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Climbing for Change

Life is malleable. We have the power to improve our abilities, our health, our lives.

At least maybe. In fact, research shows that only some of us believe this. Such beliefs are called growth mindsets, and people who endorse them tend to show improvements in the areas of their lives they would like to improve. Of course they do – they keep their eyes open for ways to approach challenges, they don’t give up when frustrated, and they work consistently toward their goals – all because they believe improvement is possible.

Others of us insist that our abilities are innate, biological, and unchangable. What we have is what we get. There is no point in working hard, because ultimately we have limited ability. This belief is why I hate it when my students tell me “I’ll do poorly in that class because I’m bad at math.” They will do poorly in that class, perhaps due more to their fixed mindset than their actual ability – it gives them an excuse not to study, or to be distracted when they do, although they will truly believe that they worked hard and failed because they “aren’t good at it”.

Endorsing a growth mindset is kind of like following a scientific version of ‘the secret‘. By believing positive outcomes are possible, we work toward them in ways that can actually make them come true. This is why initiatives that share ways that regular people overcome personal challenges or achieve impressive personal goals can be inspiring for other people. It helps us believe that maybe – just maybe – we could do something like that ourselves.

The first article I wrote for Go Girl reflected on the experience I had climbing Kilimanjaro for charity. In my own small way I was advocating for the things people can achieve when they put their mind to it. Shortly after it was published, we were contacted by an organization called Climb for Change. On its website, Climb for Change describes itself as a hub for “actionable climb for change leaders and our friends and supporters around the world to come together to share our stories, news and lessons-learned, and to inspire each other to take action to climb the mountains in our lives.” It serves as an amazing destination for inspiring both mindset and social change.

The truth is, the mountains that we face – both real and metaphoric, are difficult challenges. Not everyone is willing to face them, because not everyone believes they can overcome them. Even when we do approach them head on, our mountains sometimes appear overwhelming. They are always better tackled with a positive outlook, and a supportive group effort.

Climb for Change was founded by Mike and Chantal Schauch. “Getting out into the mountains and climbing for not only personal change but more importantly community change,” Chantal says, “has had such a profound impact on my personal life that I feel very passionate about sharing my experiences and those of others.” Chantal has lived with migraines for 14 years, pushing on with her life while suffering from tension problems and debilitating headaches. When naturopathic, chiropractic, and massage therapy and Chinese and traditional medicine didn’t provide enough relief, Chantal found herself discussing her health concerns with a colleague who suggested a training regimen that combined nutritional advice, supplements, strength training, posture, and breathing techniques. Perhaps the lingering belief that her life could be better is what pushed Chantal to discuss her challenges with her colleague, and he ended up providing her with a solution. In time, and through her consistent training efforts, Chantal’s migraines reduced drastically in frequency, and she increased her training regimen, including lots of hiking with Mike, setting her sights on climbing Kilimanjaro in January 2010.

Chantal at the summit of Mt. Hood (July 2011)

When Chantal climbed, she did so for Power to Be, a charity providing outdoor education and adventure therapy programs for youth with special needs. After summiting Kili in 2010, Chantal and Mike set their sights on Pico de Orizaba for 2011. In 18 months, the pair and their fellow team members raised $200,000 for Power to Be. A lot of climbing for a lot of change, again largely due to the belief that it was possible and the motivation to follow through.

Despite the tremendous amount they raised, Chantal dismisses the labels of fundraiser and businessperson, preferring to describe herself as a “communications strategist, social entrepreneur, and aspiring mountaineer and explorer.” It’s an amazing combination of a professional with an adventurous spirit, and an explorer with a business sense. Perhaps unintentionally, in being an advocate for change, Chantal is also an advocate for growth. She says: “Give yourself the opportunity and space to learn what is truly important to you and live in accordance with that. Life is too short to adhere to what we think we should be or ought to do or what others say we should be or ought to do. Find out who you truly are and embrace it. If you pursue with focus and determination what you love and truly believe in, you will be successful.”

If you pursue with focus and determination what you believe in, you will be successful. Believe her. Or believe me. Because in the process of believing in our own ability to change or to cause change, we begin to see methods through which so much more becomes possible. We start to see the trail that takes us to the other side of our own mountains and without thinking, we start putting one foot in front of the other.

Angie is a social psychologist whose expertise in human behavior is enriched by her experiences meeting people around the globe. When she isn't teaching or doing research, she's probably traveling: exploring nature or other cultures (the more different the better).

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    1. Hi Angie,
      I enjoyed your article about beliefs and how people can change their entire life by being mindful of what they believe. Through an organization In Seattle called OSAT (one step at a time) I have seen many people climb their personal mountains by climbing the many local mountains. The profound effect being in the mountains has on many people is clear. Maybe it is the physical exertion, extreme beauty, elevation, team work, or just time to get to an in the moment frame of mind. People have always gone to the mountains for answers.

    2. Thanks for this, Angie. Reading Chantal’s story really inspired me to keep going in the face of a lot of challenges for my film project. I keep getting the advice to drop it, and focus on other things, but something in my heart says no. If I do that, my heart won’t forgive me for a long time. You can check out what I’ve done so far here: It’s called The SpokenCoast Project, and focusses on a point you made: sharing stories of overcoming triumph to help others. I believe this can build entire communities centered on hope. Thanks for this encouragement today!


    3. Marissa, wow, thank you so much for sharing. I hope you are finding peace being with your mother in her final stage of life. I wish you so much strength during this difficult time. I am inspired by how you are transforming grief into hope and sharing that message with other people who are struggling. Your project sounds absolutely amazing and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

      And hey, in case it helps, here is one more piece of psychological wisdom (research-based, not just famously quoted): in the short run, it’s true – we regret the things that we do (those embarrassing missteps). But in the long run – in the years ahead and at the end of our lives – we regret the things we did not do. If your heart tells you that this project is what you should be doing, I hope you’ll find the strength to listen. You might be surprised, your body could find immediate relief if you decide to drop it, but in the future, it could become the thing you always wish you’d done. And that alone may be reason to keep watching out for ways to make it happen.

      All the best-

    4. Thanks so much, Dave! What a great organization, one I’d love to be involved with if I was in Washington. I love this: keep climbing mountains, and don’t slip! (But if you do, it’s great to be connected to other people who can help pick you back up again 🙂

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