Simply put, a false summit in mountaineering is when a peak looks to be the highest point of a mountain until you actually reach it and find that the true summit is higher up. Reaching these false summits while climbing can be discouraging, casting doubt onto your efforts and making the journey upwards seem that much longer and more difficult, and it can feel the same in your metaphorical climb towards life’s summits, too. Here’s how to fight back by using my 3 Rs: Recognizing, Reframing, and Refocusing.
First of all, there should be pride in RECOGNIZING a false summit. If you know that you’re on a false summit, then that means that you must also have a broad enough field of vision to see beyond the current moment. If you didn’t, you would take your current summit at face value and stop climbing, but that isn’t what you are doing! Clearly, there is something within you that yearns for more and keeps your sights set even higher up that mountain, and that attitude can be harnessed to enhance your life as you move forward into the future. In fact, a big part of my coaching is helping the people I work with recognize false summits before using them as launch pads to continue growth. But I would also contend that beyond recognizing false summits when they occur in your life, there is also power in recognizing that false summits are a part of life in general, a pattern that once seen can be exploited. By anticipating false summits, we rob them partially of their power to influence us negatively because we’re ready for them. Not only are we ready for them then, but we can welcome them and see them for what they truly are: opportunities to climb even higher.
Furthermore, a big reason why false summits have any psychological hold over us in the first place is because we give them that power. Society pressures us to place value upon reaching pinnacles in life, and it can be crushing when we achieve something only to realize there is even more we could do / be. Why is that realization met with negativity though? I believe REFRAMING false summits is the next step to reclaiming power and fighting back. Imagine the power that comes from this perspective switch: “I’m not enough” vs. “I have even more within me.” Doesn’t that second statement just feel so much better? I’d encourage you to even say it out loud, because it is true! Whether you’re currently atop a false summit or simply climbing towards whatever that next peak may be, you have so much more within you than you even know; that is the beauty of the human condition. Our brains have unlimited potential for growth, so rather than getting down on ourselves when we realize there is more out there, let’s embrace it. Growth is good, and if false summits can help point out new areas for us to grow, then we shouldn’t be cursing them for fooling us – we should be thanking them for opening our eyes even wider!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, reaching a false summit is also an opportunity. It is a chance to cast your vision forward and make clear what was previously blurry beyond that peak you were striving for. Sometimes, our climb towards a peak makes us susceptible to tunnel vision, which is why our arrival at a false summit is a good time to look back down the mountain to assess our progress before looking up to determine what path to take next. When you stop to think about it, that new clarity would not have been possible without that false summit! But what to do when you see this new path forward? I would say the time is ripe for REFOCUSING! Take a moment while resting at a false summit to check the alignment between your values and your actions before committing to this new path up the mountain towards that next peak. By refocusing in this way on what it is you want to do and who exactly you want to be, you can take even more control of your future!