Peter van Kets, endurance adventurer, motivational speaker and author of The Eighth Summit, shares his close brushes with death – and how he survived.
1. It’s Just Stuff
“During my solo row across the Atlantic, my most prized possession was an old cricket hat (it saved me from many a sunburn). One morning an unexpected gust blew the hat from my head into the ocean and, without thinking, I jumped overboard after it. As I hit the water I realised that I’d forgotten to attach the safety rope and, in a matter of minutes, I was swept a good 15 metres from my boat. It took every inch of my strength to swim against the current and when I clambered back on board I realised how close I came to paying the ultimate price,” says Peter van Kets.
Learn This Lesson: Rash decisions can cost you big time. If you’re going to play risk, make sure you’re not betting too big – not all victories are gains.
2. Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
As an adventurer you’re constantly faced with high-risk, high-stress situations. In order to cope, the body secretes adrenaline that, over the long term, can cause major health issues. That’s where the good ol’ fashioned laugh comes in. It causes more oxygen intake, triggers feel-good endorphins, regulates heartbeat and boosts immunity. “Laughter is an analgesic,” says Peter van Kets. “It improves pain tolerance. Laughing at a few bad jokes has lifted the mood on even my most intense treks.”
Learn This Lesson: Need a cure for the blues? Learn to laugh. Taking things too seriously can, literally, have a damaging effect on you. Laughter will clear your mind so you can tackle the problem with aplomb.
3. A Strong Mind Means a Strong Everything Else
“The lowest point on my solo row was always around 4am. I was exhausted, slumped over the oars, unsure of myself and if I could endure another stroke. The only thoughts that got me through were of breakfast and the five-minute satellite phone call to my wife, Kim. After a good meal and the reassurance of my wife’s voice, I felt energised and able to tackle another shift.”
Learn This Lesson: Even though physically nothing had changed, Peter van Kets found himself able to carry on with renewed vigour. What gave? His negative mindset. “I was a completely different person – I went from thinking I couldn’t go on to rowing like a beast all because of the change in my head.”
4. Failure isn’t the End
“No story is without struggle,” says Van Kets. On one particular occasion (day 46 of his trans-Atlantic row) the reality of failure became all too clear to the adventurer. In a matter of moments a peaceful day turned into a vicious storm that left him fighting for his life for four whole days. “This was one of those moments I simply had to vasbyt and see it through.”
Learn This Lesson: “On every expedition I’ve ever embarked on, at some point, I stared failure in the face,” says Peter van Kets. “But survival demands that you banish those thoughts of uncertainty and fear of losing.” The key to success isn’t to not fail, it’s to keep going through the failure and hardship to the well deserved victory at the end.