I still can’t quite believe it happened.
I’ve been somewhat obsessed with islands and going ‘back to basics’ since I was kid.
“Shipwrecked” was key viewing, Ray Mears was my guy, and more recently, watching shows like ‘The Island” and “Naked and Marooned” reinforced just how much I really wanted my next challenge to be a raw castaway experience.
Following a very random and slightly unbelievable string of conversations, I was bouncing ideas back and fourth with a man in Japan.
“We can make something work but you’ll need to go in 11 weeks time, is that too soon Ben?”
Four flights, a long drive, and a dodgy boat transfer later, we pulled up to a remote island in Indonesia.
“For emergency, just break the seal and use the mobile phone to call and we come back by boat. Good luck.” — reassuring words, lads.
Anyway, it was time to get stuck in. To make life a little easier, I had a basic water supply and a handful of tools (a machete, speargun, fishing line, hooks and knife) to hopefully find some food.
Otherwise, it was just little old me on a 150 hectare (approx 370-acre) island with bags of enthusiasm but very little idea on the how the hell I was actually going to get through the following 11 days!
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
You can get a lot of work done when you remove all distractions
When you have no phone, no internet, and no people around, it’s tough to find an excuse not to be productive. A typical day on the island requires roughly six hours of focused time to complete a few key tasks, from collecting firewood and bait to foraging, hunting, and cooking.
On top of that I averaged almost a book a day and had plenty of time to keep a diary and make solid progress on a couple of creative projects.
It’s essential to reduce the amount of time spent reacting to email and social media each day to focus on more important tasks.
Mindset is everything
The first six days were really tough and the extreme low calorie diet began to compound — I felt dangerously lethargic and found it almost impossible to focus on anything but food.
A combination of getting quite pissed off after another failed fishing attempt and reading “The Obstacle Is The Way” made me realise the more I focused on the ongoing battle against hunger the worse it was getting. As soon as I redirected that attention towards having as much fun as possible I felt WAY better and those problems subsided.
Get your mind sorted and your body will follow.
Have foresight and do things properly
I messed up big-time on the first night. Being oblivious to how quickly it gets dark out there (the sun sets at about 5.45 p.m. and by 6.30 p.m. it’s pitch black) I got REALLY lost in the jungle. Trying to retrace my steps and work out which direction the sea was in whilst getting mauled by mosquitos was not a strong look.
Eventually I found a way out but it wasn’t pretty, and I still had to wade back through water for ages as the beach was gone where the tide had come right in.
Lesson learned. Take a moment to plan ahead for what could go wrong before diving into an unfamiliar environment. There’s usually no need to rush.
If you’re reading this, your life is easy
It’s only when you’re stripped of modern luxuries that you realise just how comfortable your “normal” life is. The evening before I flew out, we broke down “Doing Good Better” at RBC and one insight that stuck was: if you live in the developed world and earn more than £34k annually, you are in the richest 1% on the planet.
When you put things into perspective, we’ve got it so easy. Tube delays? iPhone battery dead? Run out of avocado?! Seriously, let’s stop moaning and just get on with it.
Sleep is something to be optimised
I’m still getting my head around this one but I slept really well out there. Not a single yawn in 11 days, despite the strange animal noises, being open to the elements, no pillow, no bed, and no alarm.
I don’t know if it was the natural light, the lack of energy/tech/caffeine, or what, but I do believe that effective sleep can be hacked back at home. I’m sizing up one of these lamps and plan to experiment with some of the tips here.
Taking time out from “game mode” is worthwhile
Taking a step back from the regular London hustle has been awesome. Although I came off of the island looking like a malnourished child with mild sunburn and a grizzly beard I felt surprisingly refreshed and had produced some pretty strong creative work. I was super focused on the flight(s) home and I’m loving being back at work now.
We all need time away from our day-to-day to get clarity and avoid burnout. I’m committing to a quarterly weekend escape out in the sticks to kick back and do some thinking distraction free. Shout if you want in.
A lot of the big wins didn’t come from a carefully thought out strategy — the squid I got came from turning over a random rock in the sea and the almonds I found just happened to be inside some washed up shells I chopped open.
“We keep moving forwards, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity leads us down new paths” — Walt Disney
Build. Measure. Learn.
I thought it made a lot of sense to apply the “Lean Startup” methodology to fishing. Note : I am probably THE worst fisherman to walk the planet, I’ve been twice in the last decade, once in Zanizibar (I caught nothing and chundered over the side of the boat) and once in Bali (I organised a lad’s spearfishing trip and didn’t land a single shot) so my track record going into this experience was pretty shocking.
My MVP (minimum viable product) started off as two static lines tied to a tree with snails as bait, which yielded poor results. That “product” quickly developed into a stick and short line using a bit of washed up flip-flop as a float and hermit crab as bait, which I physically took out into the sea with a snorkel and carefully lowered around the corals. Whilst the technique was unorthodox , it worked!
Build fast. Measure fast. Learn fast. Particularly when your dinner depends on it.
There you go! All in all, a very tough but AMAZING experience — on to the next one!
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