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The Science Behind How Adventure Can Save Your Life

May 03, 2017

When Jon Levy went to Pamplona, Spain for its infamous “Running of the Bulls,” he was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bull entered the stadium, missed its jump and landed on top of Levy—crushing him.

Another time, he decided to do a Polar Plunge in Antarctica, diving headfirst into the arctic water.

“I didn’t do it to impress a woman … well maybe a little,” says Levy, a behavioral scientist, and author of The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure. “I didn’t enjoy those experiences, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t benefit from every single one of them.”

At Fortune's second annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Wednesday, Levy broke down the science of adventure. He says adventure is an experience that is exciting and remarkable, presents a perceived risk, and leads to personal growth.

Pushing through physical, emotional, or social boundaries is the key to leading an adventurous life, Levy explains. Human beings aren’t most engaged when they are safe and secure, he adds, but rather when they are doing something difficult yet attainable.

Levy refers to this notion as “optimal anxiety,” a state where an individual pursues an activity outside of his skill set that is still reasonably attainable. (Think skydiving, not climbing Mount Everest.)

Jon Levy after his Polar Plunge.  Jon Levy 

In a 2016 Fortune article, Levy explains that the psychological effects of adventure are most important.

“After an arctic Polar Plunge, walking up to an investor and pitching an idea seems like a joke,” he says. “The true gift of adventure is not in achieving some goal, but in the person you become in the process.”

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