Here at the Outdoor Book Club we know that die-hard bibliophiles often have deep-seated anxiety about spending time in the woods (not to mention mountains, meadows, beaches and any other environment without a flushing toilet). Perhaps it's because most of us have spent our entire lives inside. (Who's read the book Room?) Even if we spent our childhoods riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts in the woods or attending summer camp, we haven't really become outdoorswomen. So as we grow into adults, we lose a critical connection to nature that's really hard to re-establish after so many years with a roof constantly over our heads.
But all is not lost. Research shows that nature is an eternal spring of healing for all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual ills. For example:
You're not as big a wimp as you think you are.
You're actually very capable of being the heroine in the book that you've always admired. Nature is perhaps the single best way to reconnect with your inner heroine, with those around you and to the wider world. We simply won't survive long without connection.
But what about all those bugs? And what if I have to pee?
Bugs and peeing in the woods aside, the best advice I can give you about loving the outdoors is to simply decide to take the risk (I can guarantee you it's all mental). Don't argue with yourself, don't try and make excuses, don't worry about if you're doing it right. Just move forward a little bit each time, and it will get easier.
But if you still need some tactics to help you learn to love the outdoors, here are some tips to help make it easier:
You don't need to travel far if you're just starting to learn how to enjoy the outdoors. Walking around the neighborhood is as good a place as any to begin. Or if you're feeling like you need to be the valedictorian of the outdoors (an urge I'm familiar with), find a local hiking trail near your house. Then move up to spending more time outdoors: longer hikes, a camp out in the backyard, and then find a local full-service campground. Each action, each moment you spend outside becomes a stepping stone towards being the wild woman and heroine of your own story that you've always wanted to be.
Bring a friend (and maybe that friend has four legs)
Even if you really enjoy your alone time, there might be times when you need someone else's company (as well as the extra motivation). Bringing your kid(s) along is a great way for the family to connect and create memories, and a there really isn't a better date idea than a long walk along a flowing river.
Read up on the ecosystem where you live.
This will help you better appreciate the natural environment around you. Find out what kind of trees are native to your geographic area and try to find them. Bring along a bird book and some binoculars (you can borrow them from your grandmother). Find out how your local waterways connect together - then toss a stick or flower into the stream, and imagine how it could conceivably end up in the ocean (a great opportunity to reflect on the connectiveness of the Universe).
Bring treats (chocolate works — just don't keep it in your pocket)
So does an artisinal sandwich with all your favorite condiments that no one else likes. Maybe even one of those little bottles of wine, if you want to go down that road (do I have to tell you not to get drunk while hiking/kayaking/bicycling? No? Good.).
Bring a book
Yes. Bring your life preserver, and after you put in a good 30-60 minutes exploring, pick a quiet place and start reading. Soon you'll associate being outside with a healthier sense of well-being, alone time and getting to read your book uninterrupted (now how often does that happen on the couch at home?).
Buy awesome hiking boots
Nothing like a special pair of shoes to get you motivated. I'm particularly fond of Keens for all types of activities. Make sure you find out how to buy hiking boots that make sense for you, depending on what kind of hiking you're planning on doing.
Ride a bike
The thing I love about riding a bike over walking or running is that you cover so much more ground. Plus it's about as close to flying as you'll get without actually leaving the earth or paying money for a plane ticket.
Meditating while outside is like super-charging your meditation practice. You can either meditate while hiking, or find a quiet spot away from any foot traffic, sit down in the leaves or sand, and disconnect from the chaos that is your every day life.
Finally: get over yourself
So you hate being outside. Time to take a serious look at why that is, when so much research shows that as human beings we're wired to be outside, and that according to the New York Times, trying new things is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy.
“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says C. Robert Cloninger, the psychiatrist who developed personality tests for measuring this trait.
Decide that all the stories you've told yourself about how much you hate bugs and sunburn and physical activities are just your ego trying to keep you from doing something awesome.
What are other ways you've found to get yourself or others outside? Share in the comments below.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe