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From Scaling Walls to Cultivating Earth Care: Why Mindset Matters

I do not consider myself “athletic.” I have a regular workout routine that I love, that pushes me outside of my comfort zone, and on most days, if I set my mind to it, it elevates my heart rate and makes me the best kind of sore the next day. Funnily enough, the VR program, Supernatural, I use calls me “Athlete,” a title I am still working to claim. When I think of an athlete though, my mind goes to the Olympics, professional sports, or student competitions. Most recently I have been impressed and inspired by the athletics of Alex Honnold, the free climber.

There have been a number of documentary films and shows about him in recent years, his almost supernatural ability to rock climb, and his passion for the outdoors where he finds his greatest competitor: The sheer rock faces that he climbs and, one can only imagine, himself. He pushes beyond the limits of the everyday climber, going to the highest, most challenging places.  What amazes and inspires me the most about him is not these feats in themselves, but his discipline, his planning, and his care for the environment around him.

His most recently documented trip was to Greenland. He and a team of climbers and scientists traversed an ice sheet, avoided the crevasses of a huge glacier, took a boat across iceberg laden water, and eventually climbed Ingmikortilaq, a 3,750-foot sea cliff in Greenland. Throughout, they were collecting scientific samples, rock cores, and studying the snow and ice to shine light on how climate change is affecting these remote places. His emphasis on earth care was awe inspiring on so many levels.

As I watched his challenging journey, I couldn’t help but wonder and marvel at this complex web of connection. As a climber, Honnold has been outdoors, in places few ever traverse. These intimate encounters must have inspired a deep connection to Earth, one that he has now cultivated in new ways, ones not only striving and conquering as his athletic mindset suggests, but also caring and full of stewardship for these beautiful places, a mindset fixed on earth care and compassion. This latter view is one I can connect with him on, even if I can’t find my “athlete” reflected in his athletics. Earth care is extremely important to me, something that challenges and inspires.  To be out in nature, viewing natural landscapes knowing the peril they face or working to preserve them is, at times, as arduous and rewarding as reaching any athletic goal.

Any endeavor that we care about and that is worth the work we put into it, requires a certain mindset. Whether I am doing my daily workout or writing a paper about climate crisis, whether Honnold is scaling the highest cliff in the world or planning his next scientific collaboration, mindset is key.  From the smallest task to the largest goal, knowing our strengths, harnessing our inner voice, building healthy habits, and cultivating a resilient mindset can make all the difference. No matter one’s athletic or personal goals, our spotlight course, The Science of Mindsets: Implications for Athletes to Strengthen their Mental Game, can set you up for success this Earth month and well beyond! Enroll today at

Sarah D. Norton, PhD is the Convener for Education and Depth Psychology at the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.