OPTIMAL theory & bouldering

OPTIMAL theory is like the Mindset book on steroids.

OPTIMAL is an acronym for Optimizing Performance Through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning. In normal talk, the theory explains three factors which help with learning new physical skills, and can probably be applied to learning generally. As someone who likes to learn with as maximum efficiency and minimal suffering, this paper was worth a read. In this post, I’ll give a nutshell description of the big three factors and then lay out how it could be applied to bouldering.

Nutshell description

  1. Enhance expectancies = improving expectations of how well a skill will be performed.

  2. Learner autonomy = letting the learner make choices that relate and don’t relate to the movement task

  3. External focus of attention = prompting the learner’s focus on the intended movement effect, away from the body – the further from the self, the better.

Application to bouldering

  1. Enhance expectancies

    • Narrowing goals: By restricting myself to one sport, I’m able to spend more time on it and progress faster. Progress creates positive expectations that promotes further progress.
    • Video highlights: By filming my best moments, motivation, satisfaction and performance are boosted.
    • Availability of assistive tools: The option of using chalk when climbing helps me complete a challenging climb.
    • Encouraging feedback: Friends that tell me when I did a good climb boosts performance. Friends in general helps too ;)
    • Growth mindset language: If others or myself use growth mindset language, resilience and long term performance is improved. “That was a good climb” v “You are a good climber”.
    • Acquirable skill language: Reminding myself that performing a seemingly impossible climb is an acquirable skill.
    • Easier challenges: Starting with easier climbs before harder climbs.
  2. Learner autonomy

    • Maximising choice: Choosing when I practice, the order of exercises, what I wear, when to have feedback, when to review an exemplar. Ensuring I have choices in unrelated areas of life helps too like choosing what activities I do in the weekend.
    • Autonomy supportive language: When helping friends, I would say “You may find it helpful to…” rather than “You must…”.
  3. External focus of attention

    • “Grab the jug”, “Push off the step”, “Put pressure on that piece.

What strategies you use to help the learning process? Let me know at hi@andrewsampson.org

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