3 Life-Transforming Reasons You Should Go on More Adventures

Change Your Input, Change Your Life

3 reasons you need to go on more adventures

When’s the last time you made yourself uncomfortable?

This question isn’t rhetorical and it’s definitely worth answering (at least to yourself).

Why?

Because your answer is indicative of the life you’re currently living – for better or worse.

So many of us instinctively stick to what we know.

We grow up playing certain sports and we stick with them through high school, college and (if we have just the right amount of luck) into our adult years.

The same goes for musical instruments, languages, hobbies and just about everything else in life.

It’s almost as if after we graduate school and get a job, new experiences vanish.

We become adults and we stick to what we know – to what’s comfortable.

It’s a shame, because sticking to what’s comfortable limits the adventures we’ll have in life.

And adventure is what we need now more than ever in a world where sedentary connectivity is the norm.

The following are 3 life-improving reasons you should go on more adventures.

1. Adventure makes you smarter…

In an experiment conducted by German researches, 40 mice were put in a large, enriched environment (5 levels of glass chutes, toys, scaffolds, nesting places and more) and monitored over the course of 3 months.

It turns out that the mice who explored more built more new neurons than those who explored less:

“Researchers found that the brains of the most explorative mice were building more new neurons — a process known as neurogenesis — in the hippocampus, the center for learning and memory, than the animals that were more passive.” [Article]

Neurons are fundamental for the functioning of the brain and body as a whole. 

The more neurons we build, the greater our capacity for motor and sensory development.  If we actively build and engage more neurons we can become better at things like reading comprehension, scientific reasoning and mathematics.

Of course, we’re not rats in a cage, so how can we implement this advice?

Simple:

  • Travel more
  • Travel often (to new places)
  • Travel young (but if you’re not young, travel anyway)

Don’t have the time or means to travel?

  • Go to a new coffee shop
  • Take a new route home
  • Go for a run on new trail
  • Try a new brand
  • Draw
  • Write
  • Start a business
  • Take lessons on any topic you find interesting
  • Read (a lot)

The list could go on for days, literally only limited by your creativity (and if you consider yourself lacking creativity, check out my pay-what-you-want guide: Putting On Your Brain Goggles – it will help you invent, design and develop creative ideas)

In any way you can, expose yourself to new experiences.

The more you explore, the smarter you’ll become.

2.  Adventure gives you photographic memory…

The brain naturally lumps together consistent, similar memories.

This is effective from a storage and functioning standpoint – our brains don’t need superfluous details to function – but it also has drawbacks.

Think about your last year of work or school.  What stands out?

How about from middle school or high school?  What do you remember?

Chances are the majority of your memories are blurred and dull.  The day to day grind fades away over time.  What’s left is a general impression of what life was like at the time…an impression that will continue to shift, distort and change over time as you grow older.

So what happened to the details?

The truth is they’re nowhere to be found because most of our days are monotonous, familiar and ordinary. 

Under conditions like that, details fade.

Which means if you want to improve your memory – if you want to actually remember the details – you need to change things up.

According to psychology writer Claudia Hammod, you are most likely to remember an event if it is “distinctive, vivid, personally involved and is a tale you have recounted many times since.” [Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception]

To create long lasting, detailed memories, focus on these 4 elements of creating a memorable event:

1)      Distinctive – how does it differentiate from your day to day grind?  Changing up coffee shops is a good start.  Taking a day trip to the Bahamas is better.  There’s probably a happy medium in there somewhere.  Experiment and explore and figure out what’s right for you (but different than you’re used to).

2)      Vivid – how many senses are you stimulating?  The more senses we can stimulate at one time – and the better we can focus on this stimulation – the more vivid our memories will be.  Plus, there’s an added benefit to stimulating things like your sense of smell because it’s directly linked to your memory.  And you can make an event vivid without artificial sense stimulants (beer, cigarettes, etc.) – all it takes is awareness and focus.  When in doubt, do things that are intense (and pay attention to the details).

3)      Personal Involvement– you need to be the protagonist of your story.  Watching a rugby game?  Cool.  Playing fly-half and leading your team to a state championship victory?  The latter memory will stay with you longer – much longer.  So as much (and as often) as you can – be the person doing stuff:  Run from the bulls.  Take the wheel.  Make the introduction.  Get out of the bleachers and get into the arena.

4)      Recountable – memories relived are memories remembered (redundant, sure – but still true) .  If you had a remarkable time doing something, make sure to actually remark to someone about it.  Or at least to yourself.  Preferably several times a year.  Memories will stay clear and detailed the more you recollect and recount.

Want to create distinctive, vivid, personally involved, recountable events?

You guessed it – go on more adventures.

Exploring, traveling, learning, creating…all these things automatically hit all 4 elements, and what you’re left with is something you can actually remember in detail.

Photographic memory?

Okay, that’s hyperbole, but it’s pretty darn close.

3.  Adventure lengthens your life…

Or at least the perception of it.

Extraordinary things stick in our minds longer and more clearly than merely ordinary things (see above).

The memory of mundane, comfortable, ordinary routine lumps together and fades away in time.

Novelty, on the other hand, is a jolt to the brain system – we not only remember new experiences more vividly, they also seem longer to us when we reflect on them.  This is called the “Holiday Paradox” by Hammod:  “the contradictory feeling that a good holiday whizzes by, yet feels long when you look back.”

It follows then that the more often we experience change (and the more dramatic the change), the longer our lives will seem.

As a personal anecdote, I remember moving a lot as I grew up.  It seemed like every few years my family would move to a new location.  Sure, I never had the chance to establish roots anywhere, but I think I got the better end of the bargain: a brain constantly exposed to new people, locations and things.

And because it happened every few years, I remember each location uniquely and vividly.

This is in stark contrast to many people I’ve met who’ve spent their whole lives in the same neighborhood or working the same job.  Ask them about the last 5, 10, or 20 years and it’s a blur of sameness.

The question isn’t one of right or wrong, or living a good life or a bad one, or anything like that – the question here is: would you rather have vivid, positive memories throughout your life (and continue to create new, remarkable memories, or would you rather be the person who brings up his high school football highlight reel 20 years later?

So if you want to lengthen your life (or at least the perception of your life), go on more adventures.

If you want to take it one step further and not just lengthen the perception of life, but actually add years to your life, then go on physically strenuous adventures (consistently).

Not only will your life seem longer, you’ll have more years to create new, meaningful memories.

In the End

Will going on adventures make you smarter, improve your memory, and increase your lifespan?

The research suggests it will.

But it comes at a price.

There’s something I didn’t mention earlier but would be remiss not to mention at all: going on adventures, traveling, exploring, creating, learning – these things are fun, exhilarating and enlightening in their own right, but they do come at a price.

Discomfort.

Everything new is uncomfortable.  It has to be by its nature.

And that’s the rub – if you want to live a life of adventure, you need to get used to discomfort.

Sounds easy enough to deal with, but how many people do you know who’ve avoided taking action, avoided trying something new, avoided starting something that might not work because the prospect of doing any of those things is, well, uncomfortable?

Probably more than you or I’d care to admit…

The silver lining: it’s never too late to start. 

It’s never too late to try something new. 

It’s never too late to change.

In the end, the choice – and the responsibility – is entirely yours.

Whatever you decide, I hope you make the right choice for you.

Be bold and keep creating.

(p.s. and go on more adventures)


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How to Find the Strength to Continue When You Feel Like Quitting (a letter to those in the trenches)

On the Pain of Creative Work

Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

Creative work is hard as hell.

If you’re a writer, entrepreneur, or anyone else challenging and pushing boundaries (read: instigator), you know what I’m talking about.

In fact, creative work is probably the hardest work there is – something only those bold enough to create can appreciate.

But what makes creative work so hard?

1.  Creative work is uncertain

Doing creative work means we can fail at any point.

All the hard work we do this week, this month or this year could end up being for nothing.  No reward.  No payout.  No bonus.

In the beginning, most bootstrappers work 80 hour weeks and make sweat shop wages.  To make matters worse, the majority of startups fail.  And for the aspiring writer?  The landscape is even bleaker…

2.  Creative work is exhausting

Creative work requires us to be on point every hour of every day.

If we’re not doing our best work, if we’re not going as hard as we can, if we’re not constantly pushing the boundaries, then we’re at risk of being overshadowed by someone who’s willing to hustle harder.  The fear is this: any moment we fail to capitalize on is a moment that could have been our tipping point – the thing that allows us to break out of obscurity.

Worse yet, the only thing more exhausting than putting our mind, body and soul into a project, day after day, is the anxiety we experience from the thought of wasting time or losing ground…

3.  Creative work is lonely

For most of us, creating something from scratch requires long periods of time devoted to working in solitude.

This requires a great deal of self-imposed isolation – something that inevitably becomes lonely over a period of time.  This isolation is made even more painful when the few times we do interact with other people they don’t “get” what we’re doing.

The only thing lonelier than working in isolation is working beside people who don’t get what you’re doing.

Finding the Strength to Continue

Face it, if you do creative work, at some point the uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness will make you want to quit.

I can’t tell you how many times a week (a day?) I want to throw in the towel and walk away.

This is the inner creative war we each have to fight if we want to do great work.

It’s at times like this, when things get darkest, you need to remember what’s important.

Remember…

  • Remember, you didn’t sign up for consistency, safety, or security – that wasn’t part of the deal.  You signed up for the thrill (and payoff) of the big win.  And sometimes that means taking big losses.  Everyone falls and everyone fails.  That’s the easy part.  Only those with courage rise again, dust themselves off, and enter the fray once more.  Be courageous.  Keep doing the work.

 

  • Remember the power you have as the underdog, the creative insurgent, and the unpredictable instigator.  While big companies worry about maintaining the status quo, you have the opportunity to disrupt everything.  Accept this opportunity gladly.  Take action boldly.

 

  • Remember the power of compounding interest.  A small action today doesn’t mean much.  A years worth of small actions could change your life.

 

  • Remember, it’s not  about the money – it’s about the experience of the journey and the opportunity for growth along the way.  Sometimes (most times), the experience and education is worth way more than the money anyway.  Work hard.  Learn a lot.  Enjoy the journey.  The money will come.

 

  • Remember, your power isn’t based on the tangible assets you own, but the creative assets you develop.  You might start with “nothing,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t create everything.  Start with what inspires you.  Build/Design/Create that first.  Over time, the cumulative results of your effort will stand like a brilliant empire of creative work.  This is your life’s work.  This is what matters.

 

  • Remember, even if the first hundred attempts don’t work, you only truly fail if you stop trying.  But also remember that you will inevitably fail if you don’t learn from your mistakes.  Trial and error works only if you measure the trials and learn from the errors.  What I’m trying to say is if you’re re-routing, stop.  Focus on what’s important and keep tweaking, testing, and experimenting until it works.

 

  • Remember, it’s not worth doing if you don’t enjoy it.  That doesn’t mean you should quit when the writing gets painful (it will), or when the business takes a dive (it might) – these things are the headaches we accept as artists and entrepreneurs.  I’m talking about a deeper, core enjoyment – the kind you get from doing worthwhile work.  If, at the end of the day, you’re miserable with the work you do and the life you’re living – change it.  We have one life – a shorter life than you can possibly imagine.  You may have another 30 years left or you might be gone tomorrow. Why spend even one second NOT doing something worthwhile?

But most of all, remember this:

The rest of the world probably won’t get why you do what you do.

But you didn’t do it for them, did you?

Do the work.  Do YOUR work.  And do it for the happy few who want what you create.

Serve those people.

Ignore everyone else.

They’re not worth a second of your time anyway.

A Caveat

Creative work is hard…

But here’s the thing: life is hard.

Any course of action you choose in life will be hard – hard because you chose to enter the trenches, fight the creative fight, and do work that matters, or hard because you chose to avoid the trenches, insolate yourself from challenging, impactful work, and accept what life throws at you.

I’m sorry, but there’s no happy medium, no painless compromise.

These are the only two options.

So what will you choose?

Call me a ruffian, but I’ll choose the former.

I hope you do the same.


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Never Compromise

Just One Person

In my previous post, I wrote about great work.

Great work is impactful work – the kind that resonates with a person (or a million people) for years to follow.

The sole criteria for determining great work is impact, and that’s specifically and uniquely determined by the person or people experiencing the work.

If you impact just one person, you’ve created great work.

So how do we impact just one person?

Start with Why

In my article on bootstrapping a business, my #2 tip was this: know your why.

But this isn’t a tip just for bootstrappers, it’s for everyone in life who wants to make an impact.

Why do you do what you do?

Why do you create?

Why do you sweat, bleed and suffer everyday over your work?

These are the questions we, the audience, the readers, the experiencers of your work care about.  We don’t care what your product or service does until we know why you’re doing it.

“People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.” [Simon Sinek]

Think about it: no one wants to be swindled. 

As the consumer, the first thought we have when we encounter another person is if he or she is the real deal, if what they’re offering is legitimate and authentic.

The only way to assuage our fears is by telling us your why.

When we know your why, we’re on board.

If your why is nonexistent or superficial or doesn’t resonate with us, we move on to the next project.

And in a noisy world full of projects, moving onto something other than what’s being offered is very, very easy.

Live Your Why

This next step is simple:

>> This guy made happy art.

Once you know your why, live your why.

If you create art to make people happy, make your happy art every day.

If you take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, take care of them every day.

If you build products that change people’s lives, build life changing products every day.

You might be thinking this is so simple it’s not even worth mentioning.

But living your why cuts both ways…

Never Compromise

When you live your why, you can’t cut corners anymore:

You can’t cut ingredients to increase margins. 

You can’t cut out the personal interaction to scale your company. 

You can’t cut effort to take on more projects at one time.

In the movie Watchmen, the upstanding, idealistic Rorschach is offered a chance to save himself but compromise his integrity in the process.

Rorschach’s response:

“Never compromise.  Not even in the fact of Armageddon.” [Watchmen]

Maybe we’re not superheroes and life’s not a movie, but the principle applies:

If you want to do great work, if you want to make an impact, then you need to know and live your why.

And that means never compromising – not even in the face of Armageddon.

Simple…not easy.

The Surprisingly Simple Way to Overcome Creative Block

The Blockovercoming creative block

Have you ever tried writing a book, a blog, or business copy?

If so, you’ve probably experience writers block: the inability to form your ideas into the perfect words, sentences, and paragraphs.

But this type of block isn’t exclusive to writers.

All creative entrepreneurs – from writers, designers, and inventors, to artists, marketers, and entrepreneurs, experience creative block.

Creative block is the inability to satisfactorily form into something tangible the ephemeral ideas in your mind.

Creative block can hit anyone trying to tell the perfect story, build the perfect product, or produce the perfect piece of art.

And if you’ve experienced creative block, you know what an infuriating pain it is and how quickly it can cripple your project.

You also understand one thing only the few brave enough to create understand: Creative block is real.

The Tool of the Creative Enemy

Creative block is one of the Enemy’s most effective creativity-destroying weapons.

If you’re not careful, the Enemy will use creative block to get you to quit your project prematurely, give up before you even start, or abandon your life’s work althogether.

Don’t give up – there is a way to fight back and overcome creative block, once and for all.

But you must be ready to go to war with yourself and your art.

If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. [Dale Carnegie]

The Paradox

There are ideas in your head – ideas that may be vivid, logical and clear before you sit down to write – but the moment you put pen to paper (fingers on keyboard) they vanish.

You sit down to bring these ideas to life but the ideas fade into nothing.

You stare at the screen desperately, hoping through sheer willpower you’ll be able to form your perfect idea into the perfect sentence…but it’s gone.

The worst part – throughout the day you had no problem at all coming up with great ideas.

But they all came at the most inopportune times.

These brilliant ideas come to you in their lucid entirety while driving, showering, or eating; while mindlessly folding clothes, lifting weights, or going on a long run; while in a conversation, reading a book, or listening to a presentation.

But the moment you need them – sitting in front of the blank screen – they vanish.

It seems like when you don’t need the ideas, the ideas come in waves, but when you need the ideas – when you sit down to write; when getting words on paper is the only thing that counts – the ideas disappear.

Insurmountable?

Hardly.

The Reality of Creative Block

There are ways to overcome creative block.

It starts with identifying the reality of the situation: yes, creative block exists…

But only when we care deeply about what we create and how people will perceive it.

If you don’t care about what you write, or you’re not concerned with how it’s perceived, you can write freely and unencumbered (think personal journal or email to a close friend).

For those who care about their work and about how it’s perceived, overcoming creative block can be a bit trickier.

Two Techniques that Don’t Work for Overcoming the Block

Fighting back against creative block is hard if we do it through force.

The two most common techniques are:

  1. Forcing the “Right” Words
  2. Waiting for “Inspiration”

Both of these techniques are equally ineffective and will wreck you in different ways.

Both are tools of the Enemy.

Both will bury you.

The only way to overcome creative block is through the circumvention of disempowering thoughts, and focused discipline of good habits.

Simply Create

Forcing the right words never works.

When we sit in front of a computer all day, stressing and straining to get the “right” words onto the screen, we begin our descent into the self-perpetuating abyss of wasted time.

If the words don’t come out right the first hour at your computer, they sure won’t come out right by hour five.

They won’t come out right because they can’t: the words you write are never right.  They’re also never wrong. 

When we focus on creating the perfect sentence, the perfect flow, the perfect tone, style, or theme, we forget what’s ACTUALLY important: the message. 

We forget our purpose; we forget our why; we forget the entire concept of art, which is this: art is never right or wrong.

The first and often most effective way to overcome creative block is to forget forcing the right words and begin allowing the wrong words…

People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. [Anna Quindlen]

Eventually, once you allow enough of the wrong words, you’ll forget right and wrong altogether and simply create.

Disciplined Inspiration

Waiting for inspiration is pointless and futile.

Often, when we’re burned out, tired, or simply unmotivated, we rationalize taking off days, weeks, or months so we can reset and recharge.

The thought process: if I’m well rested, if I take some days of to reset my mind, I’ll come back better and stronger.  Plus, the best writing is inspired writing, so I must wait until I’m inspired before I write.

This is the Enemy at work.

The Enemy will justify why you should rest and save strength, why taking a break for an indefinite period is essential for creativity, and why avoiding writing is the surest way to clear your mind for more writing.

Lies.

The Enemy uses creative block to dismantle and destroy your project because it needs you sedated, compromised and passive.

The Enemy’s survival depends on keeping you safely hidden inside the group so as not to expose yourself through your art.

The Enemy fears you as an outlier and uses thoughts of ‘waiting for inspiration’ to cripple your dreams.

Don’t accept this for one second.

Here’s the reality: inspiration comes to those who grind, work, and create.

Inspiration comes to those who allow it to happen through movement, through action, through consistent, repeated behavior.

Inspiration comes to those who are disciplined.

I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning. [William Faulkner]

Sit down and create every day and you will find your inspiration.

The Courage to Create

When we put our words, ideas, and art out there; when we produce publicly; when we tell everyone who we are and what we’re about, we expose ourselves to the tribe.

And the tribe isn’t always on our side.

This fear of the tribe, of judgment and criticism, keeps many people from starting, finishing, and shipping their great work.

Overcoming creative block really isn’t a secret.  It just means doing the work every day.

But you already knew that.

The real question is: do you have the courage to create in spite of these fears?

And that, like everything important in life, is your choice.

 Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. [Mark Twain]