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What has ‘noticing’ got to do with climbing?

Does it surprise you that ‘noticing’ is a powerful way for us to develop as climbers? It’s something many of us rarely take the time to do in a conscious way, because why would we? Life is busy and we want to be out there doing the thing we love – climbing! The idea of taking time to notice is often alien to our lifestyles – built to maximise our productivity and squash in as much adventure, fun and activity as possible. But noticing really does have the power to transform every aspect of our lives, including our climbing, and so today we invite you to consider noticing how your body and mind feel as you explore this fascinating concept with Emily Pitts, Womenclimb Founder & CEO. 

The first time I picked up on this interesting idea of noticing was during climbing coaching training with a climber whom I respect deeply, Katherine Schirrmacher. During our day-long session, she consistently talked about noticing, and this sparked a journey of exploration, which I am still on today. 

What is noticing?

In different contexts there are different definitions, from the simple dictionary definition: 

‘to see or become conscious of something’¹

To a definition underpinning professionalism in teaching:

‘A necessary skill that underpins all professional practice is noticing that which is salient’. ²

What impact does noticing have?

Noticing helps us to be more successful. When we notice things, the chances are we can learn something – either what went well or what didn’t go so well. Those bits of information lead to progressive change and development. This applies to climbing as much as any other activity.

Noticing leads to informed decision-making. In some situations, these can be life and death decisions, for example in winter climbing conditions, where objective dangers are considerably higher than a day out walking in the sunshine. 

A hiking trail

Noticing stops us rushing into impulsive responses, which can lead to trouble, to upset, and to other challenging situations. I have certainly had times on social media where I’ve rushed an angry response to someone only to regret posting later on. Noticing the immediate feeling and emotion in my body can help me to take time before responding and to respond in less of a ‘hot’ way. 

Noticing helps us to build resilience and to weather challenges, by enabling our brain to find patterns and develop strategies to cope when things are hard. Noticing feeling stressed is just one example which is important for me, because it allows me to build in the time and space to stay calm and healthy. 

Noticing helps us to connect more deeply with our bodies, so that we become in tune. As you can imagine, this can lead to better performance over the longer term, as we learn to interpret the signals, and to push ourselves at the right time, whilst giving ourselves rest when our bodies need it. 

Noticing can lead us to self-kindness and to treating ourselves fairly, honestly and kindly³. Who doesn’t want to treat themselves with loving kindness, but who finds it easy when things go wrong or life presents challenges?

inhale, exhale

Noticing is the key to building deep bonds with others. When others around us feel noticed and heard by us, our relationships improve. In climbing, this particular aspect of noticing can make the difference between good climbing partnerships and those which last a lifetime. 

Noticing the things happening around us can enable us to feel a part of something bigger, giving our lives meaning. 

Noticing positive things in our lives helps us to be happier. Taking time to observe the positive aspects of our life leads to better physical and mental well being. This is evidenced across many studies, which is part of the reason gratitude journals have become so popular. However, noticing isn’t about putting on a brave face every time things are tough. 

‘Noticing and paying attention to the “inner world” allows us to enhance self-awareness and to “be” with painful feelings just as they are, and importantly to experience vulnerability non-judgmentally’.4

How do we develop noticing skills?

mindful meditation

Noticing is a skill. If you don’t notice much about yourself , your world and others around you now, it’s ok. You can hone the talent and become a Noticing Queen. 

Time: Noticing is a skill that takes time to develop. Most often people do this through a regular practice. It helps us to establish noticing as a regular part of life, rather than the occasional thing we do when we are in certain situations. The great thing here is that a short session of only a couple of minutes a day can work wonders. Personally, I do my best to do 3 minutes of mindfulness for three minutes every day. Sometimes I fall off the wagon and lose momentum, but then I am kind to myself and get back into my morning routine. Other people tag it onto their morning tooth brushing activity as a way to remind them to do it. 

Organised activity: Mindfulness exercises or yoga are particularly good for noticing. I like Yoga with Kassandra on Youtube – she has a 30 day Yoga Challenge to get started. Beth Thomas’ approach at Sukha Yoga is focussed on the body and healing. Her approach to listening to the body deeply resonates with me now, although when I was younger I struggled with yoga and mindfulness and felt it wasn’t for me. It felt like it was mumbo jumbo, and I understand those for whom it just doesn’t work. 

Effort: Noticing requires conscious awareness and effort. This is an important thing to recognise. Like all things that bring benefit, we usually have to work at them. Sometimes sowing a seed, watering it and sticking with it to notice the benefit.

Now, I invite you to notice how you feel now and to make an active choice to notice yourself (your body and your mind) before, during and after you climb. Make mental or actual notes and get in touch with us to let us know how you’re getting on. 

Happy noticing


²Rooney, D., Boud, D. Toward a Pedagogy for Professional Noticing: Learning through Observation. Vocations and Learning 12, 441–457 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12186-019-09222-3

³Gabana N.T. (2019) Gratitude in Sport: Positive Psychology for Athletes and Implications for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Performance. In: Van Zyl L., Rothmann Sr. S. (eds) Theoretical Approaches to Multi-Cultural Positive Psychological Interventions. Springer, Cham

4 Karin Hägglund, Göran Kenttä, Richard Thelwell & Christopher R. D. Wagstaff (2019) Is there an upside of vulnerability in sport? A mindfulness approach applied in the pursuit of psychological strength, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 10:4, 220-226, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2018.1549642

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