The times we are living in have definitely brought a more considered air of reflection for me. My godmother Irene passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 84. I was thinking about her recently and the time I went to visit her in Chicago back in 1996. She brought me up to the top of the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower) for lunch one day and I was blown away (pardon the pun) by the fact that the building actually sways and was designed to do so as a means of withstanding the strong winds that Chicago can get. I’m no structural engineer but I don’t need to be to know that the foundations and structures of buildings are designed to accommodate the various types of loads and forces they will need to withstand. Our minds are very similar to these building structures. As we head into the winter months, a second lockdown here in Ireland and a very challenging economic landscape for many, it is vitally important that we pay attention to our own mental foundations and structures. That we consistently support and strengthen our mind for the additional forces we will encounter over the coming months. By doing this we will improve our mental fitness so that we can enhance how we experience these challenging times.
For many people, the uncertainty we are experiencing on many different levels is causing a lot of worry, anxiety, anger and unproductive stress. Part of my work as a performance coach is doing all that I can to enable my clients tap into the wisdom, knowledge and experience that they possess. And to then use this inner wisdom to bring about their desired outcomes and experiences on a personal and professional level. I also do my best to tap into my mine. Part of my own life experience has been doing different adventure trips around the world. The first significant one I did was 17 years ago and since then, I’ve done a mix of different trips. Some really long expeditions over multiple months in harsh environments and some shorter adventure trips over 10 days or less.
An adventure expedition is an amazing life experience. One of the great things about an expedition is its simplicity. You have a very clear picture of where you want to go, what the journey means to you and how you intend to get there. It becomes the focus of your existence for that time in your life and with that comes a different mindset – what I call an expedition mindset.
This idea of an expedition mindset has really only come into my conscious awareness this year. Over the past 20 years, without realising it, I think I have been building up my own expedition mindset not just for adventure trips but for my everyday life. Over this time, I’ve realised that our mind is arguably our most important and precious resource. But it’s also quite often the most underdeveloped and underused of our assets. I think building an expedition mindset is something that’s important at the best of times and even more important in the our current environment.
Many of us are on a very challenging expedition right now as we do our best to navigate these uncertain times. Throw in the second lockdown, the darker winter months ahead, the economic volatility and we’ve got ourselves one solid expedition to navigate! In the absence of conscious thought, real intention and some mental reframing, we run the risk of not being able to see a meaningful finish line. This in turn could have a very negative impact on our mental, emotional and physical health which may significantly impact our family relationships and dynamics as well as our work performance and how we experience life as a whole.
An expedition mindset is more than just a frame of mind, it’s a way of being that fundamentally alters you at an energetic level. This energetic shift impacts how you live and how you intentionally decide to experience life. Initially, I thought sharing some of the steps involved with building an expedition mindset would potentially be really useful to people in this current environment. However the more time I have spent thinking and writing about this, the more I realise I would need to write a book on this to really do it justice. So for the purposes of this article, I thought I would share some of the tangible characteristics of an expedition mindset and a few points to consider to bring this to life for you or anybody else who reads this.
When we are operating in and really embodying an expedition mindset, these are the characteristics you experience:
- Intentionally committed to something that matters to you.
- Feel very passionate about what you are doing.
- Clarity on your desired destination and take ownership for making it happen.
- Let go of what other people think about you and your journey.
- Lean into uncertainty and move beyond your comfort zone.
- Over time, you start to see obstacles as problems to be solved and setbacks as learning.
- Bring a “can do” attitude and energy to your efforts.
- Embody a deep sense of gratitude for what you have in life.
- Acknowledge and connect with your fears.
- Proactively harness fear to courageously move forward.
If you can shape your mind to really live these characteristics, you will not only be able to deal with our current challenging times but you will also be able to flourish and really make the most of the time you have in this one precious life beyond the current circumstances we find ourselves in.
Here are some simple steps to consider in building your own expedition mindset over the coming weeks and months:
- Destination Clarity
With an expedition, you have absolute clarity on your desired destination and what it means to you. So a first step here is to choose a destination for yourself over the coming weeks and months that is meaningful for you.
It might be that you ask yourself, what does success look like for you 6 weeks from today? Maybe it’s less media exposure, more exercise, less worry, more engaged time with your family, less screen time – perhaps a combination of some of these. You are simply getting clear on what does better look like for you and what does it mean for you. The way I personally approach this is I break my destination down into four simple areas:
- How am I consistently feeling?
- What am I consistently doing?
- How am I showing up?
- What have I accomplished?
This successful destination clarity is about how consistency of “being” and not really about accomplishments. In my experience, when we get the first 3 points right, the last one will look after itself. Connecting with what destination means for you is hugely important. This is your why. Why does this state of better matter to you? Connect with this and making it happen will become easier
2. Create Your Mental DNA
Raise your conscious awareness of the role of your mind. When you think about it, we experience the world through our minds. How you are experiencing reading this article now is happening through your mind. What you will do tomorrow and next week will be experienced through your mind. So make the time to develop your own practices and rituals that support your state of mind and build your mental fitness. We all need this right now. Not taking action to build it is effectively sleep walking into a state of mental disarray. One approach here is to create your mental DNA (daily non-negotiable activities). These are the things you can do that build your mental fitness. It might not happen immediately but over time, these can become non-negotiable activities in that they are an important and central part of how you live your life. DNA’s might involve walking in the fresh air, running, reading, unplugging from technology, spending really present time with your family, journaling, cycling, meditating etc. Whatever it is for you, take the time to create your practice. It will likely involve experimenting in that you will find some things do not work for you and others really do. Here’s a link to a previous article I wrote about this which details a few practical considerations to bear in mind.
3. Resource Yourself
With any big expedition, a fundamental question I must answer is what are the skills, resources and experiences I will need to complete this trip. Resourcing yourself is all about answering that question. So when you get clear on your desired destination, ask yourself what resources can you put in place to both support and challenge yourself to make this happen. Your mental DNA’s will be part of this. Additional resources could take the form of friends or work colleagues to act as a support buddy. It could be agreeing with your partner or house mate that together you’re going to cut down on buying certain crap food so that you’re less likely to consume as much of this if it’s not in the house. If you want to reduce your screen time, it might be to connect your internet router to a timer that will cut out at a certain time in the evening and develop the habit of putting your phone away in a place that is out of reach – for example the boot of your car. Resourcing yourself is all about putting the right scaffolding around you to increase the odds of you consistently doing the behaviours you desire and over time building these habits that serve you.
4. Guard Your Airspace
At the moment, I believe this is one of the most important things we can do. By this I mean paying attention to what we read, listen to and watch on various media channels. Choosing to allow endless hours of media debate and coverage on the current lockdown and covid measures into our airspace is, in my opinion a complete waste of our energy, attention and focus. I understand the desire to be informed and I’ve also seen the impact of overdosing on this. Personally, I chose many months ago to just watch the news headlines at 6pm or 9pm and for the most part leave it at that. I have definitely at times dipped more into the coverage but overall, I don’t see any meaningful personal benefit to immersing myself in what the media is presenting or what’s flying around whatsapp groups. Paying attention to your own micro-environment can help with how you guard your airspace. This is a link to a previous article I wrote on this.
5. Own your Choices
No matter how bad the situation is, when something goes wrong on an expedition, there are always choices you can make. Choosing how you respond and taking ownership for this response is enormously important. We might not have asked to be in the situation we find ourselves in today but that doesn’t really matter, we’re in this now anyway. The real opportunity I see here is for all of us (myself included) to step up and take ownership for the choices we make every day. For me this means, focusing on the activity that is moving me closer to my desired destination and letting go of what I cannot influence. This sense of ownership and focus makes it easier to block out the external “noise” that isn’t productive or particularly helpful and instead put my energy into what’s truly important for me and my family right now.
I know this is a very challenging time for many people. I get this because I’m in it just like anyone else. I’m no different in that I have my own challenges to deal with at the moment. That said, I also know that if I continue to apply and really try to embody my expedition mindset, I can reframe most situations I am in so that I bring out the best of me in any given moment. We have just entered a 6 week period of lockdown in Ireland. Why not reframe the lockdown as an opportunity to use this time to begin to lock in your own expedition mindset so that you not only navigate the next 6 weeks in a good state of mind but you also set yourself up to flourish beyond the lockdown into 2021 and beyond!