Expert Tips for Outdoor Self-Defense and Solo Safety (Mostly for) Women (Nicole Snell, self-defense expert)

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Nicole Snell Humans Outside podcast

There’s a real push and pull. On the one hand, many women want to head outside solo and have amazing adventures alone. On the other hand, doing so can feel like a huge safety risk, especially when we hear about the major tragedies some women encounter doing things that should be perfectly safe.

So what should you do? Stay home? Only head out with friends and family?

Nicole Snell, a safety expert and owner of Girls Fight Back who specializes in self-defense in the outdoors, has a different idea. In this episode she shares her best tips and tricks to empower you to get into nature solo while also staying safe.

Some of the good stuff:

[4:06] Nicole Snell’s favorite outdoor space

[4:52] How Nicole became someone who likes to go outside

[7:16] How she got into self-defense

[14:05] Why people (often women) feel unsafe alone outside

[20:12] What self-defense tools should people use?

[26:54] What we mean when we say “use your words.”

[28:55] Why she didn’t say “I’m sorry”

[31:57] The role of intuition

[37:41] How to make the outdoors more safe for everyone

[41:10] Top three tips for self-defense in nature

[44:41] Nicole’s favorite outdoor memory

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: Hey Humans, this is the intro before the intro to give this episode a little timely context. I recorded this episode with today’s guest, self defense expert Nicole Snell several weeks before the kidnapping and death of Eliza Fletcher, a 34 year old mother of two who was abducted and killed during her early morning run in Memphis Tennessee. That crime and Eliza’s death has once again brought to the forefront fears many women feel around recreating and heading outside solo. Nicole and I obviously don’t talk about that tragedy in this episode, but I’ve checked in with her about it since recording, and she notes the advice she gives here hasn’t changed. And while we’re on the subject, we both want to make sure you know hear this loud and clear: no one is ever at fault for violence that happens to them. You’ll hear Nicole say that in this episode, but it’s worth repeating right up front.

OK, with that — here’s the original introduction and episode. I hope this makes you feel empowered.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go heading outside is always worth it. Welcome to Humans Outside where we’re using the Humans Outside 365 challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while learning from fascinating outdoor minded. I’m Amy Bushatz. I’ve let curiosity be my guide as a journalist for 18 years, but life, including my husband’s war injuries had burnt us out. So we moved site unseen to Alaska to see if a change of scenery and new focus on outdoors was just the shift we needed. Since September, 2017, I’ve spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day, no matter what to explore, how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

As a woman who often finds herself trail running or adventuring solo one of the first things people ask me is if I’m worried about being safe when I’m out there. I do usually feel safe. But the question always makes me stop and question myself. Should I feel silly for being out there? Am I really taking a big risk because I’m a woman. Is saying out loud right now on this podcast that I do things solo asking for trouble?

I am not the only woman in the world who has solo adventures, nor am I the only one who questions whether that’s the right thing to do or the safe thing to do. I have many friends who simply don’t go do stuff alone because they’re worried that it’s not safe. Those feelings are totally okay. No matter where you fall on the how you feel about this spectrum, there is no judgment here.

Today’s guest hears all of these questions all the time, too. And she has answers. Nicole Snell teaches women to feel confident in the outdoors by empowering everyone with self-defense tools. The owner of Girls Fight Back, she speaks that and directs workshops internationally. And in the past has even facilitated sexual assault prevention workshops for the Pentagon. Regardless of gender if you are someone who feels unsafe in the outdoors or simply wants to more safe today. Nicole’s gonna help us with the empowerment we need to get out there boldly.

Nicole, welcome to Humans Outside.

Nicole Snell: Thank you so much for having me. This is such a pleasure to be here.

Amy Bushatz: Well, I’m just really excited to talk to you. This is a by request topic. I had a podcast listener say, Hey, have you ever thought of talking to somebody about this? Um, And I’m really curious about this myself. So this is this is gonna be really informative for everybody. So I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise and your passion for this with us. It’s a, It’s a huge deal. So thank you.

Nicole Snell: I’m just, I’m excited to, to share information that I hope is gonna help a lot of people.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So we always start our, our episodes by sort of imagining ourselves hanging out with our guests somewhere they love outside. So if we were going to have this conversation with you outside somewhere that you just can’t get enough of, where are we?

Nicole Snell: We are going to be on the big pine lakes trail. At lake number two, overlooking temple crag and this is a beautiful mountainous area in the Eastern Sierra. And it is one of my favorite places to go. And I was just there in June.

Amy Bushatz: Awesome. And is this the Eastern Sierra in California or in Nevada?

Nicole Snell: Oh, it’s the Eastern Sierra in california.

Amy Bushatz: Okay. Awesome. So, you know, just like to know what state we’re in generally speaking of course. So tell us first, how did you become somebody who likes to go outside? How did this become an interest and a passion for you?

Nicole Snell: Well, I have always loved the outdoors and I feel like it was just part of me from the moment I stepped foot on the desert for the first time on the desert ground for the first time. So I grew up in Southern California in a small desert town called 29 Palms. My dad is a retired Marine and the desert was my playground. And I just remember being a little kid and just being fascinated with the dirt and finding shiny rocks. And you know, my older brother showing me how to catch grass hoppers and not be afraid of them. And seeing the mountains turn purple during the sunrise or the sunset. I just love to be outside. I was always so curious about everything and every little discovery just made my heart beat faster. And as I got older that never went away. And in fact, I think it actually amplified, the more freedom I had to see even more places.

And also for me growing up, the being inside my house was not always safe. And so for me being outside was what felt safest. It was where I could be free, where I could be independent, where I didn’t have to, worry about the things that I knew I would be worried about inside my home. So being outside gave me that chance to just feel connected to the outdoors in a way that spoke to me. And I’ve kind of carried that feeling with me as I’ve been out adventuring. So it’s really been with me since I was a kid. .

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, we had a, a guest, gosh, a lot of seasons ago, Judith Sadora, who talked about using nature as a container? She’s a she uses therapy outside. And uh, she talks about using outdoors and nature as a container. And that’s really a concept that I just loved from her. And that’s sort of what you’re describing that you get to be in this space and it’s contains you and contains all the things that you have going on out there. It’s just like, it gives context to everything.

Nicole Snell: Love it. Yeah. I love that. That is a great way of explaining it.

Amy Bushatz: So that’s awesome. So now you are a self defense specialist uh, sort of broadly um, and you have a passion point for outdoor self-defense. So maybe you can tell us about how you got into. Self defense and then how outdoors self-defense became a passion point.

Nicole Snell: Yeah, absolutely. I got into I’ve. I’ve always actually been a very athletic person. I played sports in high school. I’ve done martial arts off and on throughout my life because I enjoy just the physicality of it. And I, And I love sports so much, but what actually got me into self-defense specifically was I would say this was about 10 or 12 years ago, maybe a little longer. I was dating a guy and we were play wrestling in my apartment and he pinned me on the ground and I couldn’t get outta the.

And he was laughing and granted, this was all in fun. We were play fighting, but a little alarm bell went off in the back of my head. And I said to myself, what if this was real? What if he got angry one time and did this? Or what if somebody else put me in this position? And right now I don’t know what to do.

And I don’t like ever not knowing what my options are in a situation. In fact, that’s what informs a lot of the hobbies that I have gained over the years is just that curiosity of, well, what can I do? What would I do? What are my options, even in worst case scenarios. And so I decided I, it would be beneficial to learn.

I wanted to know for myself. And so that brought me to self defense and I, you know, I took a couple of classes and really had a passion for it and wanted to learn more. But at that time I was working as a line producer in TV production. And so that was my career. My passion for self-defense was something, I was like, oh, I kind of like this. This might be a new hobby, but I don’t have the time for it right now. And then in 2014, I actually changed careers and started doing work with a company that was contracted with the department of Navy to do sexual assault prevention trainings at military installations around the world.

And I thought, wow, this is great because it gets me to doing more of what I wanna do, which is I wanna help women. I wanna address sexual assault. I wanna address domestic violence and find more ways to help people. And the organization that I was working for had a connection to a company called Girls Fight Back.

And when I looked at their website and saw what they did, they do self-defense seminars for colleges. I jumped, I remember I jumped up at my computer screen and said, what this is possible. I can teach this. This is a job you can do. And so I emailed owner of the company at the time and asked for a job.

And about three months later, they had a job opening available. And so part of the speaker training was to graduate from a 20 hour full force self-defense class with Impact Personal Safety. So I finished that class and decided I wanted to teach that as well. So I was simultaneously doing facilitated discussions for the military, getting trained in doing college events with Girls Fight Back and also being trained and being an assistant with impact personal safety until I finally finished all my training hours and became a certified lead instructor.

And through all of this, I was always going outdoors. I was going on solo trips. I was going on solo, hikes and solo camping, because it’s something I’ve done my whole life. And people throughout my life have always been telling me, you should put the two together. Why don’t you do something and teach self defense for the people that are going outside and honestly, Amy, I just didn’t think it was something anyone would care about.

I kept turning it down and, and dismissing everyone’s suggestions and saying, nobody nobody’s gonna wanna hear about that. That’s not something that anyone’s gonna care about and it’s gonna fail if I tried to do something, cuz they’re gonna say, why do we, you know, and I just, I just was my own worst critic. And then in 2019, I had a friend, another friend who was a lot more vocal about telling me that I really should do this. And she was like, no, like, you need to just do it. You need to just do it because people will, this is something people need. And I finally was like, okay, fine. I’ll just do it. And then that’s how Outdoor Defense was born, my YouTube series. And the reception to it was warm and then COVID hit and a lot more people were going outside solo and then it really took off and people were really looking for resources to feel safe. And why I do this is because the outdoors is so passionate, like I’m so passionate about the outdoors myself.

Like I find so much joy in being outside and especially in being outside solo, because I feel so free to experience the nature and the world in a way that works for me. And I can meditate and I can be with my own thoughts and I can make my own decisions and stay longer at one spot or go faster in one spot.

You know, It’s just really mine. Like, it’s my experience, but I know a lot of people are afraid of that experience because they’re afraid of, you know, what could happen. The majority thing that I hear when I do my Yes, I’m Hiking Solo seminars is people are afraid of strange, scary, dangerous men, like men that have bad intentions. And I wanna help alleviate that fear. Because we all know that the world can be a dangerous place. So my job is not to try to make people more afraid. My job is to help alleviate that fear and help people gain more access to the outdoors by giving them simple strategies, simple techniques that anybody can use to feel more confident in their ability to handle situations and protect themselves.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. I have to touch just really fast on your friend who insisted that this was a good idea because of course it is right. How often though, do we question our own expertise in something just in the world? Um, because we think that something that we are passionate about and an expert in is not a question, right? Because it’s something that’s close to us, we think, oh, everybody does this. No one has a real problem with this. This is why, you know, why would this be something you need to hear about? And instead of standing in that moment where you’re like, no, I am an expert in this. This is worth being out there for, this is worth hearing.

And of course I’m so grateful that you are because we get to have you, you here today. But yeah, I mean, COVID’s a moment number one, for people doing stuff by themselves, all of a sudden. Right.

Nicole Snell: So, yeah. Yes, absolutely. And yeah, like you’re so right. There’s like, not just in this situation, but I there’s been other situations in my life where I just, where you doubt yourself, you get the imposter syndrome or you just feel like, ah, like this is important to me, but I doubt anyone else will think it’s important and you just self sabotage. So I’m really grateful that after being pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed, I finally had a friend that just gave me that final push. And then I did it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, absolutely. Oh man. Imposter syndrome. We could go on about that too.

So, okay, so let’s back up a little bit because you’re filling a need by doing this, but I wanna know why there’s a need. Okay. Why do people, many of them, women, but not all, right. Sort of, doesn’t have to be tied to gender uh, feel unsafe, recreating alone? Where does this feeling come from? Is it cultural? Is it reality? What’s going on here?

Nicole Snell: So I think a lot of it is our culture there. I mean, violence exists in our culture and our country. It exists all over the world. It has for centuries, and there’s a lot of stereotypes, a lot of them related to gender, about who is capable of protecting themselves and who needs to be reliant on other people to protect them. So if you’re solo and you’ve been categorized by society as a person who has to rely on other people to protect you, then there’s this fear of, well, if I go by myself and there’s no one to protect me, then I’m helpless. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. And that’s why I, I teach these skills so that people understand and realize their power. And don’t have those fears. And if they do have fear, they do experience something on the trail, that they have options for how they can respond. And I also wanna say too, while we’re talking about this, that no one is ever at fault for violence that happens to them. If someone experiences violence, it’s not because they were by themselves. It’s not because they were wearing a certain thing. It wasn’t because of any of those factors, the fault is always on the criminal. It always has been, it always will be. And whatever anybody does or did to survive a situation, that’s the right thing to do.

And I’m not here to teach to what happened in the past. I’m here to help people heal from whatever happened in the past by giving them strategies and confidence for the future so that they can feel more capable of living their life large. I always like to say, I want people to live their life limitlessly because there’s a lot of restrictions that are touted as safety that we’re expected to do and follow, and all these rules that are supposed to guarantee our safety and they’re not guarantees of safety. And all they do is limit and control our lives. So I am not here to give people limits or say, don’t do this and don’t do this. And you make sure you carry this. I’m here to say, all right, well, let’s give you some strategies and tools that you can keep in your toolbox, your mental toolbox, and you get to pick what works for you based on your unique situation, cuz it’s always gonna be different

Amy Bushatz: Right but it’s all from the starting point of one acceptance of how you feel about this and two saying, okay, I see that. I feel that, I hear that. Now I’m gonna do something about it instead of letting it passively just be where I am and keeping me at home.

Nicole Snell: Yes , exactly. And another thing that I think is we always hear these terrible sensational stories on the news of violence that happens, especially violence that happens to women is very much in our cultural awareness because we hear about it all the time. And a lot of times it’s made to seem like, the most dangerous place we can be is somewhere where we’re by ourselves or at night in the dark, because a stranger is going to be the perpetrator. When in reality, 86% of the time women are assaulted by people we know. It’s our friends, it’s our intimate partners. It’s family members. It’s acquaintances. It’s not necessarily the stranger. And yes, stranger attacks do happen, but they’re not the most common or likely experience that women have. But there’s that fear of, again, being solo and being outdoors means nobody can save you that you’re not capable of saving yourself, society says, and that it’s gonna be a stranger. So it’s all of these stereotypes and urban legends and frankly lies that are out there that are limiting people. And I’m just trying to break through all of those and give people hope.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I mean, I can tell you as a news reporter women goes on a hike by herself safely alone. Not a good story. Like.

Nicole Snell: Oh yeah. I would never make the news for that. right.

Amy Bushatz: Why would you read that story? Right. Although that’s I, I say that we laugh, but on the flip side sometimes that is a good story because it’s so freaking rare that people feel empowered to do that. I, as I was just saying, like, that’s not a good story.

I had this memory of sitting in a car, listening to a story , on our local NPR station about a woman who hiked this long backpacking trail alone. But not alone. She had her infant with her. Okay. So to me, this is like one, exhausting and two very vulnerable. Right. You’re literally out there in the world with your baby in the middle of nowhere. And that is memorable and interesting because it was it’s an unfortunately, brave thing. Right. It’s, it’s brave because something that’s not common is I guess what I mean, I wish that was more common and less interesting when somebody does that.

Nicole Snell: Right. Well, maybe we can get to that point where that happens. And Al also that woman is a badass

Amy Bushatz: Right also that, I mean, take, okay. It was, it’s an interesting story because she was completely by herself and because she took her infant while also being alone. I wish it was an interesting story just for the infant part. Not because she had the, courage to go hike by herself, I guess. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say..

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Okay. So let’s talk about those tools. Very first thing we have to ask you though, and I know you get asked about this a lot. Like it’s the top, must be the top question. When we say self-defense tools, are we talking actual tools, pepper, spray, weapons, whatever. What are we talking about? And what’s your advice on the physical tool part of this?

Nicole Snell: That is always the number one question I get is people always wanna know what do you suggest that I carry? And do you carry something? And when I’m talking about self defense tools, I’m talking about our mental and our physical tools, not anything external that you need to buy or carry or wear or have on you or anything. And I actually wrote a blog and did an outdoor defense episode on this because I get asked it all the time and I just wanted to give people information. So what I always say is that I am an advocate for education. I am not here to tell you what to do or what not to do. I’m here to give you information. And maybe information you might not have heard anywhere else so that you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you and your safety. Because I’m not the expert of your safety or anyone else’s safety or anyone listening safety, because I am only me. I’m in charge and an expert of my safety.

All I can do to help people with their safety is to give them information so that they can be better experts at their own safety. Because they’re the ones that are ultimately gonna be the ones making the decision in the moment of whatever they face in the world of how they’re gonna respond, because how we respond is gonna be different.

So I’m all about education. And the reason why I focus on the tools you have on your body and on your mind and your mind, because those are the tools you always have with you. And the majority of times when we have to enter self-defense mode, as I call it, we’re not necessarily using any physical. I don’t go around heel palming people in the face.

Although sometimes I would like to , you know, someone’s being really inappropriate. It’d be really nice to just throw an elbow, but I don’t do that. I use my verbal skills. I use my intuition. I get to safety if that’s an option. I use so many other skills that are not physical or not external in order to manage my safety in those moments.

Those are the things I use every day. And that is still self-defense. It;s more than just physical. It’s so much more than the physical. So, and if we have to use the physical, we have our bodies all the time. There’s not a place in the world that we can go where they’re like, not sorry, you can’t bring those fists.

Ah, no, you can’t bring those knees, but there are certain external tools that you can’t bring. We even within the U.S. into certain state parks or national parks or on planes, et cetera. So what I will say is I I’m an advocate for education and that if you do plan on bringing something external, no matter what that is, whether that’s pepper spray or something that is more lethal, you have to train with it.

That’s the number one thing. Like you have to train with it and that’s not something that’s talked about as much as I think that it needs to be talked about. Because when you are experiencing stress and you are experiencing adrenaline in a stressful situation, your fine motor skills decrease. Your logic and reasoning decrease and your gross motor skills increase.

So that means unless you have been practicing and training with whatever tool you’re planning to use your fine motor skills aren’t gonna be working the way they are when you’re calm. So unless you have that training behind you to be able to operate that in a stressful situation, it may not respond the way you’re expecting it too.

So, if you are gonna use something, you have to carry it. Make sure you know how to get it out, how to use it in situations when you may be expecting it. Like I was hiking with a friend once. She carries pepper spray. And I was like, okay, great. Like, do you train with it? And she’s like, no, not really, but I keep it here in this, the mesh pocket on the side of a backpack.

And so I was like, okay, well that doesn’t seem very accessible if you needed to get to it quickly. And she’s like, oh no, it’s just right there. And I said, okay. So we walked on for about 10 minutes and then I turned to her like really quick. And I said, oh my gosh, get your pepper spray pulled out, get out right now, get out right now.

And I just was like really frantic about it. And she couldn’t get it out. She couldn’t get it out in time. And I said, that is why you have to practice with it. Even if it was in your pocket and you could easily get to it that’s still a fine motor movement. So that’s the first thing is whatever you carry, you train with it.

The second thing I say is anything you carry, you have to understand there’s a possibility it can be used against you, especially if you’re not training with it.

And the third thing that I like to say about weapons is I wanna encourage people to reclaim their power by not putting all of their safety and security into something else hoping that that something else is gonna be the thing that saves them. And instead put that confidence into yourself and into your body and into your mind and into all the things that you do every day to manage your safety and understand that’s where your power is and know that anything you do use is secondary. It’s always gonna be secondary to you.

Amy Bushatz: So up here in Alaska where I’m not sure reasonably more concerned, perhaps we should be just as concerned. But anyway, our concern tends to focus on animals. Okay. But the same concept applies, you know, they say whatever you take practice with. Now, the difference between bears and humans is that using your words probably isn’t gonna work out. So .

Nicole Snell: Yes, exactly.

Amy Bushatz: Also throwing a punch not recommended. So right. Please. Friends do not try to throw an elbow on a bear. That’s just my like, I’m not a bear expert by any means, but that is my advice for you today. Okay. So, um, but the, when they save practice with this stuff, that the same thing applies because if you’re carrying no matter what you’re carrying, but let’s just use bear spray, which is a very potent form of pepper spray for people who don’t know. And you have it like at the bottom of your stuff and your backpack, this is not gonna do you any good. If you have it behind you and you’ve never used it before or ever sprayed one, that’s not gonna do you any good. If you don’t know how to take the clip off of it and how to spray it and what to think about while you do that.

Like, I’m not saying. I’m saying like, think about the direction of the wind, not empowering thoughts, like right. What to think about while you’re doing that from a practical standpoint, because again, just like you’re saying your motor skills are on the struggle bus at this point because of adrenaline.

If you haven’t gone through that stuff, you’re gonna be in a situation that’s a whole lot worse than you were hoping it would be. Even when meeting a bear has already degraded, degraded your situation for the day. Um, And uh, and so those same, those same things apply, and it’s all about just understanding what your tools are and then using them.

I want you to touch if you don’t mind on the tool of using your words, because I think when, at least in, for me, when I think about self defense, my words are not the first thing I think about. I’m thinking about um, you know, throw. My body. Yeah. Yes. So you’re talking about self defense as first, first uh, line defense is your word.

So what what do you mean by that? And can you give me some examples?

Nicole Snell: Yeah, absolutely. And your, your understanding of it or your your thoughts about self defense are very common. Most of the time when I say the word self defense, or I even ask people I’ll even ask people in a session. Like when you hear the term self-defense, what do you think of? And most of the time people think of the physical, you know, they’re thinking of kicks and punches and I don’t teach punches by the way I teach open handed heel palms, but they’re thinking of the physical and self defense is used for more than just worst case scenarios.

And like I said earlier the majority of the, the self defense scenarios that we face daily are less life threatening and more boundary violations, or, you know, speaking up if in a way that asserts ourselves when we’re feeling uncomfortable and things like that. So your voice is a weapon. Your voice is actually your first weapon that you use to protect yourself and you use it every day to say yes to things you want to say no to the things you don’t to set your boundaries, to communicate your needs, and to give yourself the space that you need or to call people in. If you need, you know, more closeness from somebody. So an example in a self-defense scenario of using your voice would be like a verbal strategy. Would be like, if someone, let’s say you are, let’s use a hiking as an example, let’s say I’m hiking and someone is walking behind me and I’m just getting an intuitive feeling that something’s not right. Right. And I slow down, they kind of slow down. I speed up. They speed up. So now I’m pretty sure they’re pacing me. I’m gonna turn around. I’m gonna turn around and face them, I’m gonna use my voice and I’m gonna say, Hey, how are you doing this afternoon? It seems like you’re following me. Did you need help with something?

And I’m gonna directly address that person because now they know that I’m aware of them, I’m facing them. So now they no longer have an advantage from walking behind me. And now I’m clearly asserting myself with confidence and with a boundary that could be a deterrent to somebody who does not have good intention.

Amy Bushatz: Mm-hmm And I noticed in this example, you just gave you the words, I’m sorry did not escape your lips.

Nicole Snell: They did not.

Amy Bushatz: Interesting.

Nicole Snell: They did not because we don’t have anything to apologize for setting our boundary. A lot of times we’re conditioned. And I am not to, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I never say I’m sorry that those words never come outta my mouth because they do because I’m human. And it happens sometimes, but I try to be really intentional about it and not use it unless I’ve actually hurt somebody or caused someone pain or something. I try to use other words because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to apologize for setting boundaries or for taking up space in the world.

And I don’t have to try to minimize my boundary and make the other person feel better about what I just did for my own safety. And if that person that I just set a boundary with goes from zero to a hundred and just flies off the handle, angry that I set a boundary. Number one, that’s not your fault. You did not cause them to do that.

That’s who they were. They were probably looking for an excuse to have that reaction and that reaction, they had reinforces that you did the right thing by setting a boundary. Because imagine if they had that reaction, you were closer to them either physically distance wise, or maybe you had like hung out with them more or, you know, in any situation they just reinforced that your intuition was right.

Second of all, even if they had that reaction, you still have other options. Cause at that point you can use a different verbal strategy to try to deescalate the situation. They’ve just given you the gift of showing you who they are. So now you can start thinking in your head. Okay. Well, how can I exit the situation safely?

What may I have to do with my body position or my physical skills in order to get myself to safety? So we don’t need to try to predict how someone’s going to respond in a way that puts our safety at risk. Meaning that we don’t have to worry so much about someone else’s feelings at the expense of our safety or the expense of our comfort. Like your safety’s always gonna be more important than someone thinking that you think they are they’re, they’re criminal because they’re creeping up behind you on a trail. It’s like, well, well then why are you creeping up on me on the trail? Like, don’t try to gaslight me. I’m gonna assert a boundary now.

And if your feelings are hurt, then please. I hope you have someone to talk to about that when you get home. But I’m gonna, I’m gonna reinforce my boundary. I don’t owe, you don’t owe niceness to anybody.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Go ahead. Phone a friend. Thank you. yes,. Um, You’ve used a word a couple of times. And I wanna talk about it because I heard you while I was prepping for this episode, I listened to your episode on She Explores. And you touched on the role of this word there. And you noted that we are the only creatures in the world, humans being we, who have mastered the art of ignoring. This word and the word is intuition. Okay. And that, when you said that in that episode, I was like, I think I was in a grocery store or something.

I was just like, my God. She’s right. Um, And it was just such an, such an eyeopening moment for me. So I’m hoping you can expand on that a little bit. Why do we do something so silly? So

Nicole Snell: Yeah, we are really the experts at that. All humans are pretty much the experts of ignoring their intuition and that little tidbit actually have to give credit to Gavin de Becker and his book, The Gift of Fear, because he talks about that in depth about our intuition and how wonderful we humans are at ignoring it.

And basically we all have those intuitive feelings and I’m sure everyone listening here has, at some point in their life, ignored their intuition. It’s just human nature. We’ve done it. And our intuition is designed to protect us from danger, but we’ve all been socialized to place our judgment. Of a situation over what our body’s trying to tell us about a situation, and we try to rationalize it and we try to talk ourselves out of it because if we get an, let’s say, for instance, you’re on a hike with someone uh, you, you meet up a friend for a hike and they’re bringing their friend from work.

And the moment you meet this friend from work, you just get the intuitive feeling that, ah, something’s not right. And this person’s nice and they’re smiling and they know your friend, so obviously they must be a good person. Right? And you should, you know, maybe you’re just imagining things. Maybe you maybe you are thinking about something else that happened or maybe, you start having, you start going in your mind, through all of these, this rationalizing of why it’s not okay that you’re feeling this way or why you shouldn’t be feeling this way. And we talk ourselves right out of that feeling. And I try to encourage people to listen to that feeling. Even if you don’t understand where it’s coming from and you might not, I’ll give you an example.

I was on a hike one time. It was right after COVID happened. And I was walking. I found this trail up near where I live. That was still open. And so I was, I’d done this hike a couple of times and it’s the evening because it’s summer and it’s hot. So I went in the evening right before sunset and I had kind of just started the trail and I’m at a part of the trail where I can see the trail, like hugging the mountain.

And I could see the trail for like the next half a mile or so. And I started to walk and all of a sudden I was just feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me stop. And I stopped and I looked up ahead and I didn’t see anything. All right, the trail’s exposed. There’s one spot where there’s like some overhang of tree.

And I said to myself, Nicole, you are being ridiculous. You’ve done this trail before. There is nobody up there. Like who’s gonna be hiding up there and there’s people, right. And I just started doing the thing, the rationalizing and the justification. And so what I finally did is I stopped myself and I said, I’m trying to talk myself outta my, intuition.

And what did I do? I turned around and I went home because that trail is gonna be there tomorrow, and the next day and the next day. It’s not worth it. I, I just trusted that feeling. I don’t know where it came from. I went back like a couple days later, no feeling. Finished the trail walked back. It was fine, but I trusted that feeling because I know it’s not gonna send me down the wrong path. Right? It’s not gonna send me into the mouth of the tiger. It’s trying to send me away from the tiger or whatever other threat may be there and we can, we do ourselves a disservice by not listening to our intuition. I consider it one of the first foundations of safety, like every other piece of self defense advice and safety advice, all layers on top of your intuition first. And then your awareness.

Amy Bushatz: I’ve come. Well, I heard a rumor that not everybody has a narrator in their head, but mine , my intuition is the narrator, and and it’s almost often, I’m not hearing voices. Right. But in my head. I hear this beautiful narration of my life. And sometimes it’s something along the lines of I say something and the narrator said, no, she would not. In fact, do that. You know, um, but, you know, sometimes you’re out there doing something and the it’s that intuition that takes the role of this, almost this narration where you’re like, oh, wait a second. I can hear how this story’s going to go. And I should consider my options.

Nicole Snell: Yes.

Amy Bushatz: Maybe it’s like a, choose your own adventure narrator. Did you ever read those as a kid, those books?

Nicole Snell: I did. I love those

Amy Bushatz: um, to go down the firey path, turn to page 84. Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, Turn. Yeah.

Nicole Snell: I love that.

Amy Bushatz: The story ends go back to the, whatever that other page was. Yep. That’s the kind of thing, but your intuition almost serves as that junction in the choose your own adventure book. And you can, if you follow your gut, as you’re saying, always go back to the previous page and pick the different adventure on a different day.

Nicole Snell: Right. Exactly. And here’s the thing too is, sometimes the limiting messages that exist out there say things like don’t hike solo. Right? We’ve all heard that. I’ve heard that all the time and what I am, I love to hike solo and I’m gonna sh share as much information to encourage people who are considering it or do it all the time, I just wanna feel more confident. But instead of giving people hard absolutes, like don’t hike solo, it should be more about, Hey, go out and hike solo, but here’s how you can be prepared.

And if you go to this trail and something feels off, give yourself the power to be able to turn around and pick a different trail versus just indiscriminately saying just don’t ever do it. It’s like, no. How about we give people the tools to be prepared and make decisions that work for them.

Amy Bushatz: mm-hmm mm-hmm Yeah. That’s such a, that’s such great advice. So we are following our intuition. We’re arming ourselves with the tools. I think this is almost an evangelism question. Okay. How do we work to make heading outside, into nature feel safe for, not just for ourselves, but for other people. What do we do to message this better that this can be a safe thing.

Nicole Snell: I think people sharing their stories, people sharing their success stories of going out and hiking and being out there I think can help. Cuz when you see more people doing it, it gives you the confidence to say to yourself, oh, I can do this too. I mean, I didn’t have anybody who looked like me that was out hiking solo when I started doing it.

I just did it because I loved it. And I would ask around to people that might have information about doing it, but for the most part, I just did it on my own. I did a lot of internet, research of, what to put on my hiking backpack. And the first hiking that I did was with a fanny pack and tennis shoes before I got like hiking boots and then started doing more trails that had more, more difficulty and needed more specific gear to do it safely. And I just slowly started adding up what I needed. But I think just having the resources available, people, sharing their stories and for goodness sakes, when people are out there recreating, it’s important to pick up on social cues. And so if you’re out there hiking and I’m talking to mostly men here now. When you’re out there hiking, please don’t ask women. If they’re hiking by themselves, please don’t say things that are inappropriate. If you wouldn’t want someone saying it to someone in your life that you cared about while they were on a trail, it’s probably not a good idea to say those types of things to women that are hiking. I hear this all the time from people who are on through hikes or things where, you know, they’re just getting people, asking them a lot of questions. And where are you camping and how long have you been out here and who’s with you and things like that. And whether you mean well or not, and maybe you’re just trying to make conversation. Those types of questions can make other people feel uncomfortable. So like being cordial and being polite, fine.

Hi, how are you? Happy trails, Hey, it’s great to, you know, you can keep things polite if you want to engage with people on the trail, but it’s important to also understand that there are fears that are out there. And if we can help women feel more confident being out there because they’re not having as many of these awkward experiences with people who are not understanding why they shouldn’t be saying those types of things, then we can start to change things for the better.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Co-signed to the gentleman. Yes co-signed. Okay. Can you give us three or four tips or thoughts or strategies for creating and keeping our own safe space as we head outside. What’s your advice?

Nicole Snell: So my top three or four, I, the first I would say is your intuition. Trust that intuitive feeling. Second is to give yourself permission to notice your surroundings and to acknowledge what’s happening in your environment.

And that includes all the good things, like, catching a nature moment or a landscape or connecting with someone cool on the trail. And I’ve met a lot of cool trail friends that way, just running into someone on the way up a mountain and then doing the rest of the hike together. So there’s always a chance of meeting some cool people out there and just your awareness allows you to notice things and then to be aware if something isn’t quite right and then that gives you more options for what to do.

The third thing I would say. Always remember that you can use your voice and that you do not have to apologize for doing so, so say no, if you need to. Say back off, if you need to say, I’m not interested in having this conversation. You can say, look, I don’t answer questions. Especially one of my favorite things to say, when people just start rattling off the questions to me, I’ll say, you know, I don’t, I don’t answer questions. I hope you have a nice day. Have a good day on the trial.

Amy Bushatz: I’m not taking, I’m not taking questions today.

Nicole Snell: Yeah. The Q and a is closed. Please continue on your way. And it doesn’t matter if that person thinks you’re an awful mean horrible person. What does that, what is their, what does their evaluation of me really mean to me? Especially if it’s a stranger, why do I care if they think? I don’t really care what a stranger thinks of me. If they’ve been making me feel uncomfortable and I set a boundary and they think to themselves, I’m awful. Well, okay. I guess I’m awful, but I’m also safe and I’m gonna continue my hike safely.

And if it’s someone you know, then they should be willing to listen to your boundary. And it could be a longer conversation if you need to have that with somebody. And the last thing I’ll say. remember that you’re worth fighting for. And that fighting back is so much more than just the physical skills, but that if you have to use your body, your body is full of weapons. Just a few that we have right now we have are that I can just name off your hands, your palms, your nails, your elbows, your teeth, your knees, your feet, your brain, your voice. We have a lot of tools available to us, if we need to. And physical self-defense is not about fighting strength with strength. It’s not, we’re not having combat where we’re gonna trade blows as if it’s a boxing match, right? That’s not how realistic violence happens. And so we’re not using strength against strength. We’re using our strong body parts against the vulnerable spots on another human. Because all human bodies have essentially the same vulnerable spots. And if you can aim the hard parts of your body into that, into their soft spots that can give you the space to get to safety.

Amy Bushatz: Man, those are such um, such good tips. And I heard Siri even was talking to you about.

Nicole Snell: You know, what, she , I’m holding the microphone and she’s like, sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. I’m like, gosh, darn Siri, you’re fired for the 10th time. This week you’re fired.

Amy Bushatz: It’s it’s okay. Because I’m not even gonna say the name. It’s so sensitive. It’s on my desk and it responds at the drop of a hat and periodically starts playing Beyonce. And my family claims that they don’t know why. And. I’m not mad about it, but I am curious. So

Nicole Snell: oh my gosh. I bet they, they trained a routine into it and didn’t tell you, so every time you say book it, listens oh, this is ,

Amy Bushatz: I’ll be like in the kitchen making dinner. And all of a sudden I hear All the Single Ladies going down in my office. And like I said I’m not mad. I’m just confused. So ,

Nicole Snell: That’s amazing though. That’s really pretty amazing.

Amy Bushatz: All right. That is so totally unrelated to, to what we’ve been talking about it, but I’m gonna leave it in this episode because it’s so funny.

All right, Nicole, thank you for joining us on this episode of the podcast, the final thing we’re gonna do is sort of walk ourselves out, imagining ourselves in, by hearing where your favorite outdoor space is, or I’m sorry, where you’re hearing outdoor memory. I’m so like distracted by Beyonce. Now I can’t get it together. Okay. Going to try that again. We always ask our guests to walk us out with their favorite outdoor memory. If you could describe a memory that you have of something outside, some something you just like to think about and go back to, for example, one of mine is just this run I did through this field of wild flowers.

That’s almost so great. It’s fake. So where are you and what are you doing?

Nicole Snell: I am in New Zealand on the Tongariro Alpine crossing, and I’ve just climbed to the top where red crater is. And I’m looking down the other side and I see a little pop of blue. And I walk a little bit further across and down, and the Emerald Lakes come into view and they are three or four lakes that are just the most beautiful shades of blue and turquoise and green and teal because of the minerals and the ground. And I must have stayed there for about 45 minutes in the cold. It was freezing at the top, looking down at these lakes because it was so beautiful. It was and, and the ground is smoking around you because it’s, geothermally active. So it’s freezing cold. You’re next to an active volcano. The ground is smoking and. Beautiful blue lakes in front of you just doesn’t make any sense.

Amy Bushatz: Mm-hmm mm-hmm Man. That’s and it’s um, thank you for describing that so that we could picture it. That’s great. I’ve never been there. So what a great visual picture. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside podcast today.

Nicole Snell: Thank you so much for having me as a guest. It was great to talk to.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast too. What you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out there.

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