Eight Tools That Adventure Develops and Everyone Needs
Have you ever read an explorer’s biography and wondered how they did what they did? Do you imagine big adventures and wish you had more of them in your life? The good news is it is fairly easy to start down adventure avenue and once you have begun indulging in its wonders the skillset grows exponentially giving you the tools to go bigger and better.
There are eight skills that every adventurer practices and as long as we use a natural progression of experiences we will learn them all quickly and safely. If we feel nervous we can find a guide or instructor to teach us. The beautiful thing is that this well-rounded range of abilities not only allow us to have many consequential and safe adventures they are also desirable life skills that lead to fulfillment and hopefully meaningful service. Taking time to grow the skill set will set us up for an incredibly rich life and what I love most is that when we partake in adventure it occurs naturally and never seems like a chore.
A little vision goes a long way
All ideas start somewhere. Adventurers spend significant amounts of time in that creative headspace where we generate ideas for things we want to do. We also spend a great deal of time dreaming (or visualizing) what is going to happen and what we will be doing when it is happening. Like an athlete running a play in their head, we feel things before actually committing to it. It is this “real” dreaming that sets us up for success and makes the next step easier. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great piece on Physical Genius in the New Yorker in 1999.
When psychologists study people who are expert at motor tasks, they find that almost all of them use their imaginations in a very particular and sophisticated way.
I believe adventurers are also sophisticated in the use of our imaginations and each adventure makes us more so.
It amuses me when adventurers/dirtbags are stereotyped as lazy or inept. Our priorities are just different. Invariably, I find we are more driven and accomplished than most even if initial appearances do not suggest this to be the case. On deeper inspection, there is a catalog of experiences that we made happen. A number of these experiences took significant planning. The skill was often acquired through a long process of trial and error and there was usually a catalog of mistakes made along the way. However, we can now plan events for a few people on the back of a beer mat or much more complex logistical endeavors on a substantial spreadsheet. Again the motivation exists to acquire a skill that would be passed by if the end result was not so rewarding. Organizing the safe return of multiple people in hazardous environments in a country where we do not even speak the language is a testament to the ability to “get things done.” Managing the food and equipment for an expedition of any sort requires an attention to detail that most companies would love to see in their employees.
Channeling your inner monk
Meditation is rapidly gaining popularity and for good reason. Learning how to control our mind means we can harness more of its capabilities and make them more efficient. I remember meeting some people in Kathmandu and when I asked why they were there, they talked about a meditation class they were attending. It was interesting so I chatted longer and then they started talking about what they were most excited about which was an out of body experience where they were observing themselves. When I told them I could do that they were at first extremely skeptical, especially as I had received no formal training. When I said I could make it happen whenever I wanted there was a certain amount of disbelief but then I explained the process. It involved rock climbing at height without a rope and towards the upper limit of my abilities. As I set out to do hard moves I would find myself sitting on my shoulder explaining the next sequence to myself. When the term adrenaline junky is thrown around I think the real point of the motivation is lost. I believe that folks who indulge in their own version of extreme adventure, one where they are operating towards the limits of their capabilities and where the consequences are very real are actually seeking extreme focus. The thing is any adventure brings us to a more attentive and observant mindset. One where we are totally here and now. Once we know how to achieve it in one way it is easier to replicate it in others. Again when I look at my adventurous friends in the middle of a situation, they are the ones who are observant and taking everything in. They are the ones who are able to act because they are not crippled by a mind that is racing at 100 miles per hour.
Figuring out where you are and where to go next
Navigation is a beautiful art, at its heart it is very simple. Take a representation of what we think is going to happen and cross reference it with what is actually happening. If it isn’t then we figure out why not and where we might be. It is an exercise in being present and aware of what we are actually doing and seeing. How far have I come, what features have I passed? It is an exercise in interpreting visual code; looking at a map and creating a 3-D picture that we can use to see all the relevant information of the next stage of our route, creating a checklist of what we will observe and then as we travel on our route checking for those features. I have always enjoyed teaching navigation because it is a wonderful analogy for how we can approach life. And while I enjoy having access to GPS there is a reason why I do not teach its use until after a map and compass. It has nothing to do with the obvious thought that technology sometimes fails us and it is wise to learn a technique that does not resort to requiring a battery and hard drive. It has far more to do with how using GPS is predominantly a reactive technique, whereas, using a map and compass is far more proactive in nature. The beautiful thing is that a number of these adventure skills feed each other. Navigation is a form of both dreaming and planning when we practice one we are developing the others and vice versa.
Managing risk lies at the heart of all adventures. If we are courting the feelings resulting from uncertainty we need to know how to balance the risk of gain and risk of loss and decide if one is worth the other. We also have to balance the potential risk with its likelihood. Let me explain. First, we look for the hazards, places or activities where there is a potential for things to go wrong. Then we want to create a quick assessment of the potential issue and assign it a value. If I slip from this rock then I might break my ankle, that is 6 weeks in a cast and with my insurance, it will cost me say $500. The thing about risk is that it is different for everyone. One person might land catlike on their feet with no injury, while someone else might have no insurance and face a bill of $20,000. Having given the value we then assess how likely the risk is to happen. It is dry, I am wearing grippy shoes I feel good up here. A fall is unlikely. Or, it is wet and my shoes are slippy, I do not feel safe here. Again it is different for everyone, different people will have different results for both the potential and likelihood and therefore will have different results for whether the risk is worthwhile. The beauty of uncertainty is that while there is a risk of things going wrong there is also a risk of things going really well. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “why not go out on a limb, that is where the fruit is.”
Being open to good intentions
Tie into a rope with someone and launch on an adventurous climb. By the end of the day we are either firm friends or walking in the opposite direction never to see each other again. Adventure has a way of polarizing trust. If we want partners we can trust we have to be trustworthy. This trust is not earned through idle chatter, rather through actual action. Word gets out quickly when we are not attentive to the needs of our partner. There are so many unwritten rules in the world of adventure based on the concept of treating others how we want to be treated. If our partner is hurt it is our job to bring them home safely. This often requires a lot of work, skill and perseverance. The thing is when we know someone is willing to put themselves in harms way to remove us from it, then we know we are with good people. The world of adventure is full of good people. When we have felt this level of trust we know what a good partner or friend is and we know how to be one.
Knowing bad things happen and dealing with them
If we adventure long enough something bad is going to happen and we are going to have to accept it and deal with it. People are hurt and worse. Sometimes it happens to friends, sometimes it happens to us. In a society where through western medicine we often buffer ourselves from the reality of death, sickness, and injury as experienced by other cultures, adventure is a reminder of what our ancestors knew and experienced. These experiences leave us far more prepared for dealing with other difficult situations, failing relationships, unemployment, laying off staff. When we can accept that crap does happen and that it is neither personal nor defines us then it actually gives us an opportunity to shine and show the world what we are capable of. If we are hit by stone fall on a crag, or, lost or injured in the wilderness there is no advantage to waiting for someone else to come and tidy up our situation. We learn to deal with adversity, what’s more, we often train to deal with it so that its occurrence is far less detrimental or likely. I for one appreciate having adventurers in my life because they are far better at seeing a situation for what it is and help me to do the same. They help me to pick myself up and dust myself off because we have all had to do it before and will inevitably have to do it again.
Making things the best they can be
One of the things I love about adventure is that it breeds optimists. We recognize that we cannot always control what happens to us, however, we also know that we can control how we react to a situation. At this point, a whole new world opens up. When 100% of our energy is focused on finding a solution rather than lamenting what has gone wrong then generally positive outcomes are found. When I think of all the situations I have dragged myself out of with this approach I cannot help but smile. This attitude was definitely cultivated in the mountains and evolved while traveling in developing countries. It ramped up to a whole new level when I was taking other people’s children into mountains in developing countries. Approaching life in this optimistic, solution focused manner is probably the single biggest key to a successful and fulfilling life.
How are you going to bring more adventure into your life? What are you hoping to develop as you do so? And, how can we help?
Parents might like to read Children and the Adventurers’ Skillset