Accomplishing True Mastery



Alex Honnold is thought to be the world’s greatest climber, ever. He is a master of his sport.

He has climbed some of the most daunting rock faces in the world, without a rope. This is called free solo climbing.

On June 3rd 2017, Alex summited Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3,000 foot vertical slab of granite, without a rope or harness. He is the first person to ever accomplish this, and it’s thought to be the greatest climb ever.

A crucial part of his success has been learning to harness and control his fear. The way he controls his fear is through preparation and deliberate practice.

El Capitan is the crown jewel of solos. The most striking wall in the world.

He wanted to test himself against El Cap because it represented true mastery.

3,000 feet of climbing represents thousands of distinct hand and foot movements.

He climbed El Cap 50 times over the previous ten years with a rope.

But the real work were the days he descended by himself and practiced different ways of scaling the granite wall. He would do this hundreds of times. He would practice scenarios if something went wrong, and where he could find grip. He practiced every negative scenario until his reactions were second nature to him.

He would practice thousands of different hand and foot movements until he found a sequence that felt the most secure and repeatable.

“I then had to memorize them. I had to make sure that they were so deeply engrained within me that there was no possibility of error. I needed everything to be automatic.”

Climbing with a rope is mostly a physical effort, but climbing without a rope becomes more of a mental effort.

“But staying calm and performing at your best when any mistake can mean death requires a different mindset.”

The way Alex did this was through visualization. He would imagine the entire experience of soloing the wall. He would memorize every one of the thousands of hand and foot movements. He would visualize it so deeply that he could feel the texture of each hold or crevice of rock in his hand.

He compared it to a choreographed dance.

It took him several years to prepare.

He felt confident the day of the climb. He perfectly executed his routine and it felt effortless.

Most climbers take 3-5 days to ascend El Capitan. And those climbers are using ropes and harnesses.

Alex Honnold summited the mountain in 3 hours and 56 minutes without a rope.

His climb represented true mastery.

“The whole pursuit of this dream has allowed me to live my best life, that makes me hopefully the best version of me.” – Alex Honnold

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TED Talk: How I climbed a 3,000 foot vertical cliff – without ropes

Alex Honnold’s first interview after free-solo climbing El Capitan

The greatest sports achievement in my lifetime?

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@iancassel, thanks for sharing.

Honnold provides another example of how to properly prepare. Mastery involves memorizing and visualizing to the point that the action is second nature.

No one wants to do the work. But the return on preparing properly is immense.


This is pretty wild.

Immerse yourself in the experience of free solo climbing Yosemite’s famous El Capitan alongside Alex Honnold in this breathtaking 360 video.


Awesome…It’s truly Mind Blowing feat…Perfect mastery on overcoming your fear and become the best version …
We worried and fed up of problems we have in our life. It’s nothing Compared to this near death Free solo rock climbing…


Honnold is an interesting case. He’s vastly different from most people in that he doesn’t experience fear like normal people.

He doesn’t experience it at all. Nautilus wrote a great article about him that relayed the results from a study of his brain:

Joseph had used a control subject—a high-sensation-seeking male rock climber of similar age to Honnold—for comparison. Like Honnold, the control subject had described the scanner tasks as utterly unstimulating. Yet in the fMRI images of the two men’s responses to the high-arousal photographs, with brain activity indicated in electric purple, the control subject’s amygdala might as well be a neon sign. Honnold’s is gray. He shows zero activation.

Flip to the scans for the monetary reward task: Once again, the control subject’s amygdala and several other brain structures “look like a Christmas tree lit up,” Joseph says. In Honnold’s brain, the only activity is in the regions that process visual input, confirming only that he had been awake and looking at the screen. The rest of his brain is in lifeless black and white.

“There’s just not much going on in my brain,” Honnold muses. “It just doesn’t do anything.”

To see if she was somehow missing something, Joseph had tried dialing down the statistical threshold. She finally found a single voxel—the smallest volume of brain matter sampled by the scanner—that had lit up in the amygdala. By that point, though, real data was indistinguishable from error. “Nowhere, at a decent threshold, was there amygdala activation,” she says.

Could the same be happening as Honnold climbs ropeless into situations that would cause almost any other person to melt down in terror? Yes, says Joseph—in fact, that’s exactly what she thinks is going on. Where there is no activation, she says, there probably is no threat response. Honnold really does have an extraordinary brain, and he really could be feeling no fear up there. None at all. None whatsoever.

Maybe his lack of fear is partially learned, I don’t know. Some people are just wired differently.

To be clear, I don’t want take away from the lessons you mentioned. Honnold’s lack of fear makes him a perfect fit for rock climbing (so does his tendency for impulsive risktaking – also in the article). But when you combine that with his dedication, focus, and work ethic, you get an exceptional climber. I doubt he’d be the climber that he is without either.



Thanks Jon. I did read an article on this but not as thorough as the snippet you posted. In one of the sources I posted and in the Ted Talk he talks about free soloing Half dome without any practice. He winged it and felt he got lucky, and he didn’t like being lucky. So to prove to himself he wasn’t just lucky he over prepared for the toughest challenge of all.


@Jon_Petersen, thanks for posting that snippet on Honnold.

You brought up an important point: work alone doesn’t get you world class results. There is a certain wiring that is ideal for a particular task/skill. For a climber like Honnold it is the absence of fear. For an investor it is delayed gratification. For a musician its having natural rhythm or a great ear. For a ballet dancer it is natural flexibility.

Sure, those things can be worked on - to a point. But individuals that naturally possess those traits are often miles ahead of everyone else.

The problem, however, with natural gifts is Pretty Girl Syndrome which Bono - the singer from U2 - talked about in Bono to Bono (which I have notes here):

“…it’s ’pretty girl’ syndrome. Being gifted is like being born beautiful. You don’t have to work a day in a year in your life for it. You were born with it. In one sense, it’s like blue blood, money, gift, or beauty. They are things that should make you the most humble, because they are not things you have earned. They are things you were given. Yet, it is my experience that they make people the most spoiled.”

So while natural “wiring” can give an individual a significant edge, it can be a curse. I’ve met many, many naturally gifted people in a wide variety of spheres, and almost all don’t put in the effort.

“And the people who work the hardest, and who have overcome the most obstacles in their life, who have a reason to be arrogant, who have reason to beat their breasts are the most humbleSo to make it through success and still have manners, to still have curiosity, intellectual curiosity, to still have some grace, to keep your dignity, that is really… rare.”


I would advise you to read the works Ericson who has written a lot of scholarly articles on deliberate practice.