For my job over the last 11 years, I have grown accustomed to spending long periods stowed away on a ship several times a year while sailing the ocean, going for up to a month without setting foot on land. It’s been less than a week since I returned from my last voyage in Chile’s Patagonia for a week. As always, I come home happy to see my family again and to enjoy my life on solid ground: going out for a drink, working out at the gym, going for a run, seeing a movie, and so on.
I work for National Geographic on the “Pristine Seas” project, and we travel to remote, often uninhabited places across the planet to promote the creation of large marine reserves. I have been working on this project since it began in 2009, and since then, I have been on 35 expeditions, most to hard-to-reach destinations around the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.
But this time on my return home from Chile, I was met with the unexpected scene that coronavirus has set. This meant arriving before “stowing away” again two days later, but this time in my own home. I can’t help but see a similarity between this situation and what I go through while on expeditions. That’s why I was encouraged to write this piece, in the hopes that it can help whoever may read them.
When I’m stowed away on an expedition, the days can go by slowly and seem long. This is because there are so many things from daily life that you can’t do, like the ones I mentioned earlier: playing sports, getting a drink with friends, and the like. Besides, when on board, communication with the outside world is very limited, even non-existent. For all these reasons, while I do love my work, life on a boat sometimes gets tedious. Above all, I miss my family so much. To cope, over the years I’ve set up a way of life that I jokingly refer to as “having the mindset of an astronaut.” Now I can see how this lines up with many of the recommendations that psychologists are making to all Spaniards through the media.
The first thing I do at the start of an expedition is to really think about how time passes at such a relative speed. To do so, I use the following trick: If I’m going to be on board for three weeks, I ask myself, “Manu, how fast did the last three weeks go by?” The answer is always the same: “They flew by, I didn’t even realize it.” Well, the same thing will be true moving forward, I tell myself. So now that we all have to be at home for at least the next two weeks, I recommend asking ourselves, “Didn’t the last two weeks go by quickly?” As a rule, most of us let time go by without even thinking about it.
And what’s the secret? To make sure the days ahead go quickly – or better said, that they “fly by” – we have to keep up the pace at which we usually work or stay active. This is often difficult for us since we are all comfortable by nature. This is especially the case if we find that we have a reduced workload due to having more time, as we don’t have to go to work, and we experience fewer interruptions when we are isolated. This causes us to relax our sense of duty to get our work done.
So for day-to-day living on each expedition, I make a list of tasks I have to do. Having this list helps me a lot because, as I complete each one, I can see them crossed off and watch the list shrink as I meet my goals. We all know it feels good to be able to see progress.
For me, it is really important to integrate physical exercise into my routine. This is always difficult on a boat because there is so little space. The cabin is always small and shared. Common areas are limited and require even more sharing. And to top it all off, the rocking motion of the sea is very bothersome.
Let’s face it: getting going almost always makes us feel so lazy, and it’s easy to find a thousand excuses. Again I insist, we are comfortable by nature. That’s why I always say that what we’re exercising the most when exercising isn’t muscle but willpower. Strengthening our willpower gives us the strength to face almost everything life brings our way.
Exercising, whether in a boat cabin or at home, is something we can do even if we have very little space. What I do is get inspiration from the many apps and websites that offer an infinite number of exercises.
Of course, there are days when it is an uphill battle to get in half an hour or twenty minutes for my exercise routines, and that’s when I do what I call “invisible training.” That’s what I call it when I spread my exercises out during the day. For example, I do a set of crunches and then keep working on my computer or reading. After an hour or a half, I add a few push-ups, etc.
That way, I try to do the most exercises I can at different times during the day, and so I always manage to conquer laziness. It’s a good trick that gets me to do 8, 10, or 15 sets of muscular exercises that make me feel great.
Of course, what I’m trying to do is not fall into the temptation of doing nothing because I have seen that it negatively impacts my spirit and mood, and it usually makes the day feel longer.
To get that “astronaut mentality,” attitude is everything. That’s why I strive to start every day in good spirits from the moment I get up, enjoying the simple things, starting with breakfast: juice, coffee, toast… And throughout each day, I don’t think about the days I have left, but instead, I think only of each day as it comes, aiming to enjoy the next task on my list: having a snack, seeing a movie, or taking a shower. That way, the days go by, one after the other, without much thought.
When I’m on an expedition, I only leave the boat two to three times each day to go diving. It’s true that I’m passionate about diving, but it’s also true that when I go under, my isolation increases. There, you can’t even talk, and the silence of the ocean wraps me up with my thoughts.
For the coming weeks at home, I have two books picked out: Félix, un hombre un la Tierra on my idol, the great Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, which was written by his daughter, and Sapiens, which I have wanted to finish for a long time.
I hope this helps you.
Good luck to everyone, and always try to find the silver lining of any situation.