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Don't Let Fear Rule You, But Don't Ignore It Either

A Coloradoan gym owner professional athlete husband entrepreneur. Yep, that's a run-on title, but Matthew Lloyd packs it all in. Born in South Africa, Matt been moving at light speed ever since. He climbs, he trains, he adventures and he does his best to spread the psyche in the process. We chatted with him about his life and how to mitigate fear. Read on! 

This article has been edited from the source material for clarity.

I GREW UP IN SOUTH AFRICA. My parents were born in South Africa and I was born in Johannesburg. Something about growing up in South Africa is that it’s kind of a scary place. I remember being young and terrified that someone was going to carjack us or break into our house - because it happens all the time. My sister got held up, her friend got shot in the face, my parents got robbed, and our house was robbed on multiple occasions. You know when you're a little kid and you’re scared about noises? I had many of those experiences, only I wasn’t making it up in my head.

I DEALT HEAVILY WITH FEAR AT A YOUNG AGE. I think that’s ultimately why I got into climbing. The stuff I do tends to be on the scary side. I like dangerous routes, I like dangerous mountains - they’re more appealing to me. I box, do MMA, ride motorcycles and whatnot, even though I probably don’t look like the person you’d imagine to do those sort of things. Basketball wasn’t appealing, I didn’t like weightlifting, I just didn’t connect with any of those. I fell in love with climbing, I used to tell people it was because of nature like I was a dating profile: “I love spontaneous adventures and the mountains!” But I realized it really is because I’m scared of it.

Matt is wearing the Sentry Bulldog Tank in Clematis Blue. 

I BUILT MY LIFE ON MITIGATING FEAR. I run head-on into things. I was scared of fistfights, so I took up boxing. This doesn’t mean I’m a super tough guy and want someone to hit me. I’m still scared of someone hitting me. But I’ve learned this little trick - run straight into something that frightens you. I look at a free solo climb and say hey, I can do this. We say this all the time as adults. We look at a task and say “I can do this” but how often do we really put our money where our mouth is. Are we willing to bet our life on it? 

NO ONE SEES THE HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF PRACTICING I put into it in order to accomplish it safely. I love the experience of finding something scary and then finding a way to get through it safely.  You can mitigate the thing that scares you. We observe things through a lens of fear. Most issues that come up with people, physical or emotional, have to do with being scared. The most aggressive people I run into are the most scared. They’re scared of being injured, scared of putting in the work and not being good, scared of criticism.

Matt is sporting the Glacier Delta Tee in Duffel Bag. 

I DON’T LIKE THE TERM ADRENALINE JUNKIE. Remember the first time you drove on the highway? I remember being terrified. All these cars are ripping around - did that get you adrenalized? Absolutely. My argument that being adrenalized with those experiences is because you haven’t practiced them. If you’re scared of something, you haven’t put in the work. If you take me up an airplane to go skydiving solo or base jumping - I’d be terrified. I have no idea how. The phrase adrenaline junkie undercuts the work, the practice, and the experience people have in those environments. There are people that are adrenaline junkies, but they are not the people that most imagine them to be. Most 18-year-old boys probably fit into that category, along with anyone who uses the term #yolo. But high-end athletes, they’re not doing things that they don’t feel comfortable with. They’re not stupid about it. If they don’t feel comfortable, they go back to the drawing board.

I FREE SOLO ROCK CLIMB AND THAT DRAWS A LOT OF CRITICISM, even in the climbing community. I’ll go to a popular climbing area, and everyone will have their gear on, and I’ll free solo and I hear people at the base say “What an idiot! That guy’s gonna die.”

What they don’t understand is that it’d be very idiotic and stupid for them to solo climb because they don’t have the work, the practice, and the ability to do it safely. They’re assuming I’m in their body, but I’m not. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, 5 days a week, no breaks, no month off. I’ve seen around ten people fall and hit the ground. Some of them died, some of them didn’t, some of them probably wish they died. I think it’s interesting that I’ve never had a major injury, and I think it’s because I am scared of climbing. I know my ability, my limitations, I’m aware of what can hurt me. I spend a lot of time and effort managing that, thinking of ways to not get injured. If I’m halfway up a climb and realize I’m in over my head, I will back off. I will come down. I went with this crew up a Colorado route for a shoot, and I’m 10 feet up my route and I wasn’t feeling it. I said, “I’m so sorry, but let me hang a rope, practice it real quick, and then free solo it” I went ten feet up the rope and I slipped. It was a good decision to have a rope - I would have died otherwise. But climbing is not my calling, it’s a vessel. I wanted to learn to mitigate my fears, and this was one of the most appealing ways to do that.

Matt is sporting the Glacier Delta Tee in Duffel Bag.  

FEAR IS AN EMOTION. You normally have a physiological response. That’s why you sweat and your heart rate increases. And then there is a feeling that something is dangerous. People often say “Fear is a good thing.” I disagree. Having an emotional response to something is not helpful. Fight or flight. It’s good to be aware of the danger, it’s not good to let the emotional response to fear rule you.

IN ORDER TO BE BRAVE, YOU HAVE TO BE SCARED FIRST. Courage is not the antithesis of fear, it’s knowledge. Most people underestimate what you’re capable of, some overestimate, but your ability to observe yourself accurately is what’s going to help you achieve the things you want to achieve. Our Western culture thinks they have to be good at everything. Pro-skier, pro at math, but our actual world respects specialization, not the jack of all trades, master of none.

Matt is sporting the Glacier Delta Tee in Duffel Bag. 

THE IDEAS BEHIND WHAT YOU’RE DOING ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE HOW. At my gym as a coach, I try to teach people to enjoy the mental struggle of training. I’m acutely aware that physical performance will only decline with age. I try to reward trying hard. I do not care how hard you climb, or how fast you ski, I’m interested in seeing people pushing past what they thought they can do. Exploring what they’re truly capable of.

MY FRIEND PAT BARRY IS A U.S. HEAVYWEIGHT. I was going to enter my first jiu-jitsu tournament and I was super nervous about it. He told me something I’ll never forget. “Matt, you’re not a jiu-jitsu guy. I want you to climb, muthaf*cka.” I like the visceral David and Goliath thing. There’s not a way to run from the fear, but attack the problem as you would, not as someone else would. You have to be you, you can’t afford to be anyone else.

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