How free solo climber Alex Honnold faces fear | ReThinking with Adam Grant
In this episode, Alex Honnold, the world-renowned free solo climber, shares his unique approach to managing fear, his journey to climbing El Capitan, and his perspective on success and values.
He discusses his techniques for staying calm in high-stress situations, his approach to risk and consequence, and how he harnesses his feelings of angst to achieve his goals.
Fear of Success and Public Speaking
Despite his calm demeanor while climbing, Honnold shares his fear of success, particularly in relation to his achievement of climbing El Capitan, and his fear of public speaking, which he faced when giving a TED Talk.
Risk and Consequence
Honnold distinguishes between risk and consequence.
He explains that the odds of failing on the TED stage were higher than falling while climbing, which is why he was more afraid of the former.
The embarrassment of failing publicly can feel as severe as the fear of death.
Honnold discusses how he harnesses his feelings of angst to achieve his goals.
He mentions the rich history of climbers using personal struggles, such as devastating breakups, to fuel their climbing ambitions.
I care about projects that help populations and the help the global environment and things like that but I really have never cared that much about individual like… I care about the bigger picture sort of things. – Alex Honnold
I’ve often tried to sort of harness that angst or that general feeling of like I should be doing more or achieving or whatever and basically like harness that to do the things that I want to do. – Alex Honnold
Honnold experiences a state of flow while climbing, a psychological term for being fully immersed in an activity with a feeling of energized focus.
He attributes this to his high level of skill and the challenge that climbing presents.
Variety in Climbing
The variety inherent in climbing keeps Honnold engaged.
When he hits a plateau in one aspect of climbing, he can shift his focus to a different aspect, which often benefits his overall skill level.
Honnold’s financial approach aligns with the principles of effective altruism.
He believes in donating his money to causes that can make a significant impact, rather than focusing on individual cases.
Honnold talks about the internal pressure and expectations he faces while free solo climbing.
He has the freedom to choose when and where to climb, and if he feels uncomfortable, he can back down without any external pressure.
Purpose of Climbing
Honnold compares his passion for climbing to any other profession.
He does it because he enjoys it, feels good at it, and believes he can contribute in some way.
He acknowledges that climbing doesn’t directly help anyone but sees it as pushing human potential and exploring the unknown.