With lockdown easing and the summer sun luring us outside, now is the time to plan your next ultra-endurance run, long-distance ride or once-in-a-lifetime challenge.

But to achieve your adventure goals, you will also need to conquer the stress, anxiety, fear and self-doubt evoked by pushing your limits.

“Adventure activities are by their very nature uncertain,” explains Professor Andy Lane, director of research excellence at the University of Wolverhampton, and an expert on the mindset of explorers and ultra-endurance athletes. 

“That uncertainty produces a range of emotions, but part of the motivation is to meet all the challenges presented. However, in order to prepare yourself ‘to boldly go where no man’s been before’, psychological preparation is needed.”

From imagery to self-talk, here’s Prof Lane’s guide to building the mind of an adventurer. 

1. Embrace the unknown

Whatever adventure you’re planning, begin by accepting that it will be full of surprises.

“Go knowingly into the unknown,” advises Prof Lane. “Accept that there is uncertainty ahead, and that overcoming uncertainty is one of the reasons you are doing the challenge. This is an attitude that you need to accept.”

To help prepare, try to identify in advance what challenges you might face.

“List a number of factors, by reading blogs and seeing what others have said,” advises Prof Lane. “Note the variation between people, and the way they approach different aspects, but also the number of times they had to face a challenge they were not expecting. Get ready for the unknown and relish it.”

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2. Don’t be a victim

“Feeling sorry for yourself, regretting the decision to start your adventure, feeling overly tired… these are all real responses from adventurers in demanding challenges,” reveals Prof Lane. “The challenge is partly about overcoming your inner demons, and one of those is to remain optimistic and hopeful and not to have a victim mentality.”

If you feel any negativity coming on, reframe your mindset.

“Moaning and self-chastising will simply make you feel negative,” says Prof Lane. “The best coping method is to take each task one at a time. Focus on the task in hand. What can you do right now? Then start planning from there. Always remind yourself that you have hope and you have a chance.”

3. Know your own mind

The best way to prepare for tough situations on your summer adventure is to learn about your own emotions in training.

“You will experience a range of feelings, some pleasant and some unpleasant, and these feelings will influence your thoughts and actions,” explains Prof Lane. “So really get to know your moods. Learn to recognise what you are feeling and the accompanying thoughts and decide whether they are useful or not.

“Keep a mood diary, so that you learn about your everyday moods and consider what you can do to change any unwanted mood. By practising, you will learn to become more efficient at changing a bad mood which may otherwise prove to be self-sabotaging on your adventure.”

4. Keep a bag of tricks

Even with all your planning, preparation and practise, things will happen on your adventure which will surprise you, so build up a psychological tool kit for when things get tough.

“Psychological skills such as goal-setting, imagery, self-talk, and relaxation techniques are all useful on your adventure,” says Prof Lane. “Goal-setting helps you to keep your focus on the most relevant factors; using imagery encourages you to see yourself overcoming difficult challenges; self-talk can increase your motivation; and relaxation techniques will help when your emotions get intense and you need to calm down.”

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Even the heroic polar explorers Prof Lane has worked with still experience primal fear. “The nature of the challenge almost makes it inevitable,” he explains.

But whether you find yourself in trouble on a high mountain ridge, or feel on edge when you’re hurtling down a bike trail at speed, you need to learn how to neutralise that fear.

Simply understanding the different types of fear we face can really help.

“In our interview with the polar explorer Rosie Stancer, she identified the ‘Hitchcock fear’ (the psychological fear of the unknown) but also the ‘Harrison Ford’ fear (when there is action happening all around you),” explains Prof Lane.

Understanding and untangling the different genres of fear you experience can help you decide how best to react: do you need to calm your racing mind, block out unhelpful environmental distractions, or take emergency action?

“In terms of coping with fear, she also felt that you have to believe in yourself and your survival,” continues Prof Lane.

“She noted a need to accept things you cannot control, like extreme weather, but also to know that you can always change your own reaction to them.”

Reflecting on difficult past experiences can also help you to neutralise unwelcome fears.

“Where have you overcome difficult challenges? What did you do? What mindset helped? What decisions did you do that were right?” suggests Prof Lane. “Reflecting on those moments will give you a bank of ‘fear-busters’ ready for any adventure situation.”


Words: Mark Bailey