What TV competition show would you take part in? For Alice Hafer (MA Creative Writing (Playwriting & Screenwriting), 2016), HBO Max’s show “The Climb”, produced by Jason Momoa, was a perfect fit. An experienced rock climber with a passion for screenwriting, Alice wanted to see how far she could get competing against nine other climbers from around the world while also experiencing the reality TV format.
“I thought it would definitely be an adventure,” says Alice Hafer, mindset coach, writer and recent contestant on HBO Max’s reality competition “The Climb”.
The show, produced by actor Jason Momoa, aired in the United States in January 2023 and follows ten amateur rock climbers as they compete against each other and their own minds in some of the world’s most scenic climbing locations.
With a background in screenwriting, Alice had imagined herself as a crew member on the set of a TV show, but as an experienced rock climber, she now found herself as part of the cast instead.
“I thought it would be really fun, and I also had no idea what to expect,” she says.
In the show’s first episode, the contestants face an intimidating climb above open water, and the viewers are introduced to Alice as she talks about the anxiety that has sometimes affected her performance in previous climbing competitions. Even now, as a professional mindset coach for climbers and extreme sports athletes, it’s something she has to navigate as she prepares.
“I think it’s a similar feeling to what a lot of people experience when they prepare for something really important to them. When they actually get to that moment, they’re kind of stumbling over themselves, struggling to execute what they know is their internal potential,” Alice explains. “I think that’s something I didn’t really have any skills for in previous competitions, and I would definitely struggle to stay focused.”
The first couple of climbing locations provide plenty of challenges for the climbers, and Alice gets to draw on her knowledge of how to reset and find that focus again.
“It’s just a rock climb in the end, but in that context, it feels so big. Your whole world is living on the show at that time, so you think that’s all that matters,” she says. “I did a lot of journaling, and I do a lot of confidence- building exercises where I might write down all of the reasons why my skill level is appropriate for whatever challenge I’m presented with. I would also do a lot of body-focused drills. I would try to get out of my head by doing more movement.”
The techniques Alice teaches aren’t just for athletes; they apply to situations beyond competitive sports.
“The biggest and most important thing to focus on is what you’re doing and not on the outcome of what you’re doing. A lot of times, people will get future minded thoughts or past minded thoughts and those are the things that keep them from actually doing well because we only have one moment in time, which is now,” Alice says. “I teach people a lot of thought-based strategies, which is learning how to separate yourself from your thoughts, which a lot of people associate with mindfulness, but I really think of it more as a general life skill.”
Alice also draws on neuroscience education to teach people how to create more effective patterns of habit, for example, if your brain is in the habit of going to a negative thought.
“If you can create a better habit or at least a habit of separating yourself from that thought, then it can serve you for your true goals, rather than serve your fear, which is kind of the natural way that our brain will work because it’s protecting you from things.”
Alice was introduced to climbing by a friend in college and quickly realised how much she enjoyed it.
“It was more engaging than some of the other sports I had done because every time you go it’s different and it’s a lot like puzzle solving.”
As an experienced climber, was there anything in particular that Alice took away from participating in “The Climb”?
“I think something I really learned from the show was how much you can gain from the people that you’re with,” she says, explaining the joy of immersing yourself in a situation and fully engaging with people who may be your competition but also genuine support.
“When you’re heading into a competition, you’re expecting people to be against each other, and what happened instead was that everyone immediately bonded. So, I think one of the biggest takeaways that really affected me as a person was seeing how much more opportunity you can have when there’s an abundance mindset.”
In addition to the other climbers, climbing experts and show hosts Chris Sharma and Meagan Martin were present at every climb, and Alice is grateful for their mentorship throughout the competition.
“They were kind of guiding us through every challenge.”
Rock climbing and creative writing aren’t an obvious pairing, but for Alice, the two activities have complemented each other in her professional life.
“It’s funny because I started studying, writing and rock climbing around the same time,” she says. “Even during the MA [Creative Writing (Playwriting & Screenwriting) at City], I was training after class and thinking to myself “Wouldn’t this be so much easier if I didn’t climb alongside studying?”
She wasn’t prepared to give it up, though, and now she uses both skillsets to her advantage as a coach and creative.
“I think that the variety of classes that I had [at City] were really helpful. Some of the stuff I learned in the storytelling module has been super helpful for me, whether I’m writing a screenplay or an article.”
After completing her degree, Alice returned to the United States and has worked on several climbing documentaries and also produced two of her own. She’s now hoping to combine her passions in two new projects.
“I want to write a book about the things I already do, like mindset and rock climbing, and then I want to do a spin-off of “The Climb” with a couple of local filmmakers that talks a little bit more about mental health issues and how it relates to sports performance.”
For anyone who might want to embark on a challenge that will stretch their skills and capacity, what is Alice’s advice?
“I think one of the biggest things is resting enough. We have super busy lives these days, and I think that to really embark on a challenge that is kind of stretching someone, you need to rest enough so you can do those hard pushes and have the energy you need to take yourself to the next level.
“And also, consistency. Especially with climbing, sometimes you might be trying a specific climb for a very long time, and it feels like you’re never going to get there.
“It’s just about persistence and showing up and being consistent, even if you don’t immediately see results.”
A big thank you to Alice Hafer for talking to us about her adventure on HBO Max series “The Climb” and for sharing her advice on how to find focus when performing. Find out more about Alice’s work.
Top banner photo courtesy of HBO Max.