Home » How to change your brain, one hike at a time

How to change your brain, one hike at a time

written by Clare Desira June 18, 2019
A group of hikers in Nepal

There’s something about being out in the open, surrounded by fresh air and discovering new places. It gives you a clarity that is hard to attain in the midst of the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

While recovering from a knee injury, I booked onto a trek in Nepal with Intrepid. As a mindset coach, I teach others how to set meaningful goals and stay motivated. I knew it would give me something exciting to focus on when rehab was repetitive and tough. My best friend Sarah and I put up a picture of the Langtang Valley on the wall in our apartment as a daily reminder. Before we knew it, we had landed at Kathmandu Airport, jittery with nervous yet excited energy.

A female hiker stands under strings of flags in Nepal

Photo by Clare Desira

The hike was the ultimate combination of the things I love. Fresh air, movement, exploring new places, connecting with people and achievement. Our local guide, Raj, was fun and super engaging. Whether his stories were one minute or ten, we were all hooked from the start.


We crossed a raging river one day, were immersed in lush greenery the next, then among snow-capped mountains, sharing the space with the wildlife who hadn’t felt the need to shuffle away. The pinnacle of the hike was summitting Kyanging Gompa, which is over 5,000 metres high. On summit day, whether I was giddy with the high altitude or the clarity from my hike, I realised I needed to go home and really shake up the work I was doing. It was time for something new.

While standing on the summit,  it was quite fitting to see an avalanche on a neighbouring mountain; a powerful force, shifting things and making way for the new.  There were just three of us there at that moment, and it felt like we were the only people in the world.


A woman hiking through Nepal

Photo by Clare Desira

Hiking removes you from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is no room for the badge of busy-ness that we so proudly wear in the Western world.  It is the complete opposite of quick coffee dates, where you update your friends on the past six months while you keep an eye on the alerts popping up on your phone. There were just nine people on our trip, and I enjoyed long, deep and relaxed conversations with friends, both old and new.

As a productivity fan, personal growth nut and mindset coach, part of me loves that when you’re hiking you are achieving something. It’s at a different pace than the usual hustle of home life, but I won’t lie, I love the quiet but certain sense of achievement when hiking. My body is stronger with every step. I am journeying from A to B or climbing a mountain. It’s all about taking one step at a time.


Hikers walking up a rocky path in Nepal

Photo by Patrick O’Neill

At the end of the day you feel a magical combination of exhaustion, yet you’re refreshed from the fresh air, company and exercise.

During a hike you are disconnected but oh-so connected.  Phones are away and your senses are fully engaged. Food tastes better. Conversations are deeper. You tune into the incredible machine that is your body, muscles and breath working together. You fully appreciate your health and body.

With that freedom of space and limited distractions, you’re often alone with your thoughts. Did you know we can actually change our brains while hiking? If we can tune into and hold positive emotions, even just for 20 seconds, new neurons fire in our brains. It could be a feeling of peace and calm, the sense of wonder or excitement at being in a new space. It could be a sense of achievement and satisfaction as you near the destination. The only distractions are the surroundings, and your thoughts. Your mind and body are in tune.


Our brains are wired for a negativity bias – hiking led me to consider more about how we can use our thoughts productively and positively. Negative thinking is so boring and with many of our daily thoughts repeating from previous days we only have a small opportunity to add in new thoughts each day.

Hiking has helped me to find the mental space to spark great ideas. As I was reflecting on life back home, I quickly realised I was most excited and alive while I was creating spaces for other people to slow down, (and to be able to go faster), and sharing practical tools for people to build their mindset and mental health to be able to have a bigger impact themselves.

Two hikers high-fiving a local in Nepal.

Photo by Patrick O’Neill.

I knew there was a need for tools in everyday life to guide us to disrupt unhelpful thinking and guide us to focus on what is most important to us. I also wanted to shift how people often connect and bond with others over negativity – whinging about people and life. I wanted to fuel positive, encouraging and productive thinking.


When you’re hiking, you have a perspective of how huge the world is, so – even though I was out in the open – I knew I needed others to bring this idea to life. When I came home I took my learning from the hike and got to work on my first mindset tool.  I worked with 10 mindset experts to create a deck of 50 question cards – a game-changing tool for mental health and happiness that train our brains. The cards are psychologist endorsed as a tool that transforms our brain’s default from the negative to the positive (they even won a ‘product of the year’ award from an international organisation!). Our cards are like a life and confidence coach for your back pocket or hiking pack!

It all started with that spark of inspiration on the summit and led to an avalanche of change.  I created one product on returning home and then ended up working with over 1,000 people on building their mindset and building a training organisation to support those who care about making a difference to have a bigger impact.  Because the thing is, we’ve only got a small chance to add new thoughts into our minds each day.  It’s time to make those thoughts count.

Ready for a different perspective? Explore our range of walking and trekking small group adventures now

Feature photo by Lucy Piper. 

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1 comment

Shalendra | Camping In Shimla June 18, 2019 - 1:05 pm

While doing hiking make sure that you take rest after every hour. Don’t hurry up this will lead you to heavy breathing and make you tire easily. Walk with a slow and steady pace. This will keep you moving without getting tired.


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