Dec 17, 2018
Steph Davis: Flow, Focus, and Feeling in Control
An insight into free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis’s reasoning behind what she does, and why she does it.
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“How can some someone experience the freedom of flying?”
It’s a question that Steph Davis answers for herself every day.
American free solo climber and BASE jumper, Steph Davis, is a force to be reckoned with. Her accomplishments are on par with some of the greatest athletes of all time. And yet, despite all her successes and achievements, her humble personality allows her to stay grounded and focused.
While speaking with Davis, we talked about her emotions, her needs, her tragedies, her relationships, her successes, her failures. Amazingly, she appears to be a normal person… a normal person who performs superhuman feats, and doesn’t question them.
Steph’s drive to do what others can not and would not is fueled by her curiosity for the world. Curiosity to see new places. To learn new things. “Just understanding that there was so much knowledge out there and so many amazing places that I had never seen, and would never have the ability to see without these other skills of climbing up mountains and just all the things that it leads you to do. I’m travelling around the world, spending time with people in different cultures, different places, and then, you know, of course learning – how do you actually get up a mountain with a vertical terrain, and then get yourself back down.” Yes, how DO you do that?
For Steph, climbing and BASE jumping aren’t just about getting up the mountain and back down again. For her, it is about flow and focus. In order to do what she does (and do it safely and successfully), she must achieve a maximum level of focus. She must be 100% centered on the present moment, so as to avoid any and all mistakes, which, when doing what she does, could be fatal. When Steph is flying through the air on a BASE jump, or high above the ground on a climb without a rope or any sort of safety protection, her brain slows down and enters a flow state. Flow state refers to an experience when one is fully immersed in what they are doing, to the point of forgetting anything and everything else in their life at that moment. All other thoughts, feelings, and emotions leave the body, and the brain is 100% focused on the present moment and present activity. It is common for extreme sports athletes to achieve flow state while performing their sport, especially when their sport relies on it not only for success but for survival.
According to Steph, the easiest way for her to achieve flow state is to escape outside energy. To be alone. “For me, a big factor for reaching focus, or flow, is getting away from outside energy — so free soloing inherently works really well because you are alone.” When Steph goes BASE jumping, the activity is so intense that she has no choice but to enter Flow State. “With BASE jumping and wingsuit BASE, getting there (flow state) is pretty much guaranteed because it seems like there’s no choice but to enter that state of pure focus when leaving the edge — although it’s a pretty short-lived experience because BASE jumping is over very quickly. Still, sometimes it can be challenging because outside energy can still affect my mindset and BASE jumping can turn into a more social experience with people hiking together in bigger groups, so I’ve found I need to limit the group to just one or two other jumpers and forego certain jumps if I know it will be a large group… If I’m with anyone else, I usually jump last so I can be alone for a few seconds or minutes at the top without any outside energy, and that’s when I feel the calmest and focused.”
The thought of feeling “calm” and “focused” before jumping off a cliff with only a parachute as your safety net may seem crazy to the rest of us. For Steph, this is what keeps her coming back. She loves the idea of such an uncontrolled situation. With the training, learning, visualizing, and practising, again and again, so many times, she is able to control the uncontrollable. “Seeking the ability to do something that should be impossible and yet to be doing it in a way that’s actually pretty reasonable.” Steph is only satisfied with her performance if she has done her climb or BASE jump in a controlled, and calm fashion. When she does that, it feels as if she was in the right place at the right time. As if she was meant to do it. As if it was her purpose. “I know for myself that when I’ve had those moments where it kind of just worked out and I almost felt that I got lucky… I’m usually really dissatisfied with that experience. What I prefer is to feel like I’ve entered the situation in a very calculated way. I’ve really prepared. I’ve gone through all the permutations. Plan B, plan C, plan D scenarios. I’ve tried to really think through everything that could ever go wrong and feel like I have a plan for that. And then when it started happening, I feel like I’m very in control of the situation because I chose to get into it feeling like I’m really ready for it. When I either land from a jump or top out a climb, I feel like, ‘wow, you know, I really belonged there and I wasn’t just kind of scrapping through it’.”
A feeling of belonging is what Steph is looking for. She looks like she has found it. “I’m 46 now and I’ve been climbing since I was 18, so my entire adult life I’ve been doing these sports in various form… I am hoping to keep doing my sports for the rest of my life. It is honestly really hard for me to imagine not being out in the mountains and being out in the desert and just doing these things that I love doing.”
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