Physically, the trail is certainly a challenge; the emotional challenges may be greater. I think about the psychology books, Games People Play by Eric Berne and I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Harris to describe the emotional aspects of the trail that I often think about. They break things down into simple transactions between people where each individual is in one of three states, either the state of the child, parent, or adult. I won’t get into this but to say that the adult is the state of rational discussion and a conversation that goes anywhere cannot happen between the child and the adult.
This comes into play all the time as I’m hiking, either in looking at myself and what state I’m in or by looking at others and what state they’re in. I often find myself in the child state. This is characterized by whining, irrational, and often inconsolable behavior. My feet are hurting, you had better not ask me how I’m feeling because you’re likely to get a negative response from me. The trail zigs when I thought it was going to zag and I’m not mentally on my game, I might be a grumpy little kid out here.
I thought about this today because it is so easy to not be on my mental game out here. With the physical demands, the lack of cleanliness, and the stresses associated with this minimalist lifestyle, it is often hard to remember to think rationally and optimistically all the time – even for the Optimist.
It’s also difficult to stay positive when those around you are struggling or feeling negative. It’s often easier to agree with the negativity, to either follow up someone’s childish remark with a child state response of my own, or to try and be the parent and make the child feel better. As I learned through my job working with investors, the most enjoyable, and constructive conversations are those that happen in the adult state. A major challenge for me here is to first recognize my state and focus on being in the adult state as much as possible and to help others get there as well because it is so easy to get bogged down.
It’s like me blurting out that the hills are killing my legs today or the trail is always out to punish my feet. This is silly talk that helps no one, myself included and only sends out negativity. The adult state Matt realizes that my legs are tired going up the hill because it’s a challenging endeavor and because I’ve pushed them so much. My feet hurt after 26 miles in a day going up and down mountains over rocks and roots for days on end. The adult state Matt realizes that I am ultimately responsible for all of this and laying blame on anyone or anything else is not being responsible.
Keeping on top of the emotion game is a serious challenge in any life. I remember having to do this in the career world and pretty much everywhere else I’ve ever been. However, on the trail, it all seems so much more in my face. This is likely for two reasons. First, the physicalness of the trail makes the child state seem to come out so much easier for me. Second, I have so much time to think about and analyze everything going on in my world that each sentence I blurt out in the day is subject to personal scrutiny.
Part of my purpose in writing this is to remind myself to stay positive and in the adult state to maximize the enjoyment of my hike. Secondly, it makes me more accountable. So next time you speak with me, please be sure to request the adult Matt, and if you have doubts that this is actually what you’re getting from me, please be sure to call me out and bring me back up to the adult level.