My exploits were unfortunately not long lived when I marked my brother for life with an egg due to poor eye-hand coordination in combination with my whip. In addition, I soon noticed that crossing the jungle in Dikkelvenne with my fellow explorer and friend Sebastiaan rarely led to the uncovering of historical artifacts. My second chance came in 2009, when Arnoud invited me to go to Guatemala.

After an intensive visit to AS Adventure resulting in becoming rich in unnecessary travel attributes, I soon noticed that my definition of "going on an expedition" was slightly different from Arnoud's. No rides through the jungle, no tents at a cozy smoldering campfire and with limited chances of heroic deeds. Instead I did come into contact with slums, street children, drug users and a vigilante armed to the teeth. The mobile school was nowhere to be seen, literally chained by a financial dispute with a corrupt organization. And to make matters worse, my legendary sense of humor was curtailed by the language barrier. So my only comments came from eating local black beans for breakfast. When Arnoud asked me how I liked the expedition after the first week, the only word I could politely say was "special". And had you asked me about the added value of that experience, I would owe you an answer. This brings me to the question that concerns us today. Is undergoing challenging experiences really an added value or do we try to justify it as this to ourselves afterwards?

Fortunately for Arnoud the answer is positive because, let's face it, every friendship has limits. Research on young people shows that the more immersed they are in challenging experiences, for example growing up in a city, the more resiliently they can deal with new challenges. Security services - I’ve had the pleasure of working with several special unit executives through my teaching assignments - immerse themselves in realistic experiences so that they are better prepared for reality. The SAS, a command unit of the British army, takes this quite radically, losing more soldiers during realistic training than in active service. Obviously, I don’t dare take any tips from this last example. Medical personnel also perform realistic simulations from time to time, such as the provincial disaster drills. This immersion, or immersion in experience, offers two advantages. The first advantage is building hardiness (toughness, hardness), the second is building physiological resistance.

Hardiness consists of three components. The first skill we acquire, after immersion, is our ability to reformulate a challenge as an opportunity. Compare it to my expedition to Guatemala.  When I first encountered a delayed return flight, I cried like a baby that Arnoud had to take care of. Now I see delays as an opportunity to visit an unexpected place, tax free. A second phenomenon is our self-efficacy (self-effectiveness) increases. That is our conviction that we will master a difficult situation. Back to the example of my trip. My overpriced looking camera bag was stolen almost immediately. At least now I have developed the confidence that a theft is not the end of the world. The third component of hardiness is an enhanced sense of control and meaning. The more experience you gain, the more you will view these experiences as actively controllable and positively meaningful. In short, I no longer buy expensive looking camera bags, sorry Camera Express!

The physiological benefits of immersion manifest themselves in better control of your heart rate in challenging situations. I will never forget my first sparring in a boxing ring. I became tired because my heart was working overtime, embarrassing! But that is not all. Your ability to continue to focus on the right actions and thinking patterns also increases with higher physiological resistance. If, like me, you have already followed several skid driving courses (everyone must have a hobby), you will notice that the original reflex is to focus on an obstacle and not on the way out. The more you experience the car skidding, the better you can focus on the ways out and not on the objects.

Finally, your recovery time will also be shorter. After experiencing physical and verbal threats for the first time, my legs continued to tremble uncontrollably afterwards due to the adrenaline. Fortunately, my body learned to control this response so that my unintentional and laughable dance moves are now kept to a minimum.

However, there is a "but". Whether or not to undergo challenging activities is not a free ticket to becoming better and stronger. Just immersing yourself in new experiences believing that you will get stronger is naive, not positive. A number of preconditions must be met.

A first prerequisite is self-care. One of the most important behaviours is about calming yourself down. When I took part in an unguarded three-day boot camp led by a former soldier, he advised us to sleep and eat whenever and wherever possible. Without sleep - we've all seen Camp Waes - making mistakes is inevitable. Sleep deprivation leads to an exponential increase in medical errors, according to some studies. Therefore, if we want to strengthen or get something valuable from this Corona crisis, we would do well to take care of our sleep hygiene. In our family, for example, we switch off smartphones one hour before we go to sleep. We are already seeing public reports of stress due to days merging into each other, the continuous accessibility and loss of structure. In the first place take action on this, in the organisation and at home.

A second requirement is to install (after) event reviews. Without reflection, an experience is not a good teacher. Even if we overcome this crisis, the worst thing that can happen to us is that we do not take structured lessons learned from it. To this end, the Israeli military organizes "positive after event reviews" after successful missions. The goal is to not lose yourself in the euphoria but to critically examine why a certain goal was achieved. I try to apply this myself in our family by asking, after a nice day during the lockdown, why this day went well. From this comes recommendations to better get us through the next days.

And finally, a third success factor is detecting, expressing and discussing emotions. Experience is nothing without feedback. You probably have had, just like me, a teacher with 25 years of experience who managed to give boring lessons. If we fail to express frustration, for example at people who flout the rules, our chances of tackling it better in the future are very limited. Leaving it to the government, or the security forces, is not the way. For example, we have a fantastic neighborhood where I live but we also make it a habit to debate neighbourhood measures and how to follow them up. We often agree, sometimes we disagree, but we always arrive at clarity and agreement.

Doing the right things, reflecting and making agreements is obviously more difficult in times of crisis. So let's make it a habit to have both professional and personal meaningful experiences going forward. Let's ensure that immersion, the immersion in controlled chaos, becomes part of our way of living. When we combine that with the right reflections and the best agreements for the future, only then will this difficult period become meaningful.

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