Hunting for Unicorns

The blog of Rick Randolph

Guitars and Elephants: Changing the story you tell

Photo credit: Markus Grossabler via flickr (CC)

Photo credit: Markus Grossabler via flickr (CC)

I am a singer.

Well, not really. But I have always wanted to be.

No. I guess that is not true either.

I was talking to my wife last week while we were listening to music. I think Ed Sheeran or Greg Brown was on Pandora.  I said to her, “That is one skill I have always wished I had. I wish I could play guitar and sing.”

She nodded and said her too.

But as soon as I said it I realized that it wasn’t true. I hadn’t always wanted to. If I had, I would have done it.

I am not talking about wanting to be in a band or to perform. I just want to sit around with my family and play and sing. I don’t want to be great. I just don’t want to be terrible.

I have messed around with a guitar before but never very seriously, a semester in college and  a buddy taught me some things over beers. The singing — short of some drunk karaoke, bed time for my kids or in the car by myself, I have never tried.

It seems a little late to start. Everyone you hear about started playing and singing as a kid.

I am just not a good singer.

I don’t think. I guess I don’t even know. Maybe I am not terrible.

That was the conversation that went on in my head over those few minutes between my wife nodding her head in agreement about it and whatever we talked about next.

Being able to play and sing for my kids or write a song for my wife has always been one of those little fantasies that we all have in our heads — well I assume we all have them. I have always had this vision, where I am camping with friends and family on a beach and everyone is listening and singing while I play.

I realized that day, that the story I told myself had tricked me. The idea that I couldn’t sing or play was just something I believed. It reminded me of the story I’d heard about tying up an elephant.

Elephants used to be tied up at a circus or a zoo by a small chain or rope (less so now as attention has been brought  to more humane techniques). Elephants are one of the most powerful creatures on earth. They could snap the chains and ropes used to control them at will. But the trainers start them young. When they are small, and too weak to break the small chain, they tie them up and teach them that they can’t get away. As they age, they continue to believe the chain is still too strong. They were taught they can’t get away. They never try. As adults, they continue to believe it.

Elephants must not be very smart sometimes– people either.

So my wife forwarded me a Groupon for singing lessons. Turns out she has “always wanted to do that” too.

I borrowed a guitar and will be starting lessons there too soon as well.

These stories we tell ourselves about who or what we are are powerful. They shape so much about how we live and what we do. I guess it is important to make sure they are true.

Maybe I am a singer. Maybe not. Time to find out.

What story are you telling yourself?

Afraid of fear: Lessons learned from a tiny nub of rock


Climbing in Red Rock Silhouette by lastbeats on flickr

I did my first lead climb last week and I learned something that had nothing to do with climbing.

I am no expert, but I will explain it as it was explained to me.

For those that don’t understand, in rock climbing, a lead climber is the first one up the rock. He pulls a rope up behind him. In our case, we were sport climbing, meaning there were bolts drilled into the rocks on the way up so I could clip a rope in as I went.

The process goes like this. While still on the ground, you tie your harness into the rope and a partner holds the other end. He is responsible for the belay, essentially to catch you if you fall. The lead climber starts climbing up toward the first bolt and clips into it. Now, at least the belay has something to work with and can catch you if you fall. Climb to the second bolt and repeat the process. The scary part is that every time you clip in and climb you are above to the point where you are connected. If you fall, you fall twice as far as you have climbed since the last bolt before the belay catches.

In our case, I was lead climbing to the top to hook in the rope for the others to climb “top rope.”

I thought of it like a roller coaster. You know it is safe, but there is still going to be a scary moment when you are sliding down that you question whether all this gear will work.

I was about two-thirds up the rock and about 10 feet above the last bolt. I came to a spot that I couldn’t really find a grab above me or a foothold that felt like I could drive off of. The only grab I could find was a little more than a high spot on the rock to grab on to. There was a nub to put my foot on. I sat there, for what seemed like minutes, looking for better holds.

There was clearly no way I could pull myself up on that tiny hold. I knew I’d fall if I tried. Those who I had talked to had assured me, I could pull up on much less than I ever thought, but still, they couldn’t have meant this.

I realized at a certain point I had to make a choice. I could climb down or I could go for it. If I tried and fell, at least the rope would catch me and I could try again, or climb down then.

So I grabbed the high spot and put my foot on the nub and … it was totally anti-climactic. I climbed up to the next bolt like I was on a ladder. I would imagine a real rock climber wouldn’t have even slowed down. Nonetheless, it was a huge victory for me.

It is cliche that sport is a metaphor for life … but that day I understood it.

I realized there were so many places in my life like that rock, areas that for whatever reason, I was afraid to go for it. Even when the consequences were minimal and I had plans in place to protect me, I still was afraid to try.

There are so many places in our lives where we spin in limbo waiting for something to happen, afraid to do anything — even though there are no real consequences, except the fear of fear.

Rock climbing is fun. Roller Coasters are fun. What else are we missing out on by being afraid of fear?

Words can’t hurt but they can protect: Two different ways to increase personal safety


Photo by Rene_McGurk via. flickr

People ask the same question in so many ways.

“What if?”

“What do you do when?”

People always come to self-defense classes for roughly the same reasons. They want to be prepared for whatever happens. So they come with lots of questions.

“How about this … ?”

Naturally, they want answers. Often, self defense is taught as an if/then statement. If they do this, then you do this …

Within the SPEAR System, we see things differently. When someone asks, “What do you do if?” we ask, “What is the scenario?”

For example, what do you say to a bad guy to de-escalate a situation?

I had a friend who was down in San Francisco. She was jogging on a bike trail early one morning and she ran by dozens of others out for a run. None of them made her concerned. But then for some reason, this guy behind her started creeping her out. She kept going but she was scared.

So she stopped. So did he. Now she was really scared. She turned to him and said, “If you come any closer, I will fu** you up!”

He looked at her, turned and jogged away. She won.

A few years ago I was in Munich Germany with Tony Blauer, the founder of the SPEAR System. We were teaching a self-defense course and a course for police officers that week. It might have been the time change but I couldn’t sleep. I decided 3 am was a good time to go for a walk alone in a neighborhood I knew nothing about. The fact that I walked past two “gentlemen’s clubs” and several bars, wasn’t enough of a clue as to what type of neighborhood it was. (OK, sometimes I don’t make good personal safety choices either. I wish someone taught a class on this stuff.)

So anyways, I’m strolling along, oblivious and I look up and see a group of eight or ten guys on a corner … and they are focused on me. Not in a good way. I remember looking down at the ground, so as not to make eye contact, thinking how embarrassing it was going to be to get my ass kicked in a SPEAR System shirt. I remember thinking, “This is exactly what you tell people not to do.”

I looked up at them. They looked mean. I was too close to run. They’d catch me. I kept walking toward them.

“Hey fellas, what’s up?” I called out and smiled. They startled and cleared a way for me to walk right through the middle of them. I hit the next corner and was gone. Back to the hotel.

But what if I’d have used my friend’s line that worked so well? “You come near me I’ll fu** you up.”

I think I’d have gotten fu**ed up.

The scenario determines the response. That is why if/then plans don’t work. That is why you can’t have a plan set in stone.

Think of self-defense, at least the pre-contact part, like an improvisational skit. As random and arbitrary as it seems, good improvisational actors follow a set of principles, but no set script.

True self-defense is not a combat sport where the goal is always to physically fight. Principle-based self-defense isn’t about beating up the bad guy or stopping him. It’s about getting you to safety.

If you’re headed to Germany, drop me a line. I can recommend some good places not to go for a  walk.

How have you won a fight by not having one? Comment on the blog or on Facebook. 

Letting them fail: It is part of the plan

I don’t want to help my kids anymore.

I used to,IMG_1044 but I am over it now.

A few months ago, I was on a bike ride with my two oldest and stopped by the creek to hangout and rest. They were tossing rocks and arguing about something or other. Annoyed at the bickering, I bet them $5 that they couldn’t get across the creek and back without getting their feet wet.

“Deal,” they said.

My son had one idea. My daughter went the other way. He sat and yelled for her to come listen. She went over and tried to move a fallen log that was way too big for her to move. I pretended to be napping.

I listened to lots of complaining and no progress.

Then something happened. They learned. On their own, with no encouragement or help, they started to listen to each other.

I kept pretending to nap. I heard splashes as rocks were rolled into the water and logs became bridges. I watched them reach out to steady and balance each other as they worked themselves over the logs. Then all the sudden I heard them call out, “Dad.”

I awoke from my pretend nap and sat up. They were on the other side smiling.

“Nice work,” I told them. “But you have to get back too.”

Watch us, they asked.

So I did. And they bickered about who should go first. At one point my daughter was crawling across a branch and she said she was scared. She looked over at me. My immediate reaction was to help her, to calm her but I caught myself. I shrugged my shoulders.

“Quit,” I told her. “I need the five bucks.”

I got up and walked away to another part of the creek where they couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see them.  I few minutes later they came running up giggling together. I touched their shoes. They were dry.

I saw a video on of Angela Lee Duckworth. She is a management consultant turned seventh grade teacher, turned psychologist that did a study and determined that the number one indicator for success is grit. Grit, as she defined it, is perseverance and stick-to-it-ivness. It is the ability to keep doing something, even when it is hard, to accomplish a goal. Her research showed grit was more important than IQ, good looks or social intelligence as a predictor of future success.

My kids, I realized, are not always the grittiest.

They ask for help a lot and being a good dad, I help them. My two oldest fight, “Dad, Luke’s doing such and such.”

So dad helps them come up with a solution. I do it out of love. I want them to succeed and have faith in my ability to help them.

I realized that love, sometimes, was keeping them from learning some of the most important things I wanted them to learn. By wanting things to be great for them, I was robbing them of the opportunity to become great themselves — to get gritty and figure it out.

Helping them was really for me. Letting them struggle was for them.

Obviously I am not talking about the big stuff. I don’t want them getting injured. But I don’t care if they get hurt or frustrated or even if they fail. That is how they learn. I don’t want to take that from them by helping.

So when you see my kids struggling and they want help, ignore them. Trust me, I see the struggle and it is killing me to ignore it. Do it anyway, it is what they really want.

Five reasons roller bags are ruining you and your kids

I am against roller bags — suitcases and backpacks that you pull behind you instead of carrying them. They were designed to make our lives easier.IMG_1293

I won’t let my kids use them.

I know I am being silly about this. I get it. Some people need them because of age or the amount of luggage they have. But look around an airport. EVERYONE has them. I know kids have more books they have to haul. But look around the school. Everyone has one.

No, this isn’t some rant about being a man or nostalgia for a time past and I understand different people have different needs and capacities. I guess it is more of a philosophical statement.

It just seems like in our effort to always make things easier, we have gotten … well, weaker.

Years ago, I was a supervisor at a shipping company. We had recently installed back up cameras on all the trucks. Management decided it would enhance safety if the drivers had backup cameras. At first there were complaints, but eventually they were liked and relied upon. Almost too much.

One day I got a call from a driver. His camera had broken and he wanted us to bring a new truck.

“You still have mirrors right?” I asked.

Of course,” he said, somewhat annoyed.

“Then you will be fine. The shop will fix it tonight.”

While technology is great, sometimes I think we become too reliant on it. Here are some other areas we suffer for innovation:

  •      Movement: Humans used to have to walk up to 13 miles a day just to get the food they needed. That was a part of our evolution. Nowadays going 13.1 is defined as a half marathon and something people specifically train for and receive accolades. .
  •      Exercise: Eight-minute abs, 30 day challenges, diet pills, shakes … I have a friend who was born in the Ukraine. He said all the gyms there consisted of barbells, kettlebells and ropes to climb. When he came to the US, he was excited to try all the new machines in more modern gyms. Now, years later, he is back to kettlebells, barbells and climbing ropes. Turns out, although tougher, they were more effective.
  •      Transportation: I have a friend who worked as a retail manager. He used to get employees calling in because their car was in the shop and they had no way to get to work. He said he knew they lived less than three miles away.
  •      Food: I tell my kids they need to learn how to cook. Chances are, whoever they marry won’t know how – male or female. Now, most opt for pre-made, heat and serve meals. Type II diabetes is common in kids and obesity is an epidemic. Coincidence?
  •      Disposable products: Paper plates at home? Wash a dish. Buying cases of bottled water, drinking them and tossing the bottle. Get a reusable bottle and fill it up. Paper or plastic? Neither, take reusable bags to the store. Stop making excuses. This idea of abundance is a myth. This lifestyle is unsustainable. If we don’t change, it crashes.

Just because something makes things easier, doesn’t mean it makes them better.

All the stuff I am bashing, I’ve used before and will use again. I am a hypocrite. Sometimes it is convenient and I get it. My point is that everything we do has consequences and choosing something because it is easier has consequences too.

I know roller bags won’t ruin my kids lives but if we get in the habit of always looking for the easy way to do everything, what happens when we reach points in our lives when we have to do hard things?

Many of us like to think, I could do it if I have to. Yeah, but what a crappy time to find out you are wrong, when you HAVE to. Sometimes there is no easy option.

John Kennedy said, “Don’t pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”

Nice, but I think it needs a reframe. Don’t pray to be stronger men and women, work for it. Sometimes pick the hard way. There is value in that too.

Where do you choose the hard way just for the sake of it? Comment here or on Facebook.

One more thing you need to know about being safe in your house


Image courtesy of chanpipat at

Last week my neighbor’s house got burglarized. She came over when she realized it and told my wife. The cops came and took a report and talked to our other neighbors. It turns out one of them saw the guy leaving with a pillowcase full of her stuff.

I knew the police officer that came to take the report and I talked with him.

I was sleeping later that night when our dog started barking and ran out of the room. My wife got up and went to go see what he was barking at. I followed her out the room, but I am not sure she saw me. Out the window she saw a person moving toward our back gate. The windows were open.

I was about to say something to her but she yelled out the open window, “Get the fu** out of here!”

The guy stepped out from around the fence where she could see him and shined a flashlight on himself.

“It’s the police,” he said.

I talked to him, it was the cop from earlier. He had a description and wanted to know if I’d seen the guy. He had gotten confused and was trying to find our front door.

When he left, my wife turned to me and said, “Sorry, I didn’t know you were right there.”

But I am glad I was. I am glad I got to see how she re-acted when she thought someone was trying to break into the house.

When I teach self-defense, most people say they want to be quiet and hide when they think someone is trying to break into the house. They say they don’t want the bad guy to know they are in there.

I tell them instead to let the bad guy know they are in there. In the SPEAR System, we teach that the bad guy only wants three things: Your property, your body or your life. As I cop I learned, that most burglars don’t want to go into a house where people are. They usually break in when they think no one is there. Most burglars want property. Let them know you are there and they will go find a better house to burg.

Because in the SPEAR System, we also teach that most bad guys don’t want three things either: To get caught, to get hurt or for it to take too long.

I always explain that yelling something like my wife did, gives the bad guy a chance to run away.

“But what if he doesn’t?” people ask. Obviously then, he is after more than property. Bad situation. At least you know now before he is inside so you have a chance to prepare, run out the back door, grab a weapon, scream, prepare to fight.

In our situation, it wasn’t a bad guy. It was a misunderstanding. She said she actually made a conscious choice to yell at him. She wanted him to know people were in there. Sure there was an adrenaline dump. Sure, she had a little fear. For a moment, she thought someone was breaking into her house. Scary.

And she was wrong. It wasn’t a bad guy. The consequences were that she felt a little silly and we all got a laugh. So what?

But what if she was right and hadn’t acted? What if she panicked and someone came in the house? The consequences could have been a lot scarier.

I am proud of what she has learned.

Next time, I’m not even getting out of bed.

What are you afraid of?

What if there is nothing wrong with you?

3148326886_9e8c3839c8_oI’ve tried to write this post several times but I get distracted — shiny objects and squirrels running by …

Several months ago I was reading a book called Spark by John Ratey. The book is about how exercise can be used to help a variety of mental health issues. I’ve read it several times but this time something stuck. As I was reading the chapter on Attention Deficit Disorder, I felt like I had been slapped across the face. It was describing me. (I know it is technically all called ADHD, but I still refer to is as ADD.)

Now, I’d been told by folks in the know several times during my life that I had ADD, but I didn’t listen, or care or know if I believed them. These stories in Spark, however, hit too close to home. I got another of Ratey’s books, Driven to Distraction (He is considered one of the nation’s ADD experts). More stories describing me.

The books said don’t self-diagnose, so I got a doctor’s appointment to confirm. Yeah, I’m a textbook example of adult ADD.

I told my friends. They were shocked — shocked that I didn’t know. They all said, “duh.”

Oh well. At 40-years-old, I have unknowingly learned to cope with it. But there is another side of it. The apple didn’t fall far and my son is another textbook example. We got him officially diagnosed too. I initially told him, he had Attention Deficit DISORDER. I told him there were ways we could manage it.

But it still didn’t feel right — telling him he had a disorder.

So I kept reading and learning.

It turns out there was a study done in 2008 by Northwestern University that shows ADD may have been a positive trait back in the days of hunter-gatherers, back in the world we were designed for. By studying a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers and another tribe settled in a village, researchers learned that the hunter-gathers with ADD were better nourished than the others. It turned out the opposite was for the “civilized” ones living in a village.

And it wasn’t just that study. There is significant evidence and understanding that ADD was, at an earlier point in our evolution, a pretty strong and healthy personality trait. It helped keep us alive in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

So for me, it begs the question: How, in 10,000 years, did a trait that at one time was considered desirable, become a disorder? I would think a disorder would be something that was unhealthy, not something we assign to 11 percent of our nation’s children and 5 percent of our adults because it doesn’t quite fit all our rules. Maybe there is nothing wrong with us. Maybe the rest of you need to be medicated.

But I get it. This it the world we live in. Both my son and I have to learn to work and succeed within some of the constraints society has designed. What we don’t have to do is believe that there is anything wrong with us. We were designed for success in the world we were built for, not the one that was built for us.

And really that is the point. These labels we give each other are based on perspectives from society and rules that have been created for us. Whether the label is ADD or too old or too young or too driven or too shy or too quiet or too strong or too weak, recognize that those are labels someone else gave you based on their perspective. We don’t have to believe it, even if they are a doctor.

I’m not telling my son or any of his friends there is anything wrong with them. I am telling him he has a super-power that sometimes the world doesn’t understand — Clark Kent understood that. The ability to fly was not a disorder.

It’s our secret. I think we are lucky.

What is your superpower?

Caving into fear … and what spelunking reminded me about managing it

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.34.53 PM

I went spelunking with a friend the other day. We had to drive down this old fire road that hadn’t been maintained. We really needed  an off-road car rather than his wife’s all-wheel drive Honda Pilot, but that is another story.

At the bottom he found a trail that he remembered from when he was a kid and we wound our way back to the front of the cave.

I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew that most cool caves had either been sealed off by some government agency concerned about our safety or had a paid guided tour. I figured since this was neither of the above, it was going to be fairly innocuous. And at the mouth it looked like it … a big cave. I followed my buddy to the back where it looked like it would end. He squeezed through a crack in the wall and was gone.

Caves are dark. Obviously, we had our headlamps but really, like a flashlight, they only light where you are looking. We scrambled through a few tunnels, and into a larger room.  I felt like Alan Quartermain, sealed in King Solomon’s mine. Every room we went into looked like it had to be the end, but my buddy always found a little tunnel to squeeze through and we continued.

“This one is a little tight.” He said as I watched him wiggle through until his feet disappeared.

I’m a big guy, at least 40 pounds more than him with a bigger frame.

“I don’t think I should do it,” I called out. “I might not fit.”

All the sudden it wasn’t fun, I felt my knees shake.

“I shouldn’t do it. It’s not safe. Let’s just head out. I probably won’t fit.”

I was getting a little panicky all of the sudden.

One of the most important things I teach in self-defense is fear management. One of the most important things I teach as a leadership coach is fear management. I honestly don’t remember the last time something physical caused that type of reaction.

I asked myself what it was I was afraid of. Getting stuck? Claustrophobic? A cave in?

None of those things were probable. They mostly happened in my imagination. I took a deep breath and crawled forward. We went all the way to the end. It was one of the coolest things I have done in a while.

The next day I had a business-related meeting. I was nervous about the conversation. While I was sitting there, I realized I was having some of the same panicky feelings I was having in that cave.

What was I afraid of? Him not liking me? Making a fool of myself? Him thinking I was a fraud? While all were possible, none were probable. They existed in my head and even if they were real, they couldn’t hurt me. I took a deep breath and smiled and like in the cave, I crawled forward. It was a great meeting.

Because that is the thing about our fears. They won’t go away. No one is fearless. Those fearless people we know, they’re scared too. They just manage it better. The skill is to listen to the fears and decide if it is real danger or just the scary story you tell yourself.

Listen to them and you miss out. Ignore them and you get to do some cool stuff.

What fears do you let keep you out of the cave?


Break some rules

FullSizeRenderLast week I went to a nearby lakeshore to do some work. Fortunately, I didn’t need wifi, (actually, to focus I probably needed no wifi) so I was able to sit on a beach chair and write. My wife and three-year-old came along to enjoy the sun and the sand.

I was watching as they sat in the sand building a sandcastle and I was struck by the symmetry of another mom, about 100 yards down the beach, building a sandcastle with her little boy. The kids were close to the same age. I figured the moms were too.

“You should go meet them,” I told her.

“I thought about that,” she said. “But I thought it might be weird.”


I was listening to an amazing podcast the other called Invisibilia. There was a great story on expectations and an amazing gem buried in it. Part of the story is a profile of Daniel Kish, a blind man who lives his life much the same as the rest of us. He hikes in the mountains. He climbs trees. He rides his bike. While he can’t “see” in the conventional sense, he has learned to see using a clicking of his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He is able to send out sound waves, similar to a bat, and get a reading of what’s around him. It seems a crazy story.

But it seems, in truth, it is not that crazy. Anyone could learn to do it. He had to out of necessity. He has taught other blind people to do it. Researchers show blind children will intuitively learn it if left to their own devices. They start clicking and learning on their own. Until they are stopped.

Making clicking noises, well, it is not socially acceptable. So their parents stop them. And they never learn to “see.”

There are plenty of times that social rules or a concern over what someone might think stifles us.

  • Personal Safety – As a self-defense instructor, one of people’s biggest worries is speaking up when they are uncomfortable. They don’t want to seem rude or judgmental. They said they have felt uncomfortable but didn’t want to say something because they might look silly. A lot of victims tell us the same thing afterwards.
  • Social interactions – Ladies, how many of you waited and wondered when he was going to ask you out? Guys, how many times have we wished she’d just take the lead and ask us? What would it be if neither group cared about the rules?
  • Recreation – Who knows someone who is afraid to try a sport, or a fitness routine or a competition because they may do poorly and others might laugh. As if that is what gyms and races are full of, people standing around laughing at others. Everyone is too focused on their own problems to worry about yours.
  • Innovation – Years ago I read an article an article about a guy who designed a bike seat that was more ergonomically correct that the uncomfortable design we use these days. The design looked like two oval pads side by side, exactly the shape of your butt. Doctors, scientists, researchers all said it was a better design. Didn’t matter. It didn’t sell. It didn’t LOOK like a bike seat. Now we all run around with sore butts.
  • Learning – One of the best learning experiences of my life was a series of courses at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). I worried they’d be about feelings and emotions and too touchy feely for a former/cop/cage fighter/tough guy. I went anyway and was transformed.


I didn’t need to point out to my wife the silliness of her question. She laughed when she said it.

A few minutes later I looked down the beach and the kids were building a sandcastle and my wife and the other woman were in the lake chatting.

Later that afternoon she came back. The three-year-old talked for days about her new “friend.” My wife said the woman was probably someone she would be friends with. While they may never meet again, they all got something out of the connection.

All those rules – designed to keep us safe. Lucky us.

Break some rules. I wonder what we might learn to “see.”

What are some other “rules” that constrain you?

The value of adventure – Four reasons it’s important for your kids


EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is not suggesting you ever do anything even remotely dangerous. It is the author’s opinion, or at least that of the legal counsel he consulted, that it is safest to suggest people never leave their couches. Leaving your house dramatically increases the potential of injury. Read this article as satire and under no circumstances should you do anything adventurous.


I took my youngest to a park this week. She was practicing climbing and maneuvering across the jungle gym, testing her three-year-old skills.

I didn’t see where they came from but these three boys, probably about five-years-old, came screaming through the play area. They didn’t actually use the play structure the way it was designed but instead swung from bar to bar and skittered around the outsides, hanging and balancing … jumping and falling.

“That was easy, let’s find something harder,” yelled one of them. Two of them shimmied up a pole and up on the top of the apparatus.

“People think this is hard but it’s not.”

He grabbed a pole swung upside down and slid down head first. I watched as they dove down slides, leapt, slipped and swung on bars.

“Let’s pretend we are on an adventure,” he said as he leapt from one fiberglass dinosaur egg to another.


Science and technology has done it’s best to keep us safe. Running on a treadmill is clearly safer than twisting an ankle on an uneven trail or getting hit by a car. Why would we play a real sport when you can get the thrill of virtually playing through some amazingly realistic video games?

I do understand the benefit. No one wants the physical or emotional pain associated with bad stuff happening.

Avoiding risk, to us, equals avoiding pain. But there is more than one type of pain. Lack of adventure hurts too.

I was sharing my feelings on this with a friend and he replied, “You are just a bit more extreme than most people.” I felt like I had been insulted. I see extreme as something on the edge, dangerous, fringe. I’ll go the other way and admit I see those who don’t want to test themselves as “extreme.”

I am not promoting being stupid and putting yourself at ridiculous risk. While I have been known to do some stupid stuff (plenty of fodder for future blogs), it really is a balance of risk vs. reward.


A few years back I read a book called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. The author, John Medina, is a developmental molecular biologist. He is also a gifted storyteller that makes things as complex as the human brain, a little more understandable for guys like me. The gist of the book is that the human brain is a complex and not very well understood piece of equipment. Science has determined, Medina explains, that there are certain rules that assist in the development of our brains. Most, he said, were crucial in the evolution and how they formed over time.

The rules are essentially a list of things the brain needs to be in its “happy place.” The rules operate like the quick start guide for the owner’s manual to our brains.

Medina is considered one of the foremost experts in the field of human brain development but he also relies on the research of other top scientists over the centuries.

And as I read it, he is saying that a good dose of adventure now and then is just what the doctor … err, molecular biologist ordered.

  • #1 – Exercise –  Boosts brain power: While he goes into greater detail regarding the science and neurological pieces of this, his point was essentially that our brains developed on the move — with us moving up to twelve miles a day. Our current sedentary lifestyles don’t deliver the chemical compounds that our brains need to flourish.
  • #2 – Survival – The human brain evolved too. Medina points out that it was while learning to adapt to changes in environments, climates and walking on two legs that our brains allowed us to be the only species adaptable to every corner of the globe. That adaptability and search of change powers our brains today.
  • #9 – Sensory Integration – Stimulate more of the senses at the same time. Medina explains that our senses evolved to work together and the more we can stimulate the greater our learning and development process is. It helps create a more complete picture.
  • #12 – Exploration – we are powerful and natural explorers. He discusses children and their natural tendency toward adventure, danger and exploration. He explains that our brains developed that way initially … before we became the intellectual who found a way to make it all safe.

Exercise, survival, sensory integration and exploration are four of the key components to fully developing ourselves as humans. And it’s not just the my opinion, or the opinion of the trainer at the gym, or the guy who runs the Spartan Race. It is the opinion of some really, really smart people who have done some really, really smart research and study to figure it out. It is the opinion of science.

But really, their opinions won’t change your life either.

We know. A stroll up a mountain trail energizes our minds and allows us to see things more clearly. You don’t need a scientist to tell you that. There is a clarity of mind that comes after excitement and exertion. Look back to your own experiences and trust what you have found. It is self-evident.

And here is the real truth. Those won’t be the real adventures either. Not the runs up mountains or the rides down them. It won’t be the mud races or the hikes or paddling or swimming. That is all just practice. The big one is coming.

Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Silly Helen. Life will never be nothing at all. Life is an adventure. The only real question is are we ready for the ride?

Now that is my kind of science.

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