Harnessing the power of the micro-adventure

When you really feel like you need a lift but you’re short on time or funds, a micro-adventure can work small miracles.

In an ideal world we’d all like to explore Patagonia, drive Route 66, walk to John O’Groats and generally do the kind of things that make Bear Grylls look a bit of a slacker in comparison. But we’ve also got to work, help the kids with their project, mend the garden fence or look out for our elderly parents. And Patagonia is expensive.

There’s always the annual holiday, but while some of us admirably pack in a bit of coasteering (where you jump off rocks into the sea), or a trek up the local mountain, most of us are more likely to be flumping on the sun lounger.

Micro-adventures offer a realistic escape to wilderness, simplicity and the great outdoors.

If you’re one of those who wishes they could get more out of life but are constrained by time and lack of cash, then say hello to the micro-adventure.

What is a micro-adventure?

They are described as short, achievable adventures for ‘normal people with real lives’ by someone whose life has actually been anything but normal. British writer Alastair Humphreys took four years to cycle 46,000 miles round the world, rowed the English Channel with Major Phil Packer to raise money for Help for Heroes, and in spring 2009, walked across India. But it was his championing of the micro-adventure which earned him the accolade of National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year in 2012. “Adventure,” he says, “is a state of mind”.

He believes that as we become “increasingly urbanised, busy, and stuck in front of a screen”, micro-adventures offer a realistic escape to wilderness, simplicity and the great outdoors, without the need to ski to the South Pole or go live in a cabin in Patagonia.

Part of our brain literally ‘lights up’ when we make adventurous choices.

He suggests starting with a camp-out, perhaps in a wild spot or on a hill or even in your own back garden and preferably without a tent. He urges would-be adventurers to go for a walk under the full moon because; ‘Local, familiar places look different and exciting after dark.’ For a longer trip he suggests walking from the place your mother was born to where your Dad was born. ‘The journey doesn’t matter – it is what you see and experience along the way that is so exciting,’ he says.

The main thing is that micro-adventures shouldn’t require expensive equipment, extensive travel arrangements, a lot of time or too much organisation.

Interested? Good, because it gets even better – research is starting to show that micro-adventures can actually change your life.

How does it change my life?!

Researchers at University College London discovered that part of our brain literally ‘lights up’ when people make ‘adventurous choices’, opting for the unfamiliar rather than the known. Trying something new, said the researchers, is accompanied by a feeling of reward which contributes to feelings of well-being.

In March last year the Adventure Tourism Research Association offered a PhD scholarship on the mental health benefits of adventure. According to ATRA, the cost of psychological health issues is calculated at £70 to £100 billion a year, and it noted that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed by Sport England reported that participation in adventurous activities enhanced their wellbeing. According to ATRA, ‘Adventure has the potential to be a viable element of the nation’s wellbeing promotion and illness prevention strategy for a range of psychological (and physical) wellbeing measures.’

Challenging situations allow coping skills to be developed through problem-solving.

In separate research, psychologists concluded that adventure-based activity should be considered ‘a mainstream intervention for positive mental health’.

It is also becoming understood that challenging situations (even those encountered through a micro-adventure) allow coping skills to be developed through problem-solving. Psychotherapist Nancy Bell is unsurprised by this as she has often noted the positive effect on her clients of what could be described as micro-adventures.

“Encouraging people to try something different or do something new on a manageable scale has huge benefits because it’s achievable,” she says. “A sense of achievement from doing something you haven’t before, like walking an unfamiliar route, can really impact your mental health, sense of self and well-being.”

The reason for this, she says, is because, “Clients may start thinking: ‘I’m the kind of person who does that’ and they take a different and more positive view of themselves. Rather than thinking it’s just other people that have adventures, they realise it can be them, too, and that improves other areas of their life. What we do can impact who we feel we are.”

Help with depression

For people suffering anxiety or depression this kind of personal revelation can help build confidence to take bigger steps. And, says Bell, it can also be a form of mindfulness. “If you’re doing something, new, unfamiliar and physical it takes concentration and can take your mind away from your concerns,” she says.

“I think there’s something about doing something for yourself that doesn’t necessarily have an economic outcome that is hugely enriching.”

So, what are you waiting for? If you agree with Alastair Humphreys that ‘micro-adventures are ‘a refresh button for busy lives’, here are ten top ideas on how to have one.

10 ideas for micro-adventures

  1. Get up early, walk up the highest hill in your area and watch the summer – or winter -solstice.
  2. During your lunch break, walk to an unfamiliar part of town. I discovered a beautiful ornamental pond in the area where I worked that I’d never known existed before.
  3. Walk or cycle home from work instead of using the train or car. According to Alastair Humphreys you’ll get a whole new perspective on the journey.
  4. After reading some safety advice (the Royal Lifesaving Society UK rlss.org.uk has some excellent information) go for a wild swim in a river, lake or the sea
  5. If the building you work in is big enough, explore a part of it you’ve never visited. I found a new staircase leading to a suite of (deserted) offices in a building I’d worked in for 20 years.
  6. Walk out of your house to a place you’ve always wanted to visit (my son trekked from Hampshire to Stonehenge over three days one summer).
  7. Sleep outdoors. Without a tent. (If very nervous, try it in your garden first.)
  8. Visit a church or public building you’ve never been into before.
  9. Taking account of your abilities and safety advice, try and climb a tree. Even if you only get to sit on the lowest branch, life looks different from up there.
  10. Walk round the M25. If that’s too far, look up your parish boundary or postcode on a map and walk round that.
© 2017 JRP Group
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