We can do this! Lessons for lockdown from our Leaders

By James Dyer,
Expedition Training and Leadership Advisor

Expeditions can be seen as ‘purposeful isolation’. We head out into the unknown, with a small group of people, and remove ourselves from mainstream society for a significant period of time.

Expeditions become a microcosm of broader society; working together to achieve goals, getting on with those you don’t really know and whose company you haven’t chosen, putting up with each other’s quirks & and habits and living in close proximity in a remote, tough and confusing environment.

So not much different from the situation we find ourselves in? Locked down in our houses, with our families, all trying to support each other and get through this difficult time, not knowing how things will pan out.

The US military calls this a VUCA environment; Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, and suggest that we should all be prepared to operate in this… not too far removed from what we have to think about before tackling an expedition.

So what lessons have we learnt as expeditioners and explorers that we can share that you might find useful to help you survive, thrive and get through your personal ‘VUCA’ home environment?

I asked some of the amazing British Exploring Society Leaders that I’ve worked with in remote parts of the planet over the last few years for some of their thoughts on the expedition ‘best practice’ they find themselves applying right now at home…

The first person I went to was Basecamp Manager extraordinaire Sue Brown. Great Basecamp Managers provide an incredible mix of logistics expertise and emotional support. Sue suggests that rationing of your food and other supplies is key. Never forget the power of the stock cube and always ensure that you have a meal plan (with plenty of variation).

Jungle Leader Lydia Mason advocates being focused on top-notch personal hygiene, being a calm and reassuring figure for everyone around you, supporting each other and making sure all your kit is together and organised at all time.  Make plans and be disciplined. This will avoid dozens of family rows as well as keeping you safer whether you are in the jungle or in town.

Leader Georgie Sweet also recognises the need for tolerance and resilience – recommending we all think like Explorers, thinking about and supporting others, emphasising the positive and making the best of challenging situations as a result.

Expedition Biologist Nando suggests we all imagine that we are actually on a remote expedition. That way we will use less stuff and think hard before we use our resources. He also suggests building forts in the living room and camping in them (including any adults) to entertain ourselves, but also to really immerse ourselves in the expedition experience.

With my expedition planning hat on here are 10 things to think about to help you thrive during lockdown;

1. Stay Positive. For our mental health, just like on expedition, we keep our minds active and busy and keep in a positive frame of mind.

2. Keep it real. Learn about the virus, be well informed. Prior to expedition we do our planning, we know the risks, so we can plan what to do and what needs to happen.

3. Planning and resourcing. Ensure that you have enough but don’t overbuy. Think about planning and rationing, cutting back a bit and using things up carefully.

4. Organisation. Sort out your kit, get into a system, be disciplined, share resources, and don’t end up with a messy or argumentative camp (living room fort or house!).

5. Communication. Stay in touch with people, talk to those closest to you, and think about ways to communicate with friends and family. Stay connected and be safer and happier.

6. Plan to be busy. Do those jobs you have been putting off. Create something (art / play / film). Find new things to do, keep your mind active.

7. Think fit. Exercise daily, do circuits in your garden or front room (YouTube is full of them) or go for a run daily (I am sure I added at least another km to my run the other day, just avoiding people). It is important to be physically fit at this time, and it will mean that when social interaction returns you will be in top condition for your next adventure.

8. Assist. Help out. Help others. Help people in your house, especially if you have a key worker. Be a shoulder, a rock and go out of your way to be helpful. It will also help you with (1) and (6).

9. Eat well. Such an important ingredient (!) of any expedition. Make sure that you eat well, together, to be healthy, and take time to prepare and enjoy improvising when it comes to meals.

10. Future Positive. Start planning your next adventure. Where do you want to go? Who with, how will you do it, what will it mean or achieve? Get planning and use this time in a positive way to come out stronger, fitter, and mentally prepared for your next challenge.

The great positive mantra for all expeditions is of course – improvise, adapt and overcome!


James is responsible for advising on appropriate leadership recruitment and skills for our Trainee Leaders and Leaders, as well as the development of leadership training resources.

By James Dyer,
Expedition Training and Leadership Advisor