I had the opportunity to directly observe a number of positive psychology tactics in action during a hike in the Cordillera Real of Bolivia last week. My son Matt and his wife Emily and I hiked in an area that went up to around 16,000 feet. It was a beautiful, glaciated area with numerous llamas free ranging, a beautiful blue sky, and almost perfect hiking temperature. That being said, we were not optimally healthy. Matt was recovering from flu like symptoms plus significant GI distress the night before and was feeling weak. I also was recovering from GI distress (I know, TMI) two days before. Emily and our guide were doing well. We did the hike up to 15,340 which was a personal best for me. We had lunch and given how we were feeling decided to go back down instead of the next 700 feet. I thought this was a great lab to understand how Matt and I were able to succeed despite the adversity of weakened physiology and the altitude the last 500 plus feet.
For me, the altitude became a factor despite acclimating to it for a number of days and being from Colorado where it is a bit of a point of pride to be able to adjust to altitude (eventually in my case). I found myself using the following strategies. I knew where we were going and broke the hike into smaller and smaller segments. I told myself I just needed to get from point A to B and then re-evaluate. As the altitude increased I changed it to “I just need to take this step and then breathe until I was ready for the next step,” while breathing, to take the time for mindful awareness of the beauty surrounding us. The self-talk also included “going back was not an option because we were doing a circuit.” Our guide helped us understand that one. I also visualized myself sitting down at the lunch spot feeling satisfied about getting that far.
Matt used very similar strategies including relying on his extensive mountain hiking experience. This came in handy for him as a framework for knowing what he can do, not engaging in negative self-talk, and continuing to move forward. For Matt, a well-timed nutrition break also helped on a blood glucose level resulting in an increase of energy from the half-way point on. In addition, the social support and encouragement was helpful. We took turns carrying the packs for each other.
In summary, our performance was enhanced by use of the following psychological techniques:
- Goal setting and breaking the goal into discrete, manageable, measure steps (literally in this case).
- Visualization of positive outcome.
- Burning our ship on the beach, knowing we could not go back helped us stay focused and not think about other options.
- Positive self-talk, refuting negative self-talk.
- Relying on experience and prior knowledge to focus energy where it was needed and to relax about the challenges rather than stress about them.
- Engage social support.
Have a day filled with compassion and loving kindness,
Robert A. Mines, Ph.D., CEO & Psychologist