This post was originally published on Oars + Alps.
I spend 100 days a year in a tent. As a psychologist and international mountain guide, I spend much of that time leading men on climbing expeditions, helping them reconnect with a sense of adventure. While nearly all of my clients find these experiences life-changing, I’ve learned that most struggle with how to apply the healing lessons they found in communing with nature and each other to their lives back at home.
Meet Matt Walker
I’m a professional climber, adventurer, and psychologist with a long resume and a deep desire to connect us all back to the natural world—and to ourselves.
I have been climbing since I was sixteen and have climbed and led expeditions on every continent since. After leading 25 years of expeditions, I continue to find adventure via expeditions to 8,000-meter peaks—I recently solo’d Manaslu in Nepal and have current plans to solo the north ridge of Mount Everest in the new year. My list of achievements in climbing may be vast but, as I share openly in my coaching business, adventure is merely a microcosm. It is a testing ground, a great training arena for all aspects of everyday, human life. Including parenting, relationships, and all of the other responsibilities we face living full, modern lives.
This is a big part of why I started this business. With this very principle in mind, I have been able to help hundreds of men set down burnout and numbness in exchange for presence and a reignited sense of purpose.
Leading group and 1:1 expeditions, I have been able to witness men have huge life-changing experiences but found that too many of them were unsure of how to apply those experiences once they were back home. It was as though the bright realizations and moments of healing were getting left behind. An epic adventure wasn’t enough and it became clear that in order for the medicine of the wilderness to really take hold, these men needed support after the trip. Thanks to my psychology background and my own experiences on these outdoor adventures, I saw clearly the unique gap that needed to be bridged.
It’s important to know that even as a professional adventurer, I still spend less than 100 nights a year in a tent—that’s the majority of my time spent at home. It’s easy to look at something like adventure as an escape but I see it instead as the medicine we need to live our best lives. Sure, shutting off your phone, retreating fully from daily life, and existing amongst nature would allow for anyone to feel a sense of calm, peacefulness, and rejuvenation. But it’s all just a vacation if those experiences aren’t being funneled into a shift once we’ve gotten back home.”
The Five Elements of Adventure
“So, what is my blueprint? How do I address these challenges for clients?
Through a set of principles that I call the Five Elements of Adventure:
- Adventuring is High Endeavor. It makes you think bigger about yourself, your life, and your impact. It asks more of you and, as a result, you experience more of yourself.
- Nature is unpredictable and, therefore, the adventure provides an Uncertain Outcome. Life, whether on a mountaintop or in a boardroom, is unpredictable but every possibility brings with it a unique gift.
- Every adventure requires Total Commitment. There is magic that happens when we commit our full selves to the moment, we get to see what we’re really made of and how much we can accomplish.
- A requirement for every expedition is a Tolerance for Adversity. The adventure will test you, challenge you, and force you out of your comfort zone. It is the ultimate opportunity to embrace resilience and while it’s rarely easy, it’s always worth it.
- And finally, with great adventure comes Great Companionship. There may be times that we walk alone, but the group connection that is found on the wild path reminds us that life’s greatest moments are meant to be shared.”
While these principles apply to my groups and 1:1 coaching, it’s easy to see how each one can be parlayed into the mundane and the routine. A sense of adventure can be found at any moment by using some of the tips and guidance that I offer clients. In fact, I invite you to try this:
Find a 15-minute window one afternoon in the upcoming week to take a walk in your neighborhood. Schedule it in your calendar the way you would a meeting or a call, really commit to holding that space, and then before you walk out the door leave your phone behind. Take off your smartwatch. Totally unplug. For many, just the thought of being unreachable for 15 minutes is enough to induce the same pumping heart rate one might experience on the edge of a great cliff. Notice what arises in you as you stroll, be it stress, relief, or maybe it’s a myriad of emotions all rolled into a sense of exhilaration. Maybe that sensation gives way to you noticing something in your surroundings that you’ve never noticed before. Maybe you’re breathing more deeply than normal. Last, notice how you feel when you return to your home or office. My guess is expanded, even slightly. Congratulations, you just went on an adventure.
Throughout my years of scaling mountains and trekking nature’s expanse, I have learned more than anything that the experiences we have in the outdoors impact us profoundly. All adventures big or small—from camping with our families, hiking after work, or the first summit through the Himalayas—all help us. They enrich not just our relationship with nature, but to our loved ones and ourselves. We get to create new memories, experience the exhilaration of the unknown, and gain valuable lessons that we can transfer back into our daily lives. The moment I paired the world of psychology with my experience as a mountain guide, an outdoor adventure experience with practical coaching support was created, allowing everyone I work with to bring the fruits of their adventure into their lives in real ways.
The mental clarity you seek is found in adventure and I am prepared to guide you there, one step at a time.