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The Works

Self-talk & summits

Ron and Michael climb a mountain


The other week, when I was climbing up a live volcano …

(“Name dropping” is one thing. “Geological feature dropping” is a whole ‘nother level.)

Anyway, the other week, when I was climbing up Cotopaxi in Ecuador, I was not having a particularly good time.

It was at high altitude … the summit is 19,000 ft/6,000m above sea level, which meant about 25% less oxygen than usual.

They’d kept upping the intensity of the equipment we were using.

“Here are crampons for your boots for walking on the glacier.” OK.

“Here’s your ice-axe.” Wait, what?

“Here’s the gas mask to deal with the poisonous fumes at the summit.” Pardon?

“Here’s your full-body flame-retardant suit for the lava.” (They didn’t actually offer that one. But I was waiting for it.)

I was tethered to Ron (whom I liked) and my guide (whom I didn’t), and who was the opposite of encouraging.

We’d started at 11:30pm to get to the summit for sunrise. We were six hours into it, it had only been an upwards trajectory, and we were nowhere near the summit.

There was one part of me, let’s estimate about 48.9%, that was ready to quit at pretty much Every. Single. Step.

But I didn’t quit

I didn’t summit, but that’s a story for another newsletter.

And I kept going because of what was in my head.

My mantra

You might have already guessed my mantra to keep climbing.

I did have a little key tag attached to my fleece with “You’re awesome & you’re doing great” engraved on it.

But it wasn’t that phrase that I kept circulating through my brain as a counter argument to the “lie down and give up” chatter that was also there.

It was:

Michael’s fine. This is fine. Everything’s fine. Keep going.

I got it from this excellent article about Courtney Dauwalter, an extraordinary endurance athlete.

I added my own twist (inspired by one of my co-climbers, Frankie), who reminded me that affirmations often work best when they’re in the 3rd person. (“Michael’s fine” vs. “I’m fine”.)

And I then said it a LOT walking up that mountain.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.