The Adventure Skillset: Pt. 1 Dreaming

Part 1: Dreaming:

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

Anatole France

Have you stared into the eyes of an adventurer? There is something beautiful about them. They are often as wild as the places they visit. They can be steely and determined. They can also be deep like an ocean. When in this state the owner is often in reverie. Adventurers do dreaming. They do it often. They do it well. And, it serves them advantageously. 

Dreaming lies at the cross roads of imagination and reality. It is where you take things you know to be true and mix them with things that have not yet happened. It is a place which has no truck with the nagging voices. The ones that tell you something is impossible or you cannot do it. It is the place of inventors and visionaries. People who expand the bounds of possibility.

Looking through skiing footage from this year some of my best form was on one of the first days of the season. Why was this? It helped that the snow was incredible. I was definitely excited. The company was great and encouraging. But I have a different theory. I hardly skied the previous season, I broke my arm in early January after a particularly bad start to a bad snow year. The year before that had been incredible. Making lemonade out of lemons I had my best ski season in over a decade. Life immediately prior to a divorce meant I had spent half my time out of the house and waking up in the car in the mountains was preferable to couch surfing. Skinning up a peak for sunrise and getting to work on time was brilliant. But I digress. This perfect storm of an incredible season followed by a non season set me up for success. Confused?

Well, I spent a ridiculous amount of time dreaming about skiing. Not since before Cai was born have I spent so much time imagining myself doing an activity. What I love about my dreams is that my form is incredible. When I see myself doing something I find it becomes a reality. Numerous studies on mental practice (visualization) show that it is nearly as effective as physical practice when it comes to developing a skill. Combine the two and you have the ultimate tool for success. 

Dreaming is when we take a thought and flesh it out so that we can see it. When we see ourself doing something we open up the possibility of making it real. When I was a ski instructor I always wanted to test a theory. My belief is that you can change a novices performance significantly with visualization. The experiment goes like this. Take someone who is not practiced in the sport and have them watch a video when you first meet. The film is of four people skiing very different styles and wearing distinctive and different color jackets. Ask the question, “who do you want to ski like?” Have them watch their skier again more carefully and ask what they like about the style and analyze what they are doing. In the morning instruct them towards the style they want to ski. Then at lunch watch the video again and give them their skier’s distinctive jacket. I have a sneaking suspicion that the act of wearing the jacket would completely change their performance. A bit like the car salesman who gets you to sit in the car and has you holding the steering wheel because he is more likely to make the sale. I think the jacket would open up the skier to a much improved performance. One where they are not thinking about how their body is moving just sensing it. The act of putting on the jacket makes us feel that we are the person doing the skiing rather than video in our mind being someone else. By becoming the skier we make it possible. 

This is what was happening at the beginning of this season. I was being the skier I saw in my mind over the previous 18 months. The interesting thing is that while I have been skiing a lot this season I have not been visualizing it so much. The result is that I have not improved this season and as I transitioned to steeper lines in the Spring I did not ski them so aggressively or well. Time to get dreaming again.

Another case in point was my decade plus battle with a particular boulder problem in North Wales. Dinas Gromlech is a magical cliff in the Llanberis Pass. Packed with climbing folk legend and the gothic architecture of a cathedral from the Middle Ages. Lying in the valley beneath it are a series of boulders flanked by a road that snakes its way over a stone bridge and up the pass beyond. It is a natural place for climbers to park and gather. They have also attracted people to climb them since before bouldering was a thing. There was one problem that habitually spat me out in a heap. I first attempted it when I started climbing at 15. At 28 I read a book that changed the way I approached climbing. The authors suggested that I train to my weaknesses and climb to my strengths and that I visualize holding the final hold and combining that with the feeling of some recent success. A week later I was at the boulders. I tried the route and was ritually humiliated. Then I sat down and thought about the book. I looked at the problem with new eyes and chose to climb it in a different way using my strengths and then I closed my eyes, imagined myself holding the final hold and thought of a race I had recently done well in. 30 seconds later I was holding the final hold. 13 years and 30 seconds. Nothing had changed? I was no stronger than the last time I climbed here. I just dreamed myself to the top.

Another power of dreaming is inventing a future. I tell this story a lot. It is for a reason. Until a few years ago I could never figure out why I had lived in the countries I had. Then I had a memory. On my study wall at school I had a series of pictures (cut out of magazines) of people climbing. While I do not think I have climbed any of the routes, I have spent significant time in each of those countries. How many hours did I spend staring at those images and dreaming? How was it that those pictures set the intention for what I was going to end up doing later on in life. I find this fascinating, especially when the sequence of events that made some of it possible were so improbable. I don’t believe I ever consciuously thought about living in Nepal or Alaska. I dreamed about it and it just happened.

We call people lucky. We do not understand how incredible things happen to these people. I attribute most of the amazing things that happen to me to dreaming. It is a skill we can develop through adventure. One coincidence I am noticing is how the more adventures I have the more incredible things happen to me. Is it a coincidence? Or, is it that while having adventures I have the time to be present and then the time to let my mind run wild with possibilities and without modern day stimuli? Stripping away the trapping of my urban life I find I am both happier and more productive. 

So give yourself time to dream. Give your children time to dream. Share adventures. And…

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Wil Rickards