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What Getting Crushed By a Bull Taught Me About Adventure

Discovering the Science of Living a Remarkable Life

At Pamplona's Running of The Bulls, the bull misses his jump into the stadium injuring the crowd.

When the 1,500 pound bull missed it’s jump into the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona and crushed me in the process, I immediately thought: I’m paralyzed. The loss of feeling was so sudden, it downed out the cheers of the thousands of spectators. All I could do was ask myself: “Jon, how could you have been so stupid?”

I had gotten myself into this incredibly dangerous and insane situation in the pursuit of science. As a human behavioral scientist, I’ve traveled around the world trying to understand why some lead fun, remarkable and exciting lives, and collected a decade’s worth of insights and stories in the book The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.

Through the years, I’ve almost fallen off the Ghost Tower of Bangkok, frozen while swimming in zero degree Antarctic water and wandered the streets of Nice trying to convince a stranger to put me up for the night. I did all of this to understand the science of adventure and how others can use it to improve the quality of their lives.

Antarctica, walking out of 0 degree water. The swim lasted long enough to lose all feeling in my arms and legs.

If you want to live a more adventurous life, you don’t need to come face to face with death, but you should understand what an adventure is. As I define it an adventure has three characteristics:

  1. Exciting and remarkable. We’ve passed down our knowledge for generations by telling stories, so experiences need to be noteworthy and culturally relevant.

  1. Possess adversity and/or risk, preferably perceived risk. You need to overcome some challenge, but be careful to assess the risk. Our bodies have similar responses to real (bull fighting) and perceived risks (bungee jumping), so you don’t need to be in physical danger to experience adventure.

    You can get the same benefit from doing something that you think is risky, but is statistically safe (e.g. skydiving, bungee jumping) versus actual danger (e.g. bull running, hang gliding, climbing Everest).

  1. Brings about growth. The person at the end is distinct from the person who started. You must expand your comfort zone and grow in the process.

As I pulled myself off the stadium ground, I shouted for medical help but people were too busy pulling bodies out of the way. By the time I stumbled my way to Triage, the pain had become so intense that I couldn’t speak and I was losing consciousness.

When the nurse shook me awake, the gravity of my mistakes hit. The bull had crushed the muscles on the left side of my body and tore my right side. 

Delirious with pain, i hold on to my doctor as he shows off a clear hoof print embedded in my shoulder

It would be six months of agonizing physical therapy before I was somewhat back to normal. However, I learned a valuable lesson and the experience helped me realize that every adventure follows a predictable four stage process called the EPIC Model for Adventure: Establish, Push Boundaries, Increase, and Continue.

Establish

Adventures don’t happen by chance. Certain people lead adventurous lives because they put the right elements in place:

  • People: Research suggests that you are who your friends are, so choose them wisely. The best people to surround yourself with are positive, open-minded and supportive.

  • Location: The brain has a positive reaction to novelty, so explore new places and try new things.

  • Mission: When you establish a goal, it can turn even the most mundane experiences into an exciting game. (e.g. When you’re on a night out, challenge your friends to convince strangers to buy drinks.)

Push Boundaries

In order to grow, you need to get a little uncomfortable, which means you’ll have to overcome some physical, social or emotional boundary. You could overcome your fear of talking to a crush or challenge yourself by cliff jumping.

Increase

You need to maximize the enjoyment you get from your current environment before you move on. You can leverage surprises, entertain the group, or pose creative challenges.

Continue

The fourth and final stage is when you will decide to continue to another location or end with style. If you continue, the EPIC process starts over again. Remember not to drag an experience out passed the point of enjoyment. According to research by Daniel Kahneman, people remember the ends of an experience more than the whole. If an experience ends negatively, it will put all of it in a negative light, even if the rest of it was enjoyable. Know when to call it a night and end with style.

Anyone can lead an adventurous life, and no, you don’t have to run with bulls to do it. In fact, I suggest staying away from highly dangerous situations that possess real risk. Instead, design activities and experiences based on the four stages of the EPIC process. For more strategies on how to live more adventurously, and completely wild stories check out The 2 AM Principle.

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