4 Tips for Tackling a Mountainous Dream

Advice from seasoned rock climber, Eric Barnard.


  1. (upbeat music)

    NARRATOR: Winona, Minnesota. A beautiful town planted next to the Mississippi in the heart of the Midwest. Maybe not the obvious pick for someone with a passion for the mountains, but for rock climber Eric Barnard and his family...there's no better place to call home.

    On screen: Eric Barnard, Director of the Outdoor Recreation Center, College of Education, Winona State University

    ERIC BERNARD: Fear is natural. If you don't have fear, I think there's something wrong with you. You need to be able to have that rational discussion with yourself about, "Okay, why am I afraid?" Like, "Am I afraid just because I am in a really unnatural, uncomfortable spot?" Or... "Am I afraid because my life is in danger?"

    MITCH MATTHEWS: Yeah.

    ERIC BERNARD: Like, if we're not willing to go too far, you never know how far you can go.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: Okay, okay, alright, now we're moving, okay, alright.

    ERIC BERNARD: And, so, climbing is a great metaphor for that. You know you wanna stop halfway up but do you wanna stop just because you're scared and it's in your mind? Or do you wanna stop because you literally are in danger? You're not in danger, that's your chance to break through that barrier.

    ERIC BERNARD: There's been plenty of climbs that I've bailed. You know, I've failed on more climbs than I've succeeded on for sure.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: Really?

    ERIC BERNARD: For sure, oh yeah. There's climbs I've had to go back to two or three times to be able to succeed. I think it's really good to scare yourself a few times a year to kinda shock yourself. And climbs like El Cap when you're sitting at the base of it looking up and you're like... "It's gonna take a week of going up," you know.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: On a wall.

    ERIC BERNARD: Yeah, it's just like —

    MITCH MATTHEWS: No breaks.

    ERIC BERNARD: You know you don't wanna continue but so when you go and you fail though and then when you come down and you realize that you failed just because you were afraid, that's a bad feeling.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: Yeah.

    ERIC BERNARD: And that, that's where that saying fear is temporary but regret is forever is like really true in this sport. Having done these climbs gives me so many tools to be successful in life. You know, there's times when things get hard, I just think to myself like, "I climbed the Dawn Wall" like —

    MITCH MATTHEWS: I'm doing this.

    ERIC BERNARD: I got this. And it's the same thing. It's like I remember when I was there and it was like all hope was lost, there was no way we're going to do this but we dug deep and we pushed through and you know what, a lot of times we find out— once we push through — things are way easier than what we thought they were.

    ERIC BERNARD: Just go one foothold at a time. Like don't think about getting to the top, just kind of stay with the blinders on, just live in this world of like fourteen inches and just stick with that. And that's how we do it when the climbing gets really hard, you know on these big routes.

    ERIC BERNARD: Sometimes you are way out there and you're looking at — if I fall I'm gonna free fall a hundred feet before the rope catches me — and if I think about that, I'm not gonna do my best. So I'm just gonna think about right here what I have control over. I don't have control over what's gonna happen in a half an hour, I have control over this right here.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: It definitely gets you up the rock but it also gets dreams accomplished too so that's awesome.

    ERIC BERNARD: Yeah and you know like people that can create change are the ones who are willing to put their head down and get those small victories and keep pushing it together.

    NARRATOR: Eric's story inspires me.

    MITCH MATTHEWS: Woo!

    NARRATOR :He's taken the lessons he's learned from climbing rock faces and applied them to life.

    I think we can learn from that. So when you're going after something big, something important, something outside your comfort zone, at some point fear will come. But when it does, take a breath, focus on what's right in front of you — and push through.

    On screen: WANT MORE INSPRIATION? VISIT https://www.amfam.com/dream-support


For some, pursuing a dream can feel a whole lot like climbing up the side of a mountain. And for others, big dreams consist of climbing mountains — literally. Take Eric Barnard for example.

Eric has been tackling major climbs all around the world for 23 years. And through all the challenges he’s encountered in this rigorous sport, he’s built up some tried-and-true strategies to help keep him motivated. But the number one thing that keeps him going? Passion.

“I was invited to climb from a guy that worked at a climbing gear shop,” explains Eric. “After my very first climb, the first thing I said was ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,’ and I climbed for the next 17 days straight!”

For Eric, all it took was giving something a try, and he became hooked. Everything else he figured out along the way — and you can too!

Looking for some advice to tackle a dream that seems insurmountable? Eric has curated some tips that can translate into any dream pursuit, and help push you outside of your comfort zone.

Embrace your fear. Fear is a natural response to the unknown. And you should embrace it! Because nothing new comes from doing what’s natural or comfortable.

“If you don’t have fear, there’s something wrong with you,” claims Eric. “You need to be able to have that rational discussion with yourself about why you’re afraid. Are you afraid because you’re in a really unnatural and uncomfortable spot, or are you afraid because your life is in danger? If we’re not willing to go too far, you never know how far you can really go. This is your chance to break through barriers.”

Prepare. So many of us picture the end goal or the victory that comes with achieving a dream. But it’s really all about the journey, and preparing for each and every step can help you move through your dream journey faster. It’s how Eric has managed to accomplish (and cherish) each and every climb.

“The journey is 90% of it,” says Eric. “The preparation, logistics, reading, everything. It’s real! Real consequences, real partnerships and real, life-lasting dreams.”

Stick to your ‘why.’ The most important part of going after your goals is keeping your purpose in mind. Why are you doing this? Why should you not give up? Always keeping that top-of-mind can help you stay focused and encourage you to press on even when you’re out of your element.

“Know yourself honestly and look for the ‘why’ you want to do something,” advises Eric. “After years of being outside my comfort zone, it’s become familiar and almost something I seek.”

Take it one step (or 14 inches) at a time. When you’re trying to accomplish something big, it can feel impossible if you think about every step you’ll need to take to make it happen. Imagine standing at the base of a mountain and looking up knowing your destination is at the very top — it’s overwhelming. But Eric’s found a way to overcome that. And it’s all about focusing on what you’ve got control over in the present moment.

“Just go one foothold at a time,” says Eric. “Don’t think about getting to the top. Just live in a world of 14” — that’s what I do when the climbing gets really hard. If I think about it too much, I’m not going to do my best, so I think about what’s right in front of me, and what I have control over.”

Finally, know that even if you’re scared, taking the leap is well worth it. Because in the end, our biggest dreams are what define our lives.

“We can read about other people’s adventures and travels without leaving our home,” says Eric. “But many of us need adventure or challenges to find that we are better people when we do big things. I know climbing has made me the person I am today and the person I hope to be tomorrow.”

So what are you waiting for? Life is out there — go conquer it.

Need even more support? We’re here to help! Join the dream movement today — we’ve got just the resources to motivate and guide you along any dream pursuit!


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Related Topics: Personal Development , Travel , Passions