Paradoxical intention and overcoming fear of falling in climbing

The fear of falling is one of the main burdens of progress for many climbers. Fear has the function of protecting us from perceived danger. “Perceived”, which is not always real. Sometimes we instinctively fear things that do not present a real risk. In the case of climbing, the fear of falling deprives us of experiencing and advancing as much as we would like to. And while sometimes fear is justified and we stay safe thanks to it, on other occasions it is quite irrational, because we know very well that most times a fall would not involve any kind of risk. And yet fear is still there, limiting us. 

In addition, you’ve probably seen first-hand that when you’re scared and thinking that you’re going to fall, you’re much more likely to do so. It is not easy to know the cause of this, but in this article we are going to talk about an interesting technique from logotherapy that could perhaps be applied to the fear of falling with good results. Read and judge for yourself.

Hyper-intention and Paradoxical Intention

Hyperintention is when you maintain an excessive intention in what you want to achieve, in such a way that it prevents the realization of what you want. For example, if what you want is not to fall or send a route, thinking excessively about it will cause just the opposite: that you fall or that you do not manage to send. It may be the pressure or lack of concentration, but the more you are afraid of something happening, the more likely it is to happen. Just like when you have an important event the next day and it’s hard to fall asleep. The more you want to sleep, the harder it becomes.

Well, to counteract the effects of hyperintention, logotherapy has a somewhat peculiar tool:

The person is asked to stop the tendency of trying to avoid or control their symptoms. He or she is even asked to deliberately make them appear, wishing and exaggerating them.

Back to the example of the fear of falling, the paradoxical intention would be the desire to fall. You would say to yourself: now I am going to climb this route and fall as much as I can. That way I will learn to fall and I will see that it is not a big deal. What do you think will happen? You will probably fall a lot less, you will climb with more self-confidence and if you fall you will achieve your goal!

In the case of insomnia, the paradoxical intention would be to set the goal of not sleeping to fight the hyperintention of wanting to fall asleep. The task now would be to avoid falling asleep, having a greater sense of control over whether or not you achieve it. In this way, trying not to fall asleep will most likely lead to falling asleep as soon as attention is diverted to something else.

According to Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy, the technique of the paradoxical intention aims to confront the common sense of the person to whom it is applied. Thus, with the paradoxical intention in therapy the patient would be encouraged to do or to desire that which he or she fears.

One must always take into account the reality and possible consequences of manifesting the paradoxical intention.

Obviously if you are doing an exposed route and the fall is really dangerous, you better not fall or want to fall. Testing the paradoxical intention must be done taking into account all the circumstances and possible consequences, whatever the environment where we want to apply it.

A bit about logotherapy

Logotherapy is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life, therefore it specializes in helping patients to find their own meaning in their lives.

Viktor Frankl was the founder and developer of logotherapy, as well as the survivor of several Nazi concentration camps, which allowed him to observe first-hand how human psychology works and the role of the search for meaning in the most extreme circumstances. In his famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning” he narrates and analyzes his experiences in the concentration camps, as well as giving a short introduction to logotherapy in its final pages.

Have you ever experienced the negative effects of hyperintention? Do you think that paradoxical intention can work?

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