A great irony of our world today is that while we can virtually connect with almost anyone, anywhere with the click of a mouse, the sad reality for many of us is that the frequency and quality of our face-to-face interactions has diminished.
Armed with smartphones, it can be difficult to escape the instant satisfaction of a new ‘like’ on Facebook, a response to your clever Tweet or an incoming text message from a friend or client. As a result, we often find ourselves pulled in multiple directions while speaking with friends, family members and work colleagues. We are physically present but often not emotionally present and therein lies an important challenge.
Without a conscious effort to effectively manage (and perhaps limit) these intrusions, this pattern continues and becomes the new norm and we can begin to lose our ability to be fully present with ourselves and with those around us. We can also see the negative impact in our reduced ability to engage with activities which require our sustained focus — be that grappling with a new concept, reading for work or for pleasure or doing the thinking necessary to stay relevant in a world where we are being outsourced or offshored at an alarming rate.
Living in London as I do, it is easy to forget that you are surrounded by 100s of miles of sparsely populated countryside where you can walk for hours without seeing a single soul, especially now as the days get shorter.
In early 2012, I joined a number of local walking and hiking groups. And in recent months, I have spent long days in the Great Outdoors from the remoteness and beauty of the Brecon Beacons to the cliffs and salt marshes of the Norfolk coast, hiking with a group of like-minded wanderers through wild and beautiful landscapes. As I’ve rediscovered, there is no substitute for an immersive experience like this in terms of disconnecting from information overload and for reconnecting with myself and with others.
As I reflect on these recent experiences, I’ve identified the top 10 benefits that I achieved while out in nature with others. I suspect that many of you will experience something similar.
- Connecting face-to-face: for me there is no substitute for connecting with people in person. While we have made tremendous leaps in our ability to communicate instantly and cheaply with people all around the world, the price for that can be a reduced ability to really listen and hear what those around us are saying. (This is especially an issue for those of us with partners and children)
- Rediscovering the lost art of conversation: With an empty road ahead and the day stretching out in front of you, there is a luxury in knowing that your travelling companions will be there alongside for that day’s journey and that there is little chance of outside interruption.
- Meeting new people and making new friends: Let’s face it, as we get a little older we run the risk that our social circle(s) and our world can become a little smaller and very predictable. And for many folks that work long hours in the city and live in the suburbs, it can be hard to make friends outside of the workplace especially if you’ve moved there from elsewhere and don’t already have an established social network. For those of us that work from home or independently, it is a great way to stay connected.
- Escaping from information overload: I constantly seek news and information (a particular problem today with a never-ending news cycle and access to unlimited sources of information) and I have to work hard to pull myself away from a multitude of constantly updated information channels. Out in nature, where phone coverage is either weak or non-existent, it is much easier to be more fully present with myself and with others.
- New business connections: For all the benefits that an online network like Linked-in can bring, there’s nothing like time spent face-to-face to rapidly build the know, like and trust factor.
- Positive after-effects: I find the positive after-effects stay with me well into the work week, leaving me more energised, more motivated and overall — happier. This not only benefits me but equally, those around me.
- Variety: Exercise routines can get boring pretty quickly and if we do not continually challenge our bodies in new and different ways then the benefits can be limited. Hiking in unfamiliar terrain can mix up our exercise routines nicely.
- Learning new skills — there’s usually an opportunity to learn new skills, whether that’s learning how to read maps, using a compass to find your way around, developing climbing, abseiling or scrambling skills or just learning how to become more resourceful when you’re presented with an unexpected challenge.
- Great exercise: Walking for 10 or 15 miles is so much more interesting when you’re with others. And when the going gets a little tough, you’re much more likely to push yourself to do more as part of a group.
- Positive health benefits. Recent studies have shown that sitting down for prolonged periods is reducing our life expectancy and that going to the gym or exercising 1x per day is not in itself enough to counteract the effects of sitting in front of a computer or a TV for hours per day. The key is to move — so taking a day or a weekend to move ticks this box nicely.
Finally, at the end of a long hike, there is something quite special about that end-of-the-day beverage. Whether it’s a soothing hot chocolate or a cold beer — it definitely does go down a treat!!
There are 100’s of hiking groups to choose from on MeetUp and most likely there’s one close to you. Here in the UK, the Ramblers Association have walking groups all throughout the UK and you can try out groups before you are required to sign up for a (low-cost) membership. And in the US and Canada, you can check out Volkssport walking clubs.
There are most likely walking groups in your local area. Go, check 1 or more out. Then sign up and get moving.
You’ll be glad you did!