Perseverance and the macho stereotype of win-at-all-costs has its merits but not for mentally tough mountain climbers.
Finding the courage to quit while the quitting’s good is often the option for these men and women who test and challenge themselves by climbing 8000 metre mountains.
Being ‘’tough’’ could mean giving up on a dream that may be within sight and is not without significant physical, emotional and financial investment.
This was one of the ‘’interesting’’ finds from two in-depth studies which reveal the traits of mental toughness in mountain climbers and how they respond to natural disasters.
Dr Christian Swann, from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Early Start Research Institute, along with collaborators Dr Lee Crust and Professor Jacqui Allen-Collinson from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, looked to professional mountain climbers to explore the concept.
Their interviews with climbers revealed a more sophisticated idea of mental toughness.
‘’For me it was fascinating to really kind of critique what we thought we knew about mental toughness,’’ Dr Swann said.
‘’In other sports the idea of perseverance and pushing through no matter what really holds up very strongly.
‘’That is not necessarily the case with mountain climbers. The most mentally tough choose to give up on a dream when they realise the risks outweigh the rewards. For these mentally tough climbers, safety is absolutely first and foremost.’’
One of the papers, published recently in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, focused on experiences of survivors of the April 2015 avalanche that struck Mt Everest Base Camp.
In total, 22 climbers died and more than 60 were injured, making it the deadliest disaster in the history of climbing Mount Everest.
Yet, moments after the immediate danger passed, and conscious that climbers were still stranded at camps higher up the mountain, there were those who set about organising a recovery effort.
‘’It was really nice to tell their story. To our knowledge this is the only scientific study of really what’s involved in surviving that natural disaster,’’ Dr Swann said.
‘’It seems mental toughness actually is an important factor and allows you to respond proactively and constructively. There was one guy who was carrying injured climbers and bodies across base camp all day.
‘’Contrast that with the polar opposite response where people were going into their shell and sitting in their tents or curling up in a ball, literally in some cases, and not able to do deal with it.”