The Mindful Life™ Blog

Give Your Brain a Summer Adventure!

Ahhh summer! The passing of 4th of July means summer is officially underway and, it also means, it’s rapidly flying by.

If I don’t schedule my most precious summer activities early, I often think to myself in September, “how did the entire summer go by and we never even …?”

The New York Times asked me to contribute to a summer series on How to Have an Intentional Summer. I highly recommend checking out the great unplugged ideas shared by me and others, such as Jessica De Bloom and Gretchen Rubin every week.

Here are a few other ways to make sure that you have an intentional summer plan in place, before the back-to-school sales begin.

  1. Create a vision
    It’s not too late to make your summer bucket list!  Feeling uninspired? Think about what is important to you about summer.  Is it spending time swimming in a lake? Roasting marshmallows? Going on a picnic? What are the wonderful summer experiences you had as a kid that you would like to share with your family?
  2. Brainstorm
    Have a family meeting or family dinner where everyone can suggest all of their ideas for family summer fun. Remember, there is no judgment in brainstorming, just listen mindfully and jot down everyone’s ideas. This is a great time for reflection and gives you great insight into the things that are really important to your kids.
  3. Prioritize the list
    Identify activities that most of the family felt were important. Put these on the calendar first. You will want to acknowledge individual desires and personal goals, but for the purpose of this activity, try to stick with activities that everyone is doing together.
  4. Pick one challenging outdoor adventure and commit to it 
    Pick an activity (ideally one that no one in the family has done before) and make it this summer’s big outdoor adventure. I encourage you to pick an outdoor activity because being in nature naturally lends itself to being present and engaged with your family without many of the distractions that can get in the way of our authentic connection with each other. Ideas may include a family bike ride to an ambitious destination, running or walking a long race, climbing a mountain, an overnight backpacking trip, rafting a river, an overnight canoe adventure or sailboat excursion. Use this as an opportunity to challenge yourselves. Certainly you want it to be safe for everyone, but overcoming a challenge together deepens your relationships with each other. 

When kids and adults have the opportunity to overcome obstacles in a healthy way, it can change negative thought patterns in the brain. Neural pathways that used to say, “I can’t,” will subtly shift to, “Maybe I can.”

Over time, when kids are presented with challenges like a short backpacking trip or more difficult bike ride, their brains develop a pattern that allows them to handle adversity with the knowledge that they are capable of accomplishment. Developing these thought patterns is key to developing grit, a highly sought after characteristic that is in short supply and high demand. The same situation that caused the ‘I can’t” reaction, develops into “Heck yeah, I can!”

Our brains are constantly telling us what we can and cannot accomplish. When we give ourselves the opportunity to prove those negative thoughts wrong, we open up a world of possibilities for what we believe we can accomplish!

It’s also helpful for us, as adults, to get out of our default worry loop of our recurring stressors. Obsessing over our mortgage payment or our overflowing inbox becomes its own pattern of negative thinking.  New outdoor challenges, away from our work, help us stay in the present moment, which decreases our ability to ruminate, and increases our happiness.  

Whenever I’m on the precipice of a challenging mountain bike ride, my senses are engaged, I’m acutely aware of my surroundings, and I’m not stressing over the fact that I have a lot of emails I need to attend to or a conference where I am expected to give a lecture.  

Summer adventures, that are a little bit challenging, not only boost everyone’s brains in the family, they also create lasting memories for years to come.

We’d love to hear about your summer adventures! Please share photos or stories with us, swap ideas, post your bucket list and tell us about the challenges you overcame.

Here’s to your #adventuroussummer!

Warmly-

Kristen Race, PH.d.
and the Mindful Life Team

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