Mental skills for adventurers

Welcome to the next post in this series, all about giving you practical advice to help you achieve your adventure goals. If you have been following the blog series you are likely to be well on your way to making your adventure a reality. If you are new to the blog, first of all welcome. I hope you will find it really useful. Secondly you might want to check back through some of the previous posts to find lots more tools to help you bring your adventure to life. This post will be focussing on the importance of metal training in dealing with the tough times that you will encounter during your expedition. It will give you ideas to try as well as helping you to build our own strategies to deal with challenges that come your way. 

The mental hurdles that you will face during your expedition can be just as challenging as the physical ones. The following are a few of the mental challenges that you might expect to face:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by the challenge
  • Fear - of perceived and real risks in the environment or fear of not meeting your goal
  • Boredom - Dealing with hour after hour or day after day on the trail
  • Coping with tough times - Managing when the going gets tough; you are fatigued, lost, hungry, it’s dark, and you want it all to be over 
  • Coping with environmental exposure - This may be exposure such as high places in a mountain environment or extremes of weather, heat or cold. Each provide their own mental challenge to deal with.
  • Fatigue - Your body is going to get tired and want to stop. It is your mind that will keep it going.

Given these challenges, mental preparation just as important as physical training and logistical preparation. Fortunately mental resilience can be built up in a similar way to physical endurance. As with building physical fitness, mental fitness can be improved by taking on smaller versions of your challenge, by preparing logistically and building up your practical skills as well as by specific drills. We will look at some techniques that you can use in each of these categories.



Mental Exercises

The following are some mental exercises which can help with your challenge. Remember mental exercises need practice just like physical ones.

Break it down - Thinking about the whole of the challenge that lays ahead can be daunting. Instead think about breaking it down into manageable chunks, getting through the next day/ mile/ five minutes/ the next step...

Magic lasso - Imagine having a giant elasticated lasso that you can throw around something in the trail ahead of you, a tree for example. Then imagine the strong elastic pulling you forwards towards it. When you get there, throw your lasso around the next thing. 

Mindfulness - Mindfulness involves focussing on the here and now, the movement of your body, the sounds or smells of the scenery, the rhythm of your breathing. This will take your focus away from concerns and worries. There are many resources available to help your build mindfulness skills.

Visualisation - Visualisation is a powerful tool. If you can visualise yourself doing something you are more likely to achieve it. Athletes dedicate chunks of their training time to visualisation. Imagining every detail of how it will feel to win; what they will be wearing, what they will hear, how their bodies will be moving etc. You can do the same for your undertaking. Make it as detailed as possible and practice regularly.

Distraction - Sometimes you just need to be distracted from negative thoughts or even boredom. Music or audio books can be really useful here. You could ask your friends and family to pick different songs or stories for you to listen to. They will remind you of that person and provide an extra boost and motivation.

Mental arithmetic - Count or doing mental arithmetic such as counting backwards from 100 in threes provides another means of distraction to get you through that difficult push.

Monitor your arousal levels - Get used to tuning into how you are feeling. Are you super hyped up and unable to keep still, (high arousal)? Or are you feeling lethargic and disinterested, (low arousal)? Noting how you are feeling at any one time can help you dial you arousal levels to a happier medium. Maybe you need to do some relaxed breathing and reduce your arousal or put on some pumping music to rev yourself up for the challenge.

Think about your motivations for doing the challenge - Remind yourself why you are doing this, how amazing it is going to feel to complete it. A good piece of advice that I was given for getting through the final miles of a race is to dedicate one mile to each person who has provided you with inspiration or is willing you to succeed. Think about how they will feel when you complete your challenge.

Think about the treat that you are going to have at the end - Is it going to be a big plate or steak and chips? A well earned beer or a burger? Thinking about a treat, often what you will eat, but maybe that hot shower or cosy duvet, when you get to the end can bring your thoughts back from uncomfortable places.


Mental Stratgeies

Just as the logistical components of your trip require planning, so do the mental elements. It is valuable to think through how you will deal with scenarios that your are likely to face during your adventure.

Try noting down answers to the following:

  • The mental strategies I will use when I am bored are:
  • The mental strategies I will use when I feel alone are:
  • The mental strategies I will use when I feel like giving up are:
  • The mental strategies I will use when my arousal levels are too high are:


Practice makes perfect

Just like skills or physical training, practice makes perfect for mental training too. A really great way to practice your mental strategies as well as your skills is on a practice expedition. Practice expeditions, shorter or less technically demanding versions of the challenge that you are planning to take on, can help your mental preparation in a number of ways:

  • You will gain confidence in your ability to achieve your goals.
  • You will improve and gain confidence in your technical skills.
  • You will become accustomed to how you feel when you are tried, hungry, cold etc and will learn the best ways for you and your team mates to deal with them.
  • You will realise that the tough times don’t last but that the sense of achievement stays with you forever.
  • You will have a chance to practice your mental drills and coping strategies.
  • You will feel more at home in the environment of your challenge.


In the next post we will talk about how to build a successful team to undertake your adventure with.

This is part of a new series of blog posts that I am trying out for 2018. They are all about sharing our expedition and adventure planning experience to help you achieve your own goals and dreams. The aim isn't just to talk advice but to give you tools that you can actually use to make success happen. I would really love to hear how you are making use of it, what adventures you are planning and what you would like to learn more about. If you have found this helpful, please click on the share button below and spread the joy of adventuring :)


For lots more information on making your adventure dreams a reality, check out Katherine's book How to have an Adventure.