno! and yup, I am one of those people who’d say “I’ve been wanting to try this!” and who knows I just might, at least just to get the curiousity out of my system.
    I had no idea that breathing technique would effect climbing. Thanks for sharing that.

    What I just learned doing lately , well, I’ve been doing that 7-minute workout from the mobile app and..yeah, again, it needs discipline to gain something from it. I haven’t given up, though.

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