Unlock your inner adventurer at home
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
I had the pleasure of speaking to Psychologies magazine recently about creating that sense of adventure in our own back yards...and why engaging with our sense of freedom can be good for us.
Psychologies: Our lives have become a lot smaller in the last year or so, how important is it that we start to have adventures again, even in micro terms?
AT: An “adventure” is defined as an “unusual or daring (even risky) experience”…and the strange thing is, in many ways we’ve been living under a veil of “risk” where even a shopping trip or a takeaway could bring you into contact with a disease requiring your hospitalisation(!) – and yet we’ve perhaps felt more unadventurous than ever. We’ve not been able to have holidays, and even local outlets have been closed to us. Within what we have been able to do, we might already know every nature trail and park in our area (we weren’t able to travel to neighbouring counties for leisure for a while), and the opportunity to see the museums zoos worldwide, while lovely isn’t quite the same as being there.
Our brains, while not necessarily “programmed for adventure”, do respond to threat and fear with both stress – but also a release of dopamine – a neurotransmitter which is the body’s main “feel good” chemical. This may explain the drive to try extreme sports, or the curiosity underpinning wanderlust to places we’ve not been or to try foods we’re unfamiliar with. Further to which, after an experience where the stress response has been triggered – and stopped, we release endorphins (the body’s natural pain relief) giving us a sense of calm, so it’s not only the excitement of the event that we might find much enjoyment in, but the relief that “we got there” afterwards!
As such, giving the brain a little healthy stimulation through adventure (or at something unknown that we have chosen for ourselves, rather than an “unprecedented” pandemic which we had to learn to adapt to) can be a great way to boost our mental wellness.
Practically too, having a “little adventure” – even if it is a family outing to somewhere you’ve not been before like a farm, or even a café or different park, can give you a sense of being somewhere new and the added benefit of shared experiences and memories as part of a unit.
Psychologies: How can being adventurous help if you’re feeling a bit low or lacking in confidence?
AT: It is worth remembering that sometimes the things we think we fear, may not be real – but things we have been brought up learning to fear. Social Learning Theory would surmise that a fear of spiders for example, may not be an evolutionary hangover from when they might have been hazardous to our health, but rather because we’ve seen a parent or care giver demonstrate (albeit unconsciously) fear behaviour around them.
As such, if we have bene brought up on stories on how it’s much safer to stay at home, this becomes a narrative which we may follow – even though it not something which reflects our true nature…if we just gave it a go.
BUT “just giving it a go” can be very frightening for someone who hasn’t tried, and the importance of having a safe space to fail as well as a supportive guide (rather than a “just do it” cheerleader) can be of greatest help here. (Along with a reminder to adults trying something new – that it’s ok NOT to like it when you’ve tried it, and you don’t need to do it again even if you did it once!!)
Psychologies: How important is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time and why?
AT: Linked to the above answer, I often talk to clients and students about the three “zones” of personal growth:
- The comfort zone – so called because this is where we are “comfortable” – and so often spend a lot of our time.
- The stretch zone – a little less comfortable, but it’s often manageable – like learning a new skill as part of a job which you already know you can do well
- The panic zone – doing something completely new or “out there” (for you).
A lot of the time, we do need to visit the “panic zone” when we make life changes, because we are often seeking to break habits which have established over many years…and are providing us a sense of comfort. For example, for someone who is shy and has had no need to push further than talking within their organisation – giving a presentation to a large audience is likely to make them enter the “panic zone”. In the panic zone it is the stress response that makes us ready to fight (push through) or run away.
Sometimes though, it is easy to run away.
Here, it is important to remember that the brain (while evolved to keep us “safe” – and therefore does not enjoy a sense of panic), WILL also release dopamine if you see that moment through and you can feel “oh great I’ve done that!” A bonus to this is, remembering that means we are likely to be able to remind ourselves “Well I did that I can do this” next time another challenge comes along.
HOWEVER, the Japanese art of kaizen (the act of seeking continuous improvement) can help us even more: Rather than keep making huge leaps into the panic zone (which makes our brain uncomfortable and respond by causing us physical and emotional “stress” which can in turn send us back to the comfort zone) – regularly, daily even, do one thing that nudges you into the “stretch zone”. This act of continuously pushing yourself (just a little) regularly almost “bypasses” the fear centre of the brain because it isn’t “that” hard to do. Don’t aim to run 5k straight away, aim to run 5 minutes, then 5 ½ the next week and so on until you get to 5k. It takes longer, but there’s less chance of you capitulating to fear (imagined or real).
In BOTH this case and in answer to the previous question, one thing that is very important is to make sure you surround yourself with encouragement and support that is helpful to you.
Nay-sayers or armchair critics can destroy what little confidence we may have to do something (sometimes because it challenges THEIR place in their comfort zone… “why do you want to do that!?” can sometimes mask “Your choice to do that makes me look negatively at my choice not to…and I’d rather not think about me!”
- With whom can I be myself?
- Who champions and supports me?
…and try and spend more time with those people…and of course, reflect the same kindnesses back!
Psychologies: What can adventure mean to different people?
AT: For some “adventure” can mean white water rafting; for others it might be travel; for others it might be going to a different supermarket to shop, or trying a different food (even at a favourite restaurant!). Adventure is often novelty which brings with it a mild sense of trepidation – mainly “what if I don’t like it”/”what if it makes me uncomfortable”. For some the risk may be high eg – extreme sports bring with them a risk to life, for others a risk of not enjoying a film after you’ve bought the ticket can be adventure enough. That’s ok. You know your comfort/stretch/panic zone – you do you!
If you are looking to push out of your comfort zone, try the following to ease into stretching yourself:
- Learn about what it is you want to do (do not fall prey to “paralysis by analysis”, but having an idea of what you might encounter can mean you can start reflecting and deciding – realistically – whether you have the means and resources to do it. Asking people who have done it (especially from the same starting point as you) can be helpful, although remember, do what works for you – you know yourself and your limits/openness best.
- Visualise yourself trying it – bit by bit. Focus on calming your breathing (eg. breathe in through the nose for 4 and out through the mouth for 6 – counting) if the visualisation triggers any sensations of stress.
- Identify your motivation for wanting to do it – and it is often going to be more powerful if the motivation is one regarding your health or loved ones or something you are passionate about, rather than the more extrinsic – “money” or “external praise”.
Psychologist: We can’t get our adventure fix through farflung travel at the moment, so what kind of adventures can we do on a smaller scale and closer to home?
AT: There are LOADS of things we can try to bring a sense of micro-adventure into our lives:
- Go on a different walk (even if it’s to a familiar place), or consider taking a different form of transport eg riding a bike rather than jogging. While on the walk, you might also aim to take photographs of unusual or beautiful things you observe.
- Try something different for a meal
- Try “geocashing” (a bit like Pokemon for adults) – where you follow trails left by other geo-cashers on your smartphone
- Read something new
- Do some DIY or change up one of your rooms
- Plan your actual adventure for after lockdown has lifted safely/fully
- With your children – or without them(!) remember the sense of fun you had and – build a den, and then perhaps create stories around this soft furnishings castle!
- Camp in your back garden and admire the stars – you can even hire yurts for this! Even make an evening of it with things like roasted marshmallows or singing campfire songs.
- Create a treasure hunt and challenge your friends, or try an escape room (either going to one now they have opened, or any of the online platforms.) Nothing bonds a team
together than “Mild peril” as you try to beat the clock to escape!!
- Change up your wardrobe with a virtual (or in-person) fashion show and clothing exchange with friends.
- Create (and use) a home gym/obstacle or circuit course
- Find a charity to support and do something that’s new to you (or just do something that’s new to you anyway!!)
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt