How to play more outdoors

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You love the outdoors. You love play. Playing more outdoors seems like a no-brainer, but given you are already frazzled just trying to keep up with work, family and all the other commitments that modern life entails, it just doesn’t seem to happen. How can you squeeze yet another activity into your busy schedule without adding to your stress and resenting rather than enjoying it? Although it’s still very much a work in progress, I have increased my outdoor playtime massively over the past few years, so here is what has worked for me.

Prioritization

The first step is to identify that outdoor play is a priority. What does this mean? In daily life, there are a lot of different things that compete for our limited time resources. These may be work, study family, housekeeping, community activities, hobbies, simply watching TV or surfing the net… Make a list of everything that you can think of that already takes up time in your week or that you would like to do. Next, order the list in terms of importance. Now it’s time for some brutal realism: Only the top five or so items are going to get done with any kind of regularity. If outdoor play is not a priority – or cannot be incorporated into any of the top priorities – that’s absolutely fine! It just means that you have identified that other things are more important to you right now. This in itself is a great outcome, because now you can stop stressing over how little you play outdoors and come back to it at a later point when your life situation has changed.

Identity

Bearded trail runner
Tell yourself you are a trail runner, and in no time you will look exactly like this. Credit: Competitor Running.

You know who play outdoors a lot? Trail runners and hikers. Mountain bikers. Skiers.  Fishermen and surfers. Alpinists. People like that. These people are workers and parents too, but their sports are also a part of their identity. The interesting thing about identity is that it facilitates subconscious, almost automatic action. If you believe you are a “trail runner”, you are more likely to act according to how your image of a “trail runner” would behave, which will inevitably involve some running outside (as well as growing a massive beard and wearing excessively short shorts). So how do you establish a new identity? Well, that depends on you. It might mean writing in your diary “I am an (insert identity)” every day for a month, or it could mean getting a piece of equipment that only someone with your new identity would own. This might seem like tepid self-help nonsense, but I assure you, the effects can be profound.

Scheduling

Now that you have made it a priority and your identity is one of an outdoorsperson, it’s time to schedule your play. How hedonistic is that? Quite simply, what gets scheduled gets done, and this is especially true for the busy individual. Put a different way, what doesn’t get scheduled is continually demoted to “maybe next time” or “sometime soon”. So grab a pen or fire up your diary app, see where your next window for play is, and nail that baby down.

Commitment

Even if you schedule in time for play, an unforeseen event can force you to cancel. Committing to other people to do an activity at a certain time and place makes this less likely to happen, so make outdoor dates with friends. If no-one you know is into your particular brand of outdoor play, find some more understanding accomplices. Facebook groups are a fertile and active ground to recruit fellow trail runners, mountain-bikers, multi-sporters, and the like, and many organize events for anyone to join – even complete beginners. Another site worth a try is meetup, which is designed to bring local people with similar interests together in the real world. Finally, there may be some kind of specific SNS for outdoor sports in your locality. Here in New Zealand we have the excellent Waywiser, “a hub for organizing and finding outdoor adventures”.

Link to larger goals

This is the nuclear option for the terminally busy individual. Find some kind of outdoor event 6 to 12 months ahead that will require structured and committed training on a regular basis if you have any hope of avoiding abject failure. Ideally it will be something that is well beyond your current abilities. A long distance run is an obvious choice, but it could be anything – an MTB race, a

kayak meet, or some multi-day adventure. Once you enter it, you now have an iron-clad excuse for regular scheduled outdoor play. For some reason it’s easier for other people to understand and accept that you will now be busy playing outside if it’s ostensibly tied to some grander goal of self improvement. But remember not to get too caught up in the competitive side of it (unless that’s your thing) – your goal was simply to get out more.

Double-up activities

Woodland trail

Way better than a treadmill. Credit: US National Park Service

Another way of sneaking in a little more time in the outdoors is to simply move other activities outside. Instead of the gym, do your exercise outdoors. Kick back with a book in the park. Enjoy quality family time outdoors. Eat in your garden. Work outdoors? Well, I guess there are limits to what is actually possible.

Don’t feel guilty

Finally, some people may feel worried about whether outdoor play is really justifiable given their busy lives. Don’t. Playing outdoors is absolutely awesome. Playing outdoors will make you happier, healthier, and therefore more productive, if such a justification is necessary. It is a very, very good use of your time.

Do you have any methods for getting more outdoor play into your life?

If so, let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them!

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