Free Solo: Alex Honnold, A Look Into The Mind Of A Man With No Fear

Free Solo: Alex Honnold, A Look Into The Mind Of A Man With No Fear
The documentary, Free Solo, a film about Alex Honnold who is the first person to scale the 3,000 foot granite wall known as El Capitan, without ropes and safety gear, is one of the greatest feats in the history of the sport. This movie has captivated me as I cannot get enough of the psychological dynamics behind how and why Alex is able to do something that no one has ever thought was possible, and lived.

View trailer of Free Solo here:

Scientists have studied Honnold’s brain to investigate his almost superhuman ability to control fear and his body for a very long period of time. It is not as if he has never experienced fear. It has taken him over 20 years of climbing (with and without ropes) and painstaking planning for each climb that has contributed to this incredible focus and control to develop.  Yes it is crazy, yet he is very calculated in his risk-taking.

“Imagine having to compete for a Gold Medal and if you don’t get it you will die.” Tommy Caldwell, fellow climber.  Honnold is an extreme athlete who seeks the most wildly exposed and nearly impossible rocks to climb. He does this after practicing, hundreds of times, the dangerous maneuvers and passing the threshold of fear over and over again. He trains himself for these potentially deadly moments, and has apparently desensitized the amygdala of the brain, responsible for signaling the fear response.

Jane Joesph is the Neuroscientist that tested the brain of Alex in 2016. The scans and experiments resulted in seeing that his amygdala does not fire and therefore the threat center of the brain is not sensing fear.  Joesph states, “Where there is no activation, she says, there probably is no threat response. Honnold really does have an extraordinary brain, and he really could be feeling no fear up there. None at all. None whatsoever.”

Link to article: The strange brain of the worlds greatest climber.

What does this mean for us who would never in a million years free solo of any kind? Through mindfulness meditation, we can change the size and function of the amygdala to facilitate better emotional control in anything we do.  Meditation has been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala and grows the size of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for reasoning, problem-solving and controlled cognition (thinking). This training of our brain through mindfulness will allow us to think clearly, react conscientiously, be flexible and creative in our problem solving and transform our experiences into the results that we want!

What is the El Capitan that you would like to conquer in your life?  If you put your mind to it anything is possible.

You can see the movie now on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon.  I can’t wait to hear what you thought of the movie! I could talk about Free Solo for days.