A relaxed, empowered mindset
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Alex Honnold

Lessons on mastery ... from the side of a cliff

By Ella Dawson
Social media team, TED

Alex Honnold is a professional rock climber and one of the most stressful people I have ever seen give a TED Talk. Don’t get me wrong; Alex is a lovely person. But watching him share his experience free-climbing Yosemite's El Capitan without a rope or any kind of protection elevated my blood pressure. He taught me that watching from "the edge of my seat" is not hyperbole. 

In this riveting twelve-minute adventure, Alex gives a masterclass in mastery. How do you get ready to take the biggest risks of your career? How do you eliminate mistakes and hesitation from your professional life? The answer: by practicing until you memorize every foothold and anticipate every challenge.

Your frame of mind is also important. "Staying calm and performing at your best when you know that any mistake could mean death requires a certain kind of mindset," Alex says. 

If he had panicked at any point during his solo journey up El Capitan, he could have lost his place -- and his life. He managed to thwart doubt and fear by visualizing every step of the process. By maintaining a calm, level head, he was able to perform at his best and enjoy the task itself.

I don't think I'll ever climb a massive, sheer cliff like El Capitan, but I've put Alex’s advice about mindset to use in preparation for my own professional tests, from negotiating salary to conducting my first annual performance reviews. By thinking through potential surprises and practicing my talking points, I seek to enter meetings with a relaxed, empowered mindset. I may not be as unflappable as Alex, but with help from his talk, I've learned some new ways to tame fear.

Watch "How I climbed a 3,000-foot vertical cliff without ropes"
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