Outdoor Diary: How Going Outside Has Made Me Better at Decision Making

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Humans Outside Outdoor Diary

Life is full of forks in the road — literally and figuratively. And over my more than 2,000 days going outside every single day for at least 20 minutes I’ve noticed something: the more I practice making decisions outside, the better I am at making them inside.

Why is that and why does it matter? Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[:40] Going outside means you’re going to encounter this

[:45] The many ways I’ve faced this

[1:15] What I’ve noticed about this over my outdoor time

[2:05] Taking this lesson inside

[3:00] Practice makes perfect when dealing with risk

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.

If you’ve ever gone for a hike, long nature walk, ski or other adventure in any kind of wilderness or park space, you’ve likely encountered one of those moments where you’re not sure which path is the right one for you — literally.

I know the feeling well. I’ve come to a fork on the trail. Maybe there’s a sign. Maybe there isn’t. Having one doesn’t always help if I’m being honest. I know where I want to end up, I’m just not sure which way it is that will get me there. Right or left? Onward or back? If I consult a map I might find some help — or I could find that this particular intersection doesn’t seem to be marked there.

I have to make a decision. So I make the best guess I can and move forward.

I’ve noticed something over my more than 2,000 days of my outdoor habit: the more I come across these intersections, the less time I stand puzzling over which one is right. Maybe I’ve gotten better at understanding which way I want to go, or at reading maps, or at remembering my course right off the bat.

But I think it’s something else. I think that I’ve practiced choosing a direction so often, that the uncertainty of not quite knowing the right way no longer really bothers me. I’ll probably get back to where I’m trying to go, and if I find I’ve headed the wrong direction I can back-track. I’ve yet to die in the woods or even be in any serious danger, so I can say with absolute certainty that until this point it has always worked out.

I have practiced facing confusing direction choices over and over again. I have become more decisive over time.

I’ve realized recently that this is another one of those daily outdoor skills that influences my indoor life. Here’s how:

Most of life is not made up of clear decisions, especially when it comes to big life decisions. For example, when we chose to move to Alaska, we had a world of options in front of us. Stay in Tennessee? Move to any other state? Simply put off making a choice? We made a pro and cons list and ultimately decided to give this a try.

And what about something smaller and much lower stake like picking tile for your bathroom, or deciding how to spend a free afternoon or wondering whether to pick up extra freelance work? In most cases there are many options and no clear decision. There is no helpful moral imperative either – no clear right or wrong. All there is making a choice. You have to compare the options, and go with one of them.

Some of these decisions can feel scary — risky. When you pick a path in the woods, there is a risk associated with taking the wrong one. And the more you practice, the more you learn how to deal with that risk, how to make it feel better with your nervous system, how to understand the pros and cons.

The part of your brain that deals with this is your prefrontal cortex. But just like anything, the more you practice the easier it gets. I’ve always been a pretty gut-led person, but I notice these days I hem and haw over things less than I used to both inside and out — and I have to think it’s because of all the practice I’ve had making simple decisions outside.

As I’m recording this it’s snowing again — yes, in mid-April — so you could say the weather can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be spring or winter. I’m trying to have a good attitude about rolling with it.

You can see photos of my daily outdoor time — yesterday it was very spring like and today it was very wintery, for example — on facebook and instagram. And I want to see your outdoor time, too. Share what you’ve got with #humansoutside365.

Until next time, I’ll see you out there.

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