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Takeaways from Outward Bound

In September, I completed an 8-day course at Outward Bound. I was very fortunate to be given an opportunity at short-notice to attend this course, and having only heard amazing things about OB, I said ‘yes!’. 2 weeks later, I was in beautiful Anakiwa.

It’s hard to comprehensively sum up such a full-on 8 day experience, so instead I’ll concentrate on just a few insights / lessons learned during my time there.

Physical fitness improves mental resilience

Many of the activities at OB are designed to be physically challenging, and they are.

Call it good timing for OB, but I’m about as fit as I’ve ever been. Getting fit hasn’t been a specific goal of mine; it’s come about more as a by-product of doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Because of this, I didn’t realise quite how beneficial my fitness is, as it relates to my mental resilience.

Whether it was morning PT sessions (running, circuit-training, swimming), full-day uphill hiking, rock climbing, rowing, sailing, we did something physically challenging every day.

Nearing the summit of Mount Onahau

Pretty early on, I realised that I never felt worried about whether I could complete any of these tasks. In fact, I felt quite the opposite – Bring it on!

Not having to worry about my fitness or strength freed me up to approach activities from other angles: rock climbing suddenly became an opportunity to work on grip strength and weight distribution, the high-ropes became an opportunity to work on balance, an 8-hour hike turned into an opportunity to reflect, morning runs became enjoyable – could I beat my previous time? What would it feel like to push myself and leave it all out there? I tell you what – it felt great.

Pack the day – you won’t regret it

They say OB is like the army run by hippies, and that’s true. You get up around 5:30 every morning and do PT & have a swim. After breakfast, you embark on whatever is planned for you that day, and you go, go, go, pretty much until bedtime. You don’t have much downtime, and, as a result, you pack a huge amount into one day.

You do this back-to-back, every single day you’re down there, and, as a result, not only do you go to bed feeling immensely satisfied with what you’ve achieved during the day, you realise that you can do so much in one day – it just takes effort.

This was highlighted to me in a big way on day 5. I’d only managed to get about 2 hours of sleep out in the bush, having been very uncomfortable and pestered by a possum. I woke up feeling groggy and not all that keen to do anything. That day, we ended up filling the day with some morning Qi Gong (check it out, it’s fun!), some group activities, a hike, and a high-ropes course in the trees at night! It must have been about 9pm by the time we finished up and went to bed, and I was on such a high that I could have stayed up doing more. I had actually forgotten about my lack of sleep the night before.

Qi Gong in the morning

Of course, you wouldn’t want to operate on 2 hours of sleep every day. But it showed me that I make far too many excuses in daily life: ‘I don’t need to exercise today, I trained yesterday’ (then end up sitting on the couch). ‘I’m tired, I’ll sleep in on Sunday’ (end up wasting half the day). ‘I can’t be bothered cooking, I’ll get takeaways.’

Life is short, pack more into your days.

Time away from technology is beautifully refreshing

When you get to OB, you surrender your phone to your instructors for the entirety of your course. I knew this was going to be good, but I didn’t realise how good.

I didn’t miss being without my phone, even once. I was able to engage with others in a much more meaningful way. I was more aware of my surroundings – the birdsong, the night sky, the cold early morning air. ‘Downtime’, where I would previously pull out my phone and look at nothing of any importance, turned into actual downtime where I could be with my own thoughts – something hugely valuable to me. I was able to slow down.

Learning to sail

On the ferry back to Wellington, there were groups of people sitting together but not talking to each other, they were all locked to their screens. Walking through the city, I noticed how much of a rush everyone seemed to be in, and how people would walk down entire streets without looking up. I know this isn’t a particularly new insight, but it was really noticeable after having been to OB.

Don’t be so quick to assume

That statement can apply to many situations, but one that is memorable for me was during the high-ropes course. When we were unpacking what we had learned on the ropes course the following morning, my ropes partner mentioned that if you had seen me up on the ropes, you’d think I was breezing through it comfortably, since I had an outwardly calm demeanour. In truth, my partner knew I was semi-terrified, because I had told her I’m not particularly great with heights. She made a good point that, in life, you shouldn’t be so quick to assume that people are comfortable inside just because they appear that way on the outside. I thought that was a great point, and it has stuck with me.

Keeping up the momentum

I came away from OB with many more insights and lessons learned, but none of that matters if you don’t keep up the momentum. I’ve implemented a few different ideas to help me build habits out of this momentum, but the one idea I’ll mention here is called Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg.

The idea is that you can form new habits by starting with something tiny, and the tiny habit subsequently becomes entrenched in your daily routine. This idea can be broken down into the following ABC system:

  • A – Anchor. This is an existing routine to remind you to do the new tiny behaviour.

  • B – Behaviour. This is the tiny behaviour that you want to become a habit.

  • C – Celebrate. It’s important to celebrate after doing the tiny behaviour.

For me, I want to stop pressing the snooze button on my alarm and ending up rushing like a madman, often skipping breakfast, to get out of the door. So, I’ve started the following:

  • Anchor – My alarm goes off and I wake up.

  • Behaviour – Swipe the alarm and jump out of bed immediately - no excuses.

  • Celebration – Make a coffee and drink it outside on the deck. Enjoy the morning air.

So far I’ve had 3 weeks of success doing this, and it doesn’t seem so hard now!

Outward Bound is as meaningful as everyone says it is

Huria Watch #682

Every single person I’d spoken to about OB before going down mentioned how much value they got from their experience. Even with this knowledge, OB far exceeded my expectations.

I thoroughly recommend it for anyone and everyone, no matter what stage of life you’re at. As long as you’re willing to give it your best, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.

Finally, a shout out to my awesome watchmates with whom I spent the 8 days – Huria Watch #682. I couldn’t have had a better group of people to experience OB with.

I was asked to read out some words of wisdom one night before dinner in the big hall, so I opened a book to a random page and, rather serendipitously, found the following quote:

Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.

Theodore Isaac Rubin


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