Are you harnessing the true power of your environment to prepare for working in austere and hostile environments? This blog by Alice Bromage says that the great outdoors provides the perfect environment for crisis teams, leadership and resilience training.
Swimming with Orcas in Norway, scaling the Matterhorn or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro are just a few ways to test yourself and allow you to learn about your own body and how you respond to the physical and mental challenges of each of these environments (image: Chee Fat Wong/123rf)
When a person is strong, and beyond the normal level of strength or capacity, we often turn to nature to describe them. Have you ever been described as 'a force of nature' as you plough through all the tasks and challenges presented, or a 'whirlwind' when you bring so much energy that you leave a trail of bemused individuals in your wake? Or when something goes so terribly wrong, that it was 'the perfect storm'? We acknowledge that mother nature is stronger than a human, yet are you making the most of her capabilities to develop and strengthen you and your team?
This is what the military has done for years, what Kurt Hahn, the disruptor of education in the 1940s created, and what Prince Philip introduced to the UK education system through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. We venerate explorers for their strength and resilience; sportspeople for their strength of mind, as well as body so the natural progression from this is that if you are wanting to harness your true potential, and/or that of your team, is to immerse yourself in an environment that is going to stretch you, mentally and physically.
This premise works around the ethos that there is 'more in you than you think', and that each of us has more courage, strength and compassion than we would ever have anticipated.
I have been 'beasted' in barracks, concrete gyms, and along tarmac roads – and hated it. I have also been stretched to the edge of my limits within a natural environment and barely even realised it – I was so consumed by the beauty of the physical environment around me that I focused on that, rather than the pain.
Be it scaling the Matterhorn, climbing Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro, diving with a selection of very inquisitive sharks, or being thrown out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft for three-weeks to try to 'improve' my form, my one recommendation is to pick a place that is so beautiful that you are just taken aback by its awe – and focus on that – rather than the momentary discomfort that your body is going through.
A study by Berkeley University has actually shown that being in a location that creates the feeling of awe can change the way your body responds to stress. This can be a phenomenally powerful tool for both pre-deployment training, and when returning from a high stress, high tempo operation. I try to escape to the mountains whenever I come home from working in a hostile or austere environment – or even if I have been in London too long – and it works wonders.
I would suggest it is essential to pick a place that is visually stimulating, as well as physically challenging. Then, when you need to recover, you are doing it in an environment that will be helping your body relax, and be stimulated all at the same time. It is a matter of stretching yourself a little more each day, and giving yourself a chance to recuperate in between. You would be amazed at how much this can refresh the mind, and develop your physical resilience at the same time. When you start to feel comfortable, stretch yourself some more.
The Black Mambas: The first all female anti-poaching unit in South Africa (author photo)
This probably sounds easier than it is, as the temptation is to only do what you know what you can already do, so my tip is get someone else to lead you into the unknown so that you can't second guess yourself, or give yourself an 'out'. If you are part of a team that needs to be prepared to work in a variety of environments, such as the desert, mountains or littoral, this also enables you to learn about your own body and how you respond to the physical and mental challenges of each of these environments. Being able to prepare yourself so that you can deal with hot or cold extremes will ensure that you keep your operating capacity functioning, and avoid any avoidable injuries. Living in these environments for a few days at a time can be a real eye opener, and an unforgettable bonding experience for a team.
This is probably why there is now a selection of ex-forces individuals that have set up, innovative and refreshing companies offering a range of opportunities to develop yourself and your team; 'net-walking' along the canals in Bath, business development as you roam the Highlands of Scotland, rowing down the Kafue river in Zambia or swimming with Orcas in Arctic Norway.
Each of these opportunities gives you a chance to get away from the foray, and give your brain a chance to work on tough questions and your body to be worked at a pace that is right for you, but gets you away from the desk.
Add to this coaching, leadership and resilience training, and all in an environment that takes your breath away that you barely even notice that you are actually now finding living at sub-zero degrees temperatures normal.
My passion is helping people perform to their optimum, with the minimal amount of stress, and maximum output and high performance. We only live once, so we might as well enjoy it!
If you would like to learn more about developing your leadership and resilience skills, while swimming with the Orcas in Arctic Norway, or training alongside the world’s first female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, just drop me a line.