Polar explorer Eric Larsen credits his love for cold temperatures a childhood spent in the Midwest. As an adult, he’s completed multiple, unassisted hikes to both the North and South poles – once, he hit both in a single year – and is one of a relative handful of human beings to successfully summit Everest. Given the rapidly advancing effects of climate change on the poles, he might well be the last person to ever trek unsupported across the North Pole in a 53 day, 480-mile journey over shifting ice structures.
Even though Larsen has accomplished more by now than most of us will in a lifetime, he’s careful to point out that his successes have come along with just as many failures. But that just helps him redefine and re-shape the idea of success in his mind.
Recently, he spoke to Fatherly about how he’s come to think about, measure, and achieve success, and below are 8 simple rules he thinks could apply across the board.
#8. Trust your systems.
Your body is the greatest gift you’ve been given and too many people take theirs for granted.
“Our greatest assets are the systems we build around being safe and efficient. They help us conserve energy and avoid big body temperature peaks and troughs that lead to using extra calories. Each part of that process is important for us because it has an impact. And it doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact. What we do one week could impact five weeks later. So it’s just a real, deliberate, thoughtful process.”
“That’s not human nature. In human nature, you just want to relax and coast when you can. And that’s the sort of situation that’s really most dangerous to us.”
#7. Don’t fear bad choices.
This is important advice for people who feel as if they’ve run out of time if they don’t find their passion on the first, second, or even fifth try – something many people struggle with these days.
“My advice [on finding a passion] is to keep trying something until it sticks. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work out of be afraid to reverse course. …I have a lot of crappy experiences that are actually pretty beneficial. I think there is no such thing as a bad experience.”
#6. Identify and tune out distractions.
Distractions are everywhere in this digital, social media obsessed world, and nothing will boost your chances of success more than finding ways to tune them out.
“…outside thoughts can take away from your ability to move forward. They suck energy and they’re stressful. They take away from the mindfulness and thoughtfulness – that kind of presence you need to be in.”
#5. Embrace hope.
“In the North Pole, we had this expectation that the conditions would be getting better, and they got worse – more dangerous and physically scary. I was ready to give up. We were like 20 miles from the North Pole and this is after 52 days and I just reached my breaking point.”
You can’t control everything, but it’s okay to keep hoping that one day, things will get easier – as long as you’re prepared to keep going, even if they don’t.
“…but when I woke up I changed my mindset and said, ‘it’s shit the whole way.’ And then, I’m fine. Completely fine.”
“The best way to be successful is to put yourself in a situation where you don’t have another choice. Do you give up or do you do it? You do it.”
#4. Don’t forget about short-term goals.
Sometimes a goal that is too big, that requires too many steps, or is too far in the future can work against our chances of success.
“We deal a lot with goal setting. Our ability to foresee how we’re going to get there is impossible. We don’t have any idea what the conditions are like further toward the Pole – there are too many variables. That’s why shorter term goals are so important – even if that’s just to get through the first hour of the day.”
#3. Learn from failure.
This is not new advice, but it is advice that’s often difficult to follow when you’re in the moment. Much easier to see the lessons learned once they’re in your rearview mirror.
“Failure in the moment is hard, it sucks, and I’ve had so many times where I think, ‘What am I doing?’ But I like those failures. Those are good lessons. I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills and what not to do when I’m dealing with really hard objectives; failure is just part of the process.”
#2. Re-think your focus.
Find a process that works for you, as far as ways to keep your eyes on the prize during struggles, when outside noise threatens to overwhelm you, or when failure seems inevitable.
“…when you’re staring down two months of this physically hard mentally challenging uncomfortable situation with an uncertain outcome, it’s overwhelming. If you just focus on the long-term goals, you get discouraged. And if you only focus on the short term goals, you don’t necessarily have direction.”
“That’s where goal setting becomes so important, because each short-term and long-term goal buttresses and supports one another.”
#1. Focus on the process.
I have a coffee mug that says “trust the process” and there are many, many days that I need the reminder to trust that the getting there is worth as much as the results we seek.
“It’s a little cliched, but the journey really is the destination. That is why I’m very vested in the process of what I do. We’re dealing with a lot of physical and mental challenges over the course of a big expedition, but on any given day, it’s not the hardest thing I’ll ever do. To be able to succeed, you have to love each one of those steps… maybe not love it, but endure it in some way or the other.”
Just a few things to ruminate on the next time you’re feeling as if nothing is going right.