A psychologist came to my home when I was 4 because I wasn’t speaking. Today, I make a living using my voice; in 2019 I delivered motivational talks to 30,000 young people in Belfast. I owe this change in confidence and ability to the lessons I learned while spending time outdoors.
1; Increased confidence
Do you have any really annoying friends? My friend gets up at 0430am, runs daily and attends conditioning nightly. He feels lazy because he sees his friend’s social media, running marathons, triathlons, gym sessions. Does he sound like a lazy person? No! He just feels lazy by comparison. Maybe you don’t feel that confident, but just like my friend, this doesn’t mean you aren’t actually a confident person. In the outdoors you learn that those who are confident are just those who have repeatedly given something a go, learned a lesson, and added another notch to their belt. To be more confident, you move up in baby steps. You make small changes every day, and it seems as if nothing is changing. Then at the end of the year you look back, and your self-esteem is completely elevated. The outdoors is the perfect place to improve your confidence. Take swimming for example. Maybe the idea of swimming in the ocean terrifies you. What we will do is make this fear more specific, so you can break it down. What is causing the fear? The cold? Fear of drowning? Seaweed touching your feet? You can’t swim? Let’s break this down like we would during a session. What would you like to be able to do? Swim the channel? That’s a little excessive. Maybe you just want to have fun in the water. Let's make your aim to spend 2 minutes in the water, within your depth. We can gradually take you into the water. Have a look at it to begin with and get comfortable with the idea of it. Then, step by step. Toes first, until that is comfortable. Then up to your hips. Then up to your shoulders, and just wait there until you're bored and ready for the next step. Congratulations, you just made your dream a reality! You can now set yourself more ambitious goals, like swimming a certain distance, or competing in a swim race. This does wonders for your self-esteem and confidence.
2; Connecting with others
Simply put, there are nicer people in the outdoors. They are less stressed, have more stable self-esteem and they have fun! Let’s analyse the effect of the outdoors on an individual. Firstly, when you get into cold water, your body begins working hard to heat itself up. Fresh blood, oxygen and energy rush around your muscles. Your body feels alive. Your brain releases endorphins in response to the intense situation. Endorphins are a natural pain killer and mood elevator. Imagine you’re in Belfast city centre, surrounded by people. Do you wave at them? Do you say hello? Offer them some of your sandwich? Seems a little strange. Now imagine you’ve been walking alone for 3 hours and have finally reached the summit of a mountain. You spot a figure walking towards you. Now they are the only other human you've seen in hours. Would you smile? Say hello? Have a little chat about the weather and how good it feels to be outside? In this modern world we spend a lot of time looking at concrete, barriers, walls, rubbish, busy people, cars and buses. When you are surrounded by trees and plants there is more oxygen in the air, less air pollution. You can spot this in coastal areas by certain plants that will only grow where there is clean air (reindeer lychen for example). When you are surrounded by rock, mountains and cliffs; you are reminded of your own small size, when compared to the size of the planet. When you look out to sea, seeing nothing but the blue water and open sky stretching out, you feel a sense of awe. Technically, you are only looking at two things. Yet the simplicity of the environment reminds you of your own complexity, uniqueness and importance. You are reminded that you are part of a beautiful, self-sustaining system. Rather than wanting to protect yourself from the ugliness of the urban environment, you want so share this experience. Anyone standing with you in the natural environment is having the same awe-inspiring experience, and they will want to share it with you too. You might share a few words, gasps of astonishment, or a peaceful pensive silence. As an additional bonus, when you are swimming, paddling or climbing, you don’t have a spare hand for a phone. When we move into the outdoors as a group, we work shoulder to shoulder on the same problems; setting up camp, starting a fire, getting to the top of the hill, completing a coastal journey. Humans have always had to work together to survive. As important as it is to have face to face conversations, some people struggle with this, and working shoulder to shoulder can create a real sense of connection and bonding. 3 Personal Development
Take a look around you. I’d like you to spot items that are designed to make your life easier. The layout of the keys on your keyboard, so you don’t have to stretch your fingers too far. The seat your sitting on, so you don’t have to stand. The table your resting your elbows on, so you don’t have to pick things up off the ground. The apps on your phone that tells you what the weather will be, so you don’t have to look out the window. The radiator that heats you, the ready-made food that you only have to move into a microwave or oven. When we have everything done for us, we can feel at a loss for something to do. Boredom sets in when we aren’t challenged. As the saying goes, the devil takes idle hands. It’s true, when we don’t exercise a muscle, it begins to break itself down. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we stop growing. The outdoors is our convenience store for challenge; there you have a nice range of colours and sizes of challenges for you to choose from. Learning to kayak for example, challenges our hand-eye coordination. When we improve this, we improve our balance, our fitness, how our body feels. Simply just stepping outside and observing nature teaches us something; whether it be an observation of how a bird acts, how a river flows, what kind of rock we’re standing on. You are always learning and growing. This gives us a break from the mundane, same-same lifestyle in the city. When we get outdoors, we give all our stress muscles a little nap. They can relax while we play in the outdoors, forgetting the stresses and strains of your everyday life, the deadlines, the meetings, the expectations. Then we can return to our normal life with increased vigour, enthusiasm and clarity.
So, What next?
We’ve talked a little bit about developing your confidence, your connection to others and growing mentally. It’s all very inspirational sounding, but will it inspire you to take action? Will you choose to be more confident, to connect with others, to grow as a person? It’s simple to get started. To finish, a quote from an outdoor enthusiast and local writer you might have heard of.
“It's funny how day by day nothing changes, but when we look back, everything is different”; CS Lewis (Author of The Chronicles of Narnia)
I’d like you to quickly jot down one feeling you would like to feel in the next two weeks. I want you to put that word in your wallet and go out and consciously search for a challenge that gives you that feeling.