'Free Solo' climber Jimmy Chin says this is how to prepare for a big challenge

Mountain climber, filmmaker and photographer Jimmy Chin.
Vivien Killilea | Getty Images

Whether you're scaling Mount Everest, launching a business or even just starting a new job, a daunting new challenge can easily knock you out of your comfort zone.

Few people know that better than Jimmy Chin, the professional mountain climber, filmmaker and photographer. In a career filled with amazing achievements, the 46-year-old Chin has done everything from climbing (and skiing down) Mount Everest to winning an Academy Award for directing the 2018 documentary film "Free Solo" with his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

And in 2011, Chin and his team even completed the first-ever successful ascent of India's nearly 22,000-foot high Meru Peak via the Shark's Fin route, which became the subject of another documentary film, "Meru."

In other words, Chin is no stranger to massive undertakings. He recently shared some of his advice on the best ways to prepare for your next big challenge with CNBC Make It.

"We're human. Anytime you're going after something big in your life where the stakes are high, the consequences are high, you're battling doubts [and] fears," Chin told CNBC Make It recently at a New York City event promoting Futurelight, a new line of North Face performance apparel.


That's as true for the average person facing a potentially life-changing moment as it is for a professional climber, like Chin, preparing to mount a dangerous expedition. What Chin has learned from his career, he says, is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by high stakes.

You might have "big, lofty goals," Chin says. "But you can't think about it purely in that kind of stakes. You have to deconstruct it."

Here's how much it could cost to climb Mount Everest
Here's how much it could cost to climb Mount Everest

His advice is to simplify your huge challenge in your mind by breaking it into smaller tasks and preparing for each of them, one at a time.

A metaphor that Chin says he and his fellow climbers often use is: "It is literally one step in front of the other."

"You're breaking down the variables you can control [and] you identify the variables you can't control," he says.

In Chin's case, he avoids getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of a major challenge, like climbing Meru Peak, by focusing on the aspects of an expedition that he has the most control over, like his own fitness levels and endurance (he said in January he tries to train a few hours a day, either in the gym or hiking in the mountains) and ensuring he has all of the necessary gear required to survive a major expedition.

"If you just focus on 'What's the next step I have to take to make this happen?' — but, still kind of anticipate the future and look at the bigger picture — if you can balance those two things, that's how you get big things done," Chin tells CNBC Make It.

Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, winners of the Documentary (Feature) award for 'Free Solo,' attend the 91st Annual Academy Awards Governors Ball at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

It's just as important not to get too hung up on the variables you can't control, Chin adds.

"There are some things that are out of your control," he says. "You can set yourself up for success and do everything you possibly can to achieve your goal, but sometimes there's things that happen that are just not in your control and you can't beat yourself up.

"You've got to move on to the next thing … having a little bit of that objectivity is really important."

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Mountain climber leads adventure seekers up world's dangerous peaks
Mountain climber leads adventure seekers up world's dangerous peaks