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Blessed are the Map Makers

We can become fixated on achieving a goal by a chosen route, to the point of feeling defeated if 'failing' to overcome obstacles. But exploring beyond the standard route 'off the beaten track' can enrich our knowledge and expertise. And grow our brains...

In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!

“...those who have deviated from the path, explored side paths, circumnavigated the hillside, crossed streams, obstacles, roamed more widely, will have a far more detailed map of the terrain. ”

Build a richer map...deviate from the path!

As a companion piece to the earlier ‘Get Lost!!’, let’s talk about how to make sure you benefit from being ‘off the beaten track’, as an antidote to feeling defeated and a ‘failure’.

Despite the best laid plans of mice and men, life doesn’t tend to play ball. It’s great to be driven, goal focused, purpose driven, but sometimes this can weigh heavily around the neck when the summit just doesn’t seem to get any closer.

In mountaineering circles there are many examples of ‘failure’ to get to the top of a chosen peak. A test of character ensues – many may be ‘broken’ by the perceived lack of success, after giving it one’s all, invested heavily in getting there, making many sacrifices along the way.

But ‘failure’ is a loaded word, much like ‘stress’, which also carries (needless) connotations of negativity. Stress can be facilitatory, just as ‘failure’ can also be seen as a welcomed signpost on the way to achieving better things.

In building muscular strength and endurance one needs resistance to push back against and stimulate growth. Likewise with ‘mental fitness’ in that stress, pressure, adversity, challenge, all provide that impetus to build resilience, adaptive capacity, and personal development!

If we focus on ‘getting to the top’ by a defined route (I.e. one that has already been bush-wacked, is rutted, clearly marked out), then we may get to the summit and temporarily achieve wanted goals. But if we falter long the way, beaten back by the weather, an injury, or run out of time (and steam), ‘failure’-related thinking may set in. Repeat this persistently (mountains and weather are fickle goddesses) and one may feel a crushing sense of defeat, question one’s resolve and value in a wider context. But imagine that persistence holds fast and over time, like in Groundhog Day, you decide to try different routes instead of always trying the same old path. One day the penny drops and you realise you may have not reached the true summit you were striving for, but you have become an unwitting expert in navigating the terrain of the whole mountainside.

What this means is that those who may get to the top (or persist along the same route) by the conventional path will have developed a fairly narrow and sparse ‘map’ of the world, based on this experience of striving to achieve a goal. But those who have deviated from the path, explored side paths, circumnavigated the hillside, crossed streams, obstacles, roamed more widely, will have a far more detailed map of the terrain. They have become Map Makers without realising it. They are ‘domain experts’. They will now see where so many routes link together, a bigger picture, viewed from above. Now they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to find alternate ways to get to that summit point without being reliant on following signposts, treading in the footsteps of others.

The trick is to recognise this knowledge that has been accrued, to draw out the map and populate the terrain with all the features, details, contours, landmarks that have been picked up on. This will help those who follow seek also alternate ways off the beaten track.

As someone who is persistent and driven to the point of obsession, it is an important learning to take stock of my location on the map, to acknowledge that where I feel frustrated perhaps at not being exactly where I envisaged I would be (after a lifetime of striving!) I have gained so much through persistence. I can look at the map I have created and be assured that I do in fact know where I am, and that I have so many more paths I can take (or create) across the bleak expanse (which I now see to be rich in varied detail).

So I would encourage you to explore off the beaten track. To not be enslaved by a desire to get to the summit by the well worn track, simply because it tells you which way to go. And to see failure to get to where you want to get to as a really good opportunity to deviate - to stride off through the thicket to see what lies in the uncertain tract of land beyond the undergrowth!

And take stock as you break trail. Soon you will have built your own map of the terrain and will see how it comes together as a richly detailed canvas that you can pore over and be proud of!

In a well known scientific study, it was found that London cabbies develop a larger hippocampus - a key area involved in creating spatial maps of the world with which to navigate – due to learning The Knowledge (a comprehensive understanding of how the vast network of city streets link together). You can become like the cabbie who has the capacity to find ways round an obstacle to progress, going down a side path and circumventing blockage on the main drag. You will develop likewise a larger hippocampus! You will have a wealth of knowledge to draw on in helping find solutions to the problem and negotiate a route to the goal that drives you.

Or you can take the bus, sit back and let the driver get you to the destination, perhaps little the wiser to the details of the journey. And if there’s a traffic jam or a blockage, well you’ll just have to sit it out and wait. Or get off and walk home.

What’s it to be?

As they say, “Blessed are the Map-Makers, for they shall inherit the Earth!!”

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