By the time Alex Honnold made the epic climb of El Capitan, featured in the recent movie Free Solo*, he intimately knew every crack, hold, and problem on the 3,000 feet climb. In a recent Ted Talk** Honnold talks about the key elements that allowed him to accomplish this fantastic and seemingly insane feat. In the talk he compares his free solo of Half Dome with the climb of El Capitan. As he reflected on Half Dome he realizes that he was not fully prepared and was lucky to have been successful. With El Capitan it was different because of thousands of hours of visualization and years of careful preparation. In the Ted Talk Honnold states that despite bing 3,550 feet off the ground without a rope that “it didn’t feel scary at all. It felt as comfortable and natural as a walk in the park.” When he did the actual climb, it was built on years of seeing himself in his mind successfully doing the climb.

How often do we take the time to close our eyes and visualize what the successful challenge looks like and what we (learners) hope to look like at the end of it? What does a successful trip through the challenge framework look, sound and feel? What is the emotion we want to reach during Engage? How does a successful investigation look?
Of course, there is a fine line between visualization and scripting the entire experience. For Honnold, he needed to essentially pre-plan every move and know every inch of the wall he was climbing because it was the difference between life and death. However, he would never have reached that level if not for the lessons learned during the initial “lucky” solo scramble up Half Dome.

In challenges, we do not have to worry about falling to our deaths so the boundaries of adventure can be much broader and failing is much more of an option. We know that this is where the learning will take place and if we lock step the process and plan every inch we will lose these opportunities. For Honnold, much of that failure came within the safety of smaller roped climbs and visualization. The ideas of visualization and preparation can have an important role in the CBL journey. If we do not have a visual in our mind of basically where we are going and that we can be successful, we will struggle. If we (teachers and students) blindly set forth into a challenge without some anticipation and planning for the inevitable wrong turns and valleys, we will run into difficulties.

CBL provides a framework to deal with the challenges that we find and the ones that “find” us. The more we are versed in the framework, have visualized successfully using the process and prepared for the bumps in the road the more successful we will be in finding meaningful and lasting solutions. With a framework, visualization and p[reparation we have the safety to explore, try, fail, try again, reflect and learn.

So before you take off on the next challenge stop and have everyone (senior and junior learners) close their eyes and visualize the journey, what tools and resources might be helpful along the way, and how will success feel?