Every picture, so they say, tells a story. My story is about trying new things, striving to be a bit different to the norm...
One November day a few years back I decided to challenge some preconceptions. Diving and climbing don't as a rule mix. An impressive waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales was the setting. I determined to gain access from above, abseiling in full dive gear into a raging torrent, to get below and behind and see what lay hidden. It didn't quite go to plan. The current was strong, my fin was ripped off, I had to bail out. I had back up plans, safety support, contingencies in place. I didn't fail, I achieved something new!
It was enlightening, but importantly it was a blast!
CognitvExplorer is about putting oneself into positions that are sometimes novel, uncertain, exploratory. Thinking outside the box. Drawing on skills and experience to stretch one's capacity into new territories.
This is one of the most informative things we can do mentally, to stretch our horizons and broaden our perceptions of what we can do in the world 'out there'.
My pursuits in adult life are motivated from early experiences as a child in uncomfortable situations around water and in exposure to heights. Both scared the bejeezus out of me. In later life I sought to approach these fears by getting into SCUBA (and technical) diving, and by exploring the world through mountaineering.
Both environmental contexts still scare me, but the fear is thrilling, empowering, and provides psychological resilience in spades!
CognitvExplorer was borne from this motivation, coupled with a lifelong interest in how the brain responds to the environment, to stress and to challenge. A career in scientific research has seen me develop these ideas at the cutting edge of psychology, and cognitive neuroscience.
By understanding how the brain organises its resources it is possible to appreciate, and tap into, potential to exceed our self-imposed limitations.
I have worked with academic institutions in the UK and abroad (including University of Manchester, Liverpool John Moores University, University of Liverpool, Bangor University, University of Nottingham, University of Valparaiso, Chile) drawing on a wide network of collaborators in my research programme. This has real world applications through the adventure pursuits enterprises I am involved with looking at both mental health and extreme performance aspects. The foundation for this is in understanding how brain mechanisms involved in attentional resource allocation depend upon (environmental) context and task demands. With a neuroscientific basis, we can begin to see how to tap into these mechanisms to improve performance, manage stress responses, and gain control over the psychological processes that determine how we approach the challenges of life.
One thing I have learnt in life is to seize opportunities, being reticent to do so when younger. This entails a degree of cognitive flexibility, pushing aside preconceptions about what one 'should' be doing according to the conventional template. Our routine behaviours, habits (and attitudes) can lock us into a narrow way of operating, sometimes giving the illusion we are content when we are yearning for something more.
In 2018, when my life circumstances were thrown into disarray, two significant opportunities arose, and whilst at perhaps my lowest ebb something inside me grasped the chance to expand my mental horizons and I haven't looked back since!
The first involved going away to sea on a voyage that lasted several days and nights, sailing through the dark, alone on the helm with no prior experience and a different set of expectations to what transpired. Taxing, rewarding, demanding discipline and resolve, this lay the foundation for my involvement in charity enterprises that help those who have fallen on hard times, suffering from mental health conditions, to restore purpose and refocus on positive goals in life.
The second saw me become part of a community of extreme sports practitioners, witnessing first hand the pioneering achievements of BASE jumpers in the UK. I began documenting this, publishing my photography in the national press on a regular basis and writing on the subject of neuropsychology and extreme performance. This set my research back on course to understand how brains work under extreme stress, and how insights from this community can actually help anyone overcome fears, manage stress, and address mental health issues!
I have a featured article on this subject in the British Mountaineering Council's flagship magazine SUMMIT, and more articles forthcoming. You can read about this via the link below.
Chartered Psychologist (British Psychological Society)
Mountain Leader (Summer) award
Day Skipper licenced including RYA theory certification
First Aid certified (including Outdoor First Aid)
Master Scuba Diver (PADI)
Level 1 Trimix (Mixed Gas and Decompression) - (PSA)
Primary Certificate in Performance Coaching psychology
Rope security skills for adventure photography, working with Mountain Man BASE team
Alpine and Arctic mountaineering skills instruction undertaken in the field (Scottish winter, Alps, Andes, Greenland)
Affiliated with Shadow Wind Community Interest Company (Director for Research and Social Impact)
Published photographer and writer
Film direction and scripting - watch the story of Hans' return to BASE, overcoming psychological barriers and adversity here with more exciting projects in the pipeline