Seeing the Possibilities
If the feedback you're getting isn't encouraging and you can't get rid of the disparagers, then Craddock suggests a technique called standing sideways. It means managing your reactions so you don't consider every challenge to be a direct blow to your self-esteem. Then you can begin to let a lot of stuff go by. (Think about it: Turn sideways and you're offering a narrower target for hits.)
All this is good—tapping into catecholamines, zapping discouraging friends—but the other part of becoming more adventurous means eventually taking a risk. There's a program specifically designed to help people brave that next step: In 1941 a German educator named Kurt Hahn cofounded the first Outward Bound, a school that inserts people into some hairy situations and helps them prove to themselves how much they can accomplish.
Now, once again, bear with me: If you happen to equate mountain climbing not with adventure but with, say, stupidity, let me assure you that Hahn wasn't just interested in cheap thrills. "Thrill seeking is throwing yourself into a situation without really reflecting on it," says Thomas James, vice-dean and professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education, who has spent much of his career studying Hahn. "Hahn was about looking at our self-imposed limitations and stretching beyond them. The adventurous part is discovering possibilities in ourselves."
How do you do that? Not with foolhardy, death-defying acts but with balance and contemplation. For every daring climb or hike you tackle in Outward Bound, you also do something (sometimes many things, like double-checking knots, learning to read a compass...) to ensure that you survive. James calls it a dialectic of risk taking and safety. On a typical 21-day trip, the first week is devoted to the basics: If you're rock climbing, you're taught how to balance yourself, adjust your feet, gauge the friction beneath your boots. The process is never about danger or competition. By week two you find yourself climbing—not under any life-threatening conditions, maybe just six feet above the ground. The third week you're going up the mountain. Using the skills you've just picked up, you discover firsthand just how much more capable you've become. "While you still may be a little scared, you've been taught how to manage the risk," says James. "That's how you get the confidence to become more adventurous and try new things. You're moving into areas of experience you've never had before. So you're building up your sense of self-reliance."
Being adventurous, it turns out, is a little like being a good dancer: Most of us think we aren't, and the more we're convinced of this, the less hope we have of loosening up and getting better. But if we would open up a little—look at what we might do instead of what we're certain we can't—we'd discover something: "Hahn wrote that every human being has within himself a grand passion," says James. And that passion—that's where a sense of adventure really takes you.
Next: How to create an entire mindset for change
From the July 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.