Why You Should Rethink How You Pursue Adventure

You don’t have to jump out of airplanes, hike steep mountains, or run with bulls to have an adventure. You just need to challenge yourself to improve.

Look at a tale of two adventurers. Tanya is a skydiving instructor who’s jumped out of airplanes hundreds of times. She’s going on a jump today with some friends at her favorite spot because they wanted to do something fun. As she leaps from the plane and feels the wind rushing past, she experiences that familiar surge of adrenaline she has with every jump.

Steph is a bookkeeper at the local library. She writes poetry in her spare time but has never had the courage to share it with anyone. On a whim, she attends an open mic night at a nearby cafe. Though her voice trembles and her face flushes as she reads her words, she feels emboldened and commits to sharing her work more often.

Which one of these two fictional characters went on the greater adventure?

Most people would probably say Tanya. But I’d argue that Steph went on a true adventure because she stepped outside of her comfort zone, while Tanya did something familiar to her.

What is adventure, anyway?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines adventure as “an exciting or remarkable experience.”

Behavior scientist Jon Levy, author of The 2 AM Principle: Discover The Science of Adventure, takes it a step further by outlining three elements of a true adventure:

  1. It’s exciting and remarkable (looks like he agrees with Merriam-Webster there!).
  2. It involves a perceived risk or adversity.
  3. It brings about growth.

That last element is key.

In any good movie or novel, the protagonist goes through a “character arc,” meaning they are not the same person at the end as they were at the beginning. There must be growth, or the character falls flat.

The same applies to the story of our lives. If we’re striving to be the best version of ourselves, it’s not just about having fun. It’s about fostering improvement.

Tanya vaguely meets the first two requirements of an adventure: Skydiving is exciting, though for her, not remarkable because she does it all the time. It also involves risk, though she may not see it that way because it’s so familiar.

Steph, on the other hand, meets all three requirements: Reading her poetry in front of people is remarkable because she’s never done it before. It involves a perceived risk, which is why she’s afraid to do it. And it brings about growth because, at the end of it, she commits to sharing her work more often.

Besides fun, what are the benefits of an adventure?

Other than just having fun, you can benefit from adventure in many ways, including:

1. Learn a new skill (and keep your brain sharp!). A 2013 study on older adults suggests that learning a new skill can sharpen mental acuity. One group of participants was tasked with learning a new skill, while the other group was told to keep doing what was familiar to them. At the end of three months, researchers found that the group that had focused on learning new skills showed improvements in memory. Challenging your brain to learn something new can actually pay off in the long run.

2. Spark personal growth. Again, back to the concept of a character arc. In the story of your life, how are you growing? How does this adventure bring about a change by the end of it? Adventure travelers are catching on to the benefits of stepping outside of their comfort zone. In a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, researchers found that “transformation,” including personal growth and challenge, was cited as the number one motivating factor for adventure travelers, more than “fun & thrills,” “physical health,” and “meaningful stories” combined.

3. Increase resilience. Resilience is essential because it helps us bounce back from tough events. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that those who experienced some adverse events in their life had better mental health. It’s important to note, though, that this was compared to those who experienced many adversities and those who experienced no adversity at all. So some adversity appeared to contribute to mental health, while too much adversity could be detrimental.

Wait...so is it bad to have fun?

No! In fact, if an adventure indeed involves something “exciting and remarkable,” I’d say you’d have to have at least a little fun.

But to do things in the pure pursuit of pleasure is to miss the point completely of what it means to live an adventure-kissed life.

You don’t have to jump out of airplanes, hike steep mountains, or run with bulls to have an adventure.

You just need to challenge yourself to improve.

So you go, fictional Steph! May we all take a page out of her book and do more of the things that scare us and inspire us to grow.

What adventures will you go on today?