This article appeared as a guest post on the blog of explorer Mikael Strandberg.
In my last article for Mikael, I wrote about how explorers stay alive despite operating in extraordinarily hostile environments while, paradoxically, some of the best of the best explorers perish doing exactly what they’ve done for years, oftentimes in their figurative if not literal back yards. That article was an inside look at the extreme end of what can be an extreme pursuit – exploration.
As The Adventure Couple, the mission of my wife and I is to help others live more exciting and fulfilling lives through adventure. So for this article, we thought it would be interesting to look at the other extreme of exploration. That is, why do so many people want to do it but so few actually do? People across much of the developed world talk about wanting more adventure, more travel, more exploration, more excitement, and more fulfillment yet so many are literally and figuratively stuck firmly with their ass planted on the couch of life. What is holding them back.
In the last article, we looked at how an incorrect perception of risk gets explorers killed. In this article, we will look at how an incorrect perception of risk keeps so many people stuck on the couch of life.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that the reason they seem paralyzed or unable to go out and experience the adventure they so crave is because of their aversion to risk. This explanation is convenient and makes a lot of sense on the surface but on greater inspection it fails completely.
Risk isn’t what most people think it is. Risk is almost universally seen as a bad thing – something to mitigate and avoid at all costs. So companies have entire risk management divisions and we do everything we can to personally manage and mitigate risk in our lives, businesses, relationships, jobs, marriages and communities.
Risk is most accurately defined as an uncertain outcome and it is neither necessarily good nor bad. It simply means that we don’t know exactly what is going to happen. But most people don’t like uncertainty. It makes people nervous. It makes relationships nervous. It makes businesses nervous. Turns out that human beings are hard wired to have an aversion to uncertainty; this is our hunter gatherer brain working and trying to keep us safe from a world that mostly no longer exists. So many people shun risk, incorrectly believing that an uncertain outcome is always a bad outcome. But …
RISK isn’t the problem. COMFORT is.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Mikael. We were at the Explorers Club headquarters the day after the annual dinner extravaganza and Mikael was presenting on his most recent, World’s Coldest Expedition. Other than his wit, dedication and general sexiness, the thing that caught my and everyone else’s attention in the room was how physically difficult his expedition was. It was so cold that the metal bindings on his skis broke. It was so cold that the fluid in his joints was seizing up. At night, he laid shivering violently in his down sleeping bag. And he did this for weeks. And everyone that was listening, many of them fellow explorers, laughed aloud at how ridiculously uncomfortable it must been.
On my last 8000 meter climb, as we ground up a piece of near vertical ice in horrible conditions, one of my climbing companions asked “why are we up here suffering our asses off” to which I replied, “because it’s fun.”
In the previous article, I noted that while explorers are most often externally defined by what they have done, the thing that really sets explorers apart is how they approach life very differently than most people. And while an unquenchable sense of curiosity may be the first characteristic of an explorer, the second may be that, quite simply, explorers are willing to endure more discomfort than other people. A lot more.
Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. ― Dean Karnazes, Champion Ultra Marathon Runner
Discomfort comes in a lot of varieties – not just the freeze your ass off variety. Just look at how many people are absolutely scared to death of public speaking. The abject fear appears irrational. After all, it’s not like you’re going to take a spear through the heart from angry natives if you mess up your Toastmasters speech but public speaking is hugely uncomfortable to many people.
Many new businesses fail because the founders are too uncomfortable promoting their new venture. They would rather have dental work than pitch someone on their business or idea. So the business or idea vanishes into obscurity despite their passion for it.
If it existed, the book of ideas for expeditions that were never attempted would be large. The book of great ideas that were never attempted would be huge. The book of things we said we always wanted to do but never did would be gigantic.
So what is going on?
The issue is that many people are just comfortable enough with what they already have that they are unwilling to experience the discomfort to get something else. The issue isn’t risk, it’s comfort level or rather, discomfort level.
One trait that all great explorers as well as all great entrepreneurs share is their ability to operate under great levels of uncertainty and great levels of discomfort.
Explorers all deal with discomfort in their own way and I wouldn’t feign to know what all those ways are. For me, I make it fun by making it a game. I focus on the wonder and joy of what I am doing. I also call myself out whenever I start to whine because as I keenly note to myself, “I signed up for this.” Maybe the most powerful method is to find others to share the experience with. When I rowed on the crew in college, somehow it made it easier to train at 6:00AM every morning because there were eight of us going through it together. Try different techniques and find what works for you.
If you want to get your life off the couch and experience more adventure, exploration, excitement and fulfillment, it’s time to get a little uncomfortable. Let’s go explore!
Sharkman and his wife Mantagirl are on a mission to help others live more exciting and fulfilling lives through adventure. Check out their Live Adventurously Manifesto.