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Becoming self-proficient: mapping new territory

Irrespective of age, or where you are in life, there's room to explore new terrain. Self-limiting beliefs keep us rooted to the spot, but there is so much to gain from striding off into the wild, map in hand, to expand your horizons. The CognitvExplorer approach mixes wilderness-based experiences with practical skills in navigation and coaching principles derived from science on how to maximise potential. We can be afraid of getting lost, but equipped with some knowledge of map-reading and navigation, we become empowered to find our way back, richer for the experience! In the wilds as in life...

I've been setting out a philosophy in my blogs which promotes the concept of an Adventure Mindset as a means to thrive on life's challenges. This incorporates an understanding of how the brain functions under stress (from my research into cognitive neuroscience), with techniques and concepts from coaching practice that help people achieve goals and overcome sticking points. The ambition is to help folks unlock potential and live happier, more fulfilled lives! In short, being more adventurous in thought and action.

“Exploration, curiosity, lie at the heart of motivation and drive, seeking out new information and terrain to integrate into one’s cognitive map. But also exploiting knowledge gained over experience. And as we see in the wilds, learning new skills in navigation and route finding empowers us to push deeper into unexplored territory!"


I've been working with an adventurous-minded client this week up in the Lake District.

Whilst very capable, a business owner, she wanted to improve her confidence getting out in the wild, and as a means to rejuvenate, refresh, and find ways to de-stress.

And further to stress the benefits that adventure can confer, age is not a limitation. A septuagenarian, we joked that the experience would be like Bear Grylls meets Driving Miss Daisy...

Whilst the weather was glorious, wintry conditions and cold meant our options were restricted in the fells avoiding snowy, icy slopes to keep safe. Taking the mindset that opportunities emerge when plans are disrupted, we drew on this as a challenge!

Challenge (and adventure) is about stretching a little beyond the comfort zone: it's too easy to just go the cake shop, cut the walk short, keep the path level.

We did go to the cake shop, but don’t tell anybody.

I like to encourage clients to become curious about what’s round the corner, what is to be found higher up beyond the limits of what we can see. This curiosity shifts attention out into the world and provides energy to drive us forward. It helps us move outside of our own heads, the preconceptions we have about what we want to achieve and the inner voice that holds us back. In effect, overcoming self-limiting beliefs.

As a rule of thumb, we come to a turning point in ourselves when bodily signals warn us we are approaching the edge of the comfort zone. It’s all too easy to interpret this as the limit to our capability. But it might be just 80% (or less) of what we are capable of achieving. In fact, that extra 20% is where the growth and innovation occurs. The signal is more likely a forewarning that more energy reserves are about to be released, rather than an alarm that the tank is empty! I like to nudge people into that 20% zone and encourage them to explore this new terrain as a counter to being persuaded to turn back or take the easier path...

As well as providing mountain and wilderness guidance to keep the client safe, motivated, informed, my approach introduces some science-based concepts concerning how the mind and body work together.

This serves to raise awareness about the mechanisms that underlie behaviours, motivations, perceptions and expectations. And importantly how different strategies and exposure to adventurous situations can modify those mechanisms and improve performance, mindset, self-control.

For instance, how we process those bodily signals associated with discomfort, change of internal equilibrium, fatigue, fear or stress, depends on a process known as ‘interoception’. This is perception of internal bodily state. As opposed to ‘exteroception’ which is perception of signals arising from the external environment (ie. what comes in through our senses). As we move from the flat valley floor to the increasingly steep slope we begin to notice the exertion, discomfort. This can lead to a change in mood, negative associations, self-doubt. But we can anticipate all this and frame it in terms of the change in equilibrium and the body switching gears to release energy for the goal ahead.

Many of the concepts have bearing on practices such as mindfulness, but this extra layer of understanding provides explanation of mechanisms and how we can use these to perform in a better, more satisfactory way.

I explain how this all relates to the self-doubt we may feel as the going gets tough, or the limiting beliefs we impose upon ourselves. Being out in the wild stimulated by nature, heading towards an objective in the distance, exploring the surroundings, all engage mind-body mechanisms that switch our attention from the internal self to the outside world where we can have impact. This influences what we see and notice, and how we see as our eyes rove around and take in the scenery, processing avenues for opportunity...Some research has even shown that with age there can be a tendency to look around less, remaining fixated on things before us, only concerned with what is already within our accepted frame of references.

It’s not all ‘neurobabble’ as we joke – for days out in the hills provoke humour and an inevitable bond (see earlier ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ reference). Indeed, the confidence comes from learning some essential skills and practicing navigation techniques.

To this end we worked on map reading basics: relating the two-dimensional map to the three-dimensional ground; orienting the compass correctly; contours and slope angles. How knowledge can dispel ignorance – and anxiety. There is little more stressful than being lost in the wilds. And few things more empowering than knowing you have the skills to find your way back!

We covered a lot of ground in a couple of days – geographically as well as in terms of learning how to become more self-sufficient in the wilderness.

The approach I offer couches guiding in the wild incorporating fundamental mountain skills mixed with a coaching-style grounded in science-based principles. It’s about finding balance to encourage the client to understand how becoming self-sufficient in the wilderness is transferable to managing everyday demands. Becoming in effect, self-proficient generally. The mentality embraces an ability to engage exploratory and exploitatory modes. Exploration, curiosity, lie at the heart of motivation and drive, seeking out new information and terrain to integrate into one’s cognitive map. But also exploiting knowledge gained over experience. And as we see in the wilds, learning new skills in navigation and route finding empowers us to push deeper into unexplored territory whilst drawing on the knowledge we have accrued on the journey!

As the map relates to the ground, so does the cognitive map relate to our journey through life. Whatever your place, or age, exploring your options, being curious, and embracing challenge can improve confidence and empower forward progress.

Through CognitvExplorer I promote services including 1-2-1 and group guided mountain and wilderness journeys with a coaching element as required. I also deliver talks and workshops to organisations about the method described: how adventure and challenge can bring out the best in us.

So please reach out to initiate our journey together. Whether you are just wanting to stretch your legs a little further into the wild, or represent an organisation that can benefit from leaning more about the CognitvExplorer approach to stress management, self-development and performance optimisation!


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