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Training Outside the Box

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Sometimes it's the little things that can make all the difference. A word of encouragement just when you need it, or a really good hot cocoa after a long day of sled hauling. But little things go both ways. Sometimes they're good and sometimes they're not so good. A drippy nose that won't stop leaking or frosty goggles that block your vision are terrible additions to any day. When you're giving 100% of your energy just to take the next step, there's nothing left over to deal with anything else, even if it's a simple annoyance. The "straw that breaks the camel's back" could be as uncomplicated as an irritating song that's stuck in your head.

Two adventurers with frozen beards on a North Pole Dogsled Expedition
Snotcicles are included in the long list of things that can make any day more challenging.

There are a few ways to prevent a trivial matter from ruining your hour, or day. One of the best ways is to train enough for your expedition so that you don't need 100% of your energy to put one foot in front of the next. Normal activity, like pulling your sled, should require only "most" of your energy - reserving a portion to deal with the unexpected. Another way to prepare for mental (or other) intrusions is to incorporate them into your training. I call this "training outside the box" because it's beyond your typical cookie cutter work-out. Astronauts often refer to this kind of training as "External Event Training" and it broadly covers the ability to live and work in the extreme environment of space.

One of my favorite ways to train "outside the box" is to head out when conditions aren't ideal. Working out in the rain or wind, or when you have lots on your mind gives you practice dealing with more than putting one foot in front of the next. Like an astronaut it prepares you for external events that are a part of living and working in an extreme environment.

You can also simulate an external event, like iced up goggles, by putting a small piece of tape on portions of your sunglass lenses (not too much to be unsafe of course). If it drives you nuts that's OK. Practice diverting your energy away from what's bothering you and into what you can easily control - your breathing, your footsteps and a plan to fix the problem at your next break. Looking for another way to "train outside the box"? Bring a friend or family member along while you're training particularly hard and have them ask you tons of questions (that's always a challenging one for me). Physically it can be hard to talk with them because you're out of breath, but mentally it can also be quite a challenge having to focus on something other than your next step.

Learning to deal with frustrations, whether external or internal, is an important part of thriving during an expedition (and not just surviving). Check out this short video of my last session training "outside the box". What are some ways that you "train outside the box?" We'd love to know!

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