Surrounded by five people, there I hung. My right foot raised to eye level, angled at forty-five degrees, thinking to myself “wow, this makes so much more sense”. I was learning the proper way to perform a heel-hook (a rock climbing move) during a beginners climbing class at my local rock gym. I have been climbing for many years and would not consider myself a beginner, so why was I taking a beginners class? Because sometimes to advance in a skill it is important to go back to the beginning.

One of the ways we learn a new skill is by copying and mimicking others. Our brains have evolved to quickly identify and learn patterns. This provides us the ability to learn how to do something without needing to know how or why it works. We can build our skills on top of a base that we do not understand. The catch of this is that it is easy to form bad habits that block further progress.

Going back to the beginning allows us the chance to learn the how and why something works. This is vital knowledge to be able to move past copying and mimicking others and allows us to break our bad habits to continue advancement with a skill.

This is the exact reason I found myself in a beginners climbing course. For years I had watched other climbers and mimicked the moves I saw them performing. I never stopped to learn how the different moves work or why to use one over the other. Because of this I often found myself hitting a wall (no pun intended) in my climbing abilities. I was not getting any better and I was getting frustrated. I had an understanding of how to climb, but no understanding of how the moves I was mimicking worked.

Going back to the beginning gave me a chance to learn the how and why the moves I had been copying worked. Allowing me to learn the subtle body positions and movements required to perform a move correctly. Using that new knowledge to break my bad habits and start building good ones. I immediately began to see an improvement in my climbing abilities, such as finally being able to use a heel hook effectively.

So when you find that are no longer advancing in a skill, take the time to go back to the beginning. Learn the how and why something works and use that knowledge to break your bad habits.