Creativity And The Outdoor Athlete

Renan Ozturk Painting

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by Revo to the annual American Himalayan Foundation dinner held in San Francisco, where Revo athlete Jimmy Chin was speaking. Jimmy was joined by Ueli Steck and Alex Honnold, presenting to a room not only full of supporters who are helping the foundation do much good throughout the HImalayan region, but legendary climbers like Richard Blum and Louis Reichardt. 

The evening was inspiring, listening to Ueli, Alex, and Jimmy talk about their climbing achievements, the process of attaining their goals, and where they plan to take their sport next. Although all the climbing footage was sweaty palm inducing and thrilling, the talk that intrigued me most was from Jimmy. In addition to a preview of his upcoming House of Cards movie about his Shark's Fin climb, Jimmy talked about the importance of creativity in pushing the boundaries of climbing, or any outdoor sport for that matter. 

I don't believe it is a coincidence that some of the best outdoor athletes are also great artists of some kind-Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, Sean McCabe, etc. These athletes have gone beyond mastering the basics and understanding the rules of a sport, to questioning, doubting, and eventually improving on this existing knowledge.

It takes someone who is not constrained by current boundaries or formulaic approaches to push a sport even further. These athletes combine a playful, childlike attitude towards their chosen sport with a dogged perseverance, putting in the training and hard work necessary to bring their idea to completion and surmount any obstacles along the way. 

This got me thinking, is creativity the necessary tool to push not only a sport to new heights but also ourselves? If so, how can we become more creative? Most of us are satisfied with the current solutions or constraints within our outdoor sport of choice and perhaps even in our lives, which very often leads to predictable if not mediocre results. Is it because we are afraid to fail or there is too big of a perceived risk associated with failing?

Each of us is born with a conservative tendency, made up of instincts for self-preservation and saving energy, but also a curious tendency made up of instincts for exploring, for enjoying novelty, and risk. We need both. The first tendency requires little encouragement, but the second can wilt if it is not cultivated. So how to we better cultivate curiosity and therefore creativity?

Personal curiosity consists of changing the domain of your life, of the rules that constrain your mental energy, the habits and practices that define what you do day in, day out. We need to let go and divert some attention to explore the world around us. This could be as small as taking a new route to work or brushing your teeth with the other hand. 

Mountain biking Mt Tam

I find creativity comes to me by doing something physical while exploring an outdoor environment. Surrounded by beautiful scenery with my body fully occupied, I am more likely to find new connections among ideas or new perspectives on issues that I am dealing with. 

Even if I regularly get outdoors, however, I am the first to admit that I can quickly become stuck in a rut when at home for an extended period of time. In the name of curiosity and better fostering creativity, I have made a point of exploring new trails, biking new routes, starting new training regimens, and even something as small as trying new recipes. Perhaps I haven't exactly become more creative or improved my outdoor performance, but I have discovered new favorite trails, found a renewed vigor towards ice season training, and am thoroughly enjoy the prospect of discovering more. 

Not all of us are going to become professional outdoor athletes, but curiosity and the quest for creativity could in the least open us up to new adventures and in general happier daily lives.

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