Path to Mastery: What Alex Honnold’s Free Solo Climb Can Teach Planners About Creating Conditions for Success

My husband rock climbs, and he introduced me to Alex Honnold a few years back. Honnold is a free solo rock climber that climbed the 3,000-plus sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 2017—without ropes. By definition, a free solo is a climb without ropes. It’s just you, your bare hands, your shoes and a chalk bag.

It’s beyond words impressive that Honnold accomplished this feat. But what’s truly mind-blowing is that he did this climb—which takes serious climbers with ropes 3 to 5 days—in a blistering 3 hours and 56 minutes. Mind blown.

It’s a performance like Honnold’s that captivates me and that I’ve always sought to understand and replicate. If he can overcome the very real risk of death to climb a rock, why do so many advisers struggle to achieve their goals, much less perform the kind of kick-assery that Honnold and other top performers achieve? I mean if he can climb a near mile of sheer rock with his bare hands, surely you have what it takes to double your practice and take time off.

Honnold’s Success Model

Honnold’s 10-minute Ted Talk has lessons for us all. It’s not obvious, but when Honnold describes his path to mastery, he’s following the success model we use in coaching: mapping, mindset, methods, momentum. Success leaves clues, and when you follow those clues, you get a front-row seat to the thinking, strategies and habits that create the conditions for success:

  • Mapping: Honnold describes how he set the goals for and approached two very different climbs and the difference it made in his performance. The first climb that he expected to be easy was a struggle, and the climb everyone said was impossible was almost effortless. If he can do this, you can create clarity with your Vision and Goals and a map to guide your efforts with a Business Blueprint. What do you envision for your practice and for your life? Create a list of clear goals for all areas of your life—business, family, friends, personal growth, health, finances, recreation, romance and physical environment. Be very clear what you want. Then work on your blueprint.
  • Mindset: Honnold talks about his mindset and learning to lock his fear away. He speaks of how his quest for mastery included spending countless hours of mental preparation using visualization, repeatedly envisioning thousands of finger grips in his mind to condition himself for a perfect performance. If he can do this, you can face your practice with a new level of confidence by creating a mindset reset and mastering the 7 Mindsets of Success I have shared many times in both my speaking engagements and on the FPA Coaches Corner.
  • Methods: Both rock climbing and financial planning have best practice methods that shortcut the path to mastery. Honnold does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to tying knots or setting anchors (he uses ropes when practicing his climbs). He doesn’t buy the cheapest equipment, and he’s part of a close community that collaborates and supports each other. Mapping and mindset are essential ingredients, but you can’t make a masterful cake with mediocre methods.
  • Momentum: There’s no missing Honnold’s momentum as he describes the journey from secretly wishing to conquer El Capitan to making the decision and forcefully applying all his energy and effort on that single goal. The sheer size of his goal required momentum of a magnitude the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. Momentum is the force and velocity with which you apply your energy and drives the timing and level of your results. Your momentum advances you in the direction you focus your attention, so focusing on what you want is paramount.

Implementing Honnold’s Success Model

So here’s the straight talk on stepping up and rockin’ it Honnold style:

  • Be responsible (stop making excuses). One of our limitless practice coaches, Matt Jarvis has an amazing directness about what it takes to be more successful, and I call this The Matt Mantra: “Don’t whine, just work.” Matt never makes excuses. He just does the work. He didn’t start out making real money and taking off 100 days a year. His journey to limitless success began when he got tired of disappointment and wanting more. Like Honnold, Matt has no room for excuses because there is no room for mediocrity in his business. You are more like Honnold than you know because while your consequences are very different, it’s as true for you as it is for Honnold: mediocrity kills. Explore these questions: What would your practice and life be like in a year if you stopped making excuses? What would it be like if you’d stopped making excuses 3 years ago?
  • Show up. Seriously, that’s the secret. Just show up in your world, engage and do the work. At some point, many of you have jumped in head first on the journey to excel and others are wondering where to begin. It is quite normal to feel equal parts excitement and overwhelm. Excited, because you know what’s possible and that there is a way to start making it happen; overwhelmed, because you have a full-time job, a busy life and now on top of all that you have to find time to learn and implement the ways to radically improve your business and your life and there will work involved. When you start feeling overwhelmed, your brain hits the brakes. We are all here to support you.
  • Progress, not perfection. This is a Dan Sullivan (co-founder of Strategic Coach) saying, and I love it. Let me be unmistakably clear: you will not always do all the work, you will not implement all of the new tools and ideas you receive and you will not be “done” at the end of 2019. It took me years to create the success I now enjoy, so while I’m giving you some serious shortcuts, it’s reasonable to assume it will take time to build the practice of your dreams. The good news is you don’t need to “do it all” to shift yourself into high gear and get great results this year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just breathe and eat the elephant one bite at a time. This gets a lot easier if you simply narrow your focus to the priorities that matter most to you.

I love studying Alex Honnold, and other people living The 5 Freedoms, to find and share the strategies and habits of top performance.

As I tell my children as much as they can stand to hear: your body can do most anything, it’s your mind you have to convince.

Stephanie Bogan is the CEO of Educe, Inc., and former CEO/Founder of Quantuvis Consulting (sold to Genworth Financial in 2008) and has spent 20 years consulting with the profession’s top advisory firms and enterprises. Educe is focused on helping financial advisors, entrepreneurs and executives build wildly successful businesses and lives that they love by expanding their mindset and business methods in ways that help them experience greater levels of success, happiness, wealth and well-being in their work. Bogan is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner.

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