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The First Law of Adventure...

The first law of adventure is: adventure is a decision

We all decide for ourselves what does and does not constitute an 'adventure'. Often the difference between two people's lives- one seemingly dull and the other chock full of adventure is simply the decision each made on what counted as an adventure.

If we don’t make a decision in advance, we will react with our default setting.

Your default setting depends on whether you’ve been given any warning or not that an adventure is on the offing. There is one setting for absolutely no warning and another for when you have some chance to get your head together. Imagine you are driving along the road and suddenly you hit an enormous flood across both lanes, something you have had no warning about. You have to drive through it carefully to avoid stalling. You’ll discover what your default setting is by running this as a thought experiment. Do you think you’ll be grinning to yourself about the challenge or grimly worrying about the car conking out? And if you are in a hurry this will probably NOT be an adventure. But if you have been given a little warning then successfully negotiating the flooded road could be a nice little adventure.

The connection between time and adventure is interesting. The more of a rush we get ourselves into the less we see the adventurous options that surround us. And often they don’t even take up anymore time than the non-adventurous option. It’s yet another insidious effect of the ‘time poor’ lifestyle we shoehorn ourselves into- often for no better reason than everyone else is similarly afflicted. (To feel less stressed about time you might care to look at the timeshifting material on this website). For an instant quick solution: reduce the time spent watching TV and using social media. I also recently started learning a new skill- ceramics. Learning is the best way to slow the sensation of time rushing by.

Your capacity for adventure also depends on your situation, the space that you occupy. In a different location your sense of adventure could be higher than at home.

But if you want to reset your default setting, then you need to decide that taking the adventure option is the right thing to do. You have to decide in advance that the ‘way of adventure’ is for you. And though I believe that almost all of us need more adventure in our lives, I think that it shouldn’t feel like a forced or contrived decision.

After all, sometimes you don’t want an adventure.

However you may brainwash yourself that you are a real adventurer, or adventurous type, there comes a time when you simply don’t want an adventure. Everyone has a Took side and a Baggins side (Bilbo Baggins was half Took, half Baggins- the Tooks were adventurous, the Bagginses weren’t). Sometimes the Baggins side in all of us triumphs.

Just don't let it happen too often, after all, even Bilbo left home eventually. As one French yachtsman told me: "if you want to be really safe, stay in all the time and watch television." Though even that isn't as safe as you might think: several people have been killed by exploding TVs and one unfortunate woman was wiped out when a truck left the road and crashed through her living room wall, killing her, as she watched television...


Adventure is the mindset that says YES to a challenge

An adventurous mindset is one that is looking for potential adventures everywhere. It is a state of mind geared to seeking out challenges on all levels, challenges that bring you into situations where you break new ground.

What stops us from saying yes? Default settings, as we have seen, but also our mood, influence by our perceived state of health, wealth and happiness. If you are feeling ill the last thing you want to do is go and shoot some rapids or even meet someone new. 

When you’re feeling hard-up your mind will be pulling you towards the more boring option. We assume money is more plentiful where boredom proliferates...I wonder why? It may be that the bigger the adventure the more profitable it is.

One of the odd things about human beings is that we tend to opt for things that prolong the state we happen to be in. When you’re unhappy you’ll opt for doing things that prolong unhappiness. It takes a while to learn that we need to flick a mental switch and do something different.

Flicking a mental switch sounds easy, but it takes effort, or at least it requires you assign some signifcance to the task. To switch into a more adventurous mindset, to say YES, we need to change the way we perceive the adventurous option. By changing what we contrast the adventure to, we change our perspective. And if there is one KEY to taking control of your life and your moods it is the ability to switch perspective at will.  

Health, wealth and happiness affect our inclination to be adventurous, but they are all also subjective states. Athletes are always nursing an injury. They’re never 100% healthy. If you’re not starving then you have ‘enough’ money from one perspective. And there is no better way to short circuit an unhappy frame of mind than to plan or have an adventure. You might need to drag yourself kicking and screaming to the wilderness, or let yourself be dragged (I’ve done that), but once there you won’t regret it.


An adventure brings you BANG into the present

When it appeared, ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced I am told Mi-haley-chick-sent-mi-haley), was a groundbreaking book. He highlighted the need to really get ‘into’ what you are doing, to enter a ‘flow state’ when past and future cease to matter and you experience an expanded sense of the present.

A few years after ‘Flow’ appeared there was an upsurge of people seeking ‘to be in the now’.

More recently we have seen how ‘mindfulness’ training has brought meditation practices of self-observation to bear on ordinary life in the modern West, shifting people into a more ‘present centred’ frame of mind.

Why do we need to be more in the present? Why is ‘being in the ‘now’’ a good thing? If you have spent any time worrying about the future or regretting the past you won’t need a long answer to the above. For those with less traumatic experience, being in the present supplies, or re-supplies, us with a more durable energy than the past or future do.

It’s a rather subtle thing, but being in the present is the champagne of energies, whereas living in the future or revelling in the past is like guzzling the kind of wine they sell at French service stations out of a nozzle, not dissimilar to the one that delivers your petrol. Not that being in the present is intoxicating- it just looks and feels like it compared to being stuck in the past or locked onto the future.


Make adventure plans all the time

When you go for a walk in your neighborhood, check the map for someplace that looks interesting- ruins, woods, even as I did the other day, an interesting stone. The key thing is that it should be somewhere you haven’t been to before. Along the way you are bound to have lots of side adventures too. It’s a result of having the mindset that says YES to a challenge. But it can be planned for. You can prime your own mind to be more alert, looking out for potential adventures.

The initial plan is just a springboard to get you into a more adventurous zone. You must be able to depart the plan when something better comes up.

Since life is always more interesting and varied than our own plan can be, be ready and able to depart the plan when required. Except when you shouldn't...

Know when to stick to the plan

Most failed expeditions result from two things: failure to plan correctly or a decision to depart the plan whilst on the expedition. If the plan is good, and nothing solid contradicts it (ie. if you plan to walk over a volcanic mountain and it erupts then you may change your plan. But if you plan to walk over the mountain then on the day someone points to a more interesting looking mountain then stick to the plan.)

This is a direct contradiction to the earlier comment about being ready to depart the plan when something more interesting crops up. When I was walking across the Great Sand Sea the group I was leading discussed the idea of achieving a confluence point (a whole number intersection of latitude and longitude, check for more information). The problem was, this confluence point meant walking 30km into very severe dunes, 200 metres high over which none of the camels could pass. That meant we’d be splitting the group. We were already a little behind time so I didn’t want extra pressure forcing a bad decision. So we didn’t do it. Less adventurous? Maybe in the short term. But if we’d had to give up our attempt at crossing the Sand Sea because of a lack of time then we’d have missed out on the bigger overall adventure. As a general rule- stick to the big plans, feel free to amend the minor plans.


Make something out of nothing

Can you pull something from a trash bin and make something out of it? Can you sit round a campfire and spin a yarn or a fantastical conversation? Can you make a sculpture out of a pile of driftwood; in other words can you make something out of nothing?

To make a habit of making something out of nothing is a way to see the adventurous possibilities that surround us.


The energy of an adventure= fun/treasure/story

In the quest for adventure the poles we seek are usually fun, some kind of hidden treasure and a good story. ‘Treasure’ can be interesting people, experiences, places. The fun of it relies on keeping the ‘bullshit’ aspects of adventuring to a minimum. Bullshit includes too much kit, too high a financial cost, too ‘serious’ a goal.

An odd aspect of adventure seeking is that often the less serious the goal the more adventures it generates. Tony Hawke’s famously travelled round Ireland with a fridge; it created a lot more adventures than if he had travelled with a stout pair of walking boots and sensible rucksack. When Roger Mear completed the first manhaul to the South Pole since Scott, he remarked that an earlier visit he had made to New Guinea, a far less ‘serious’ undertaking, had been more adventurous.

Despite this remark, one way of balancing seriousness with adventure is to follow in the footsteps of another explorer (as long as not many other people have). You have a respectable goal but also lots of opportunity to improvise along the way, and investigate things the original explorer may have been in too much of a hurry to have paid proper attention to.


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