“How much higher do you think that outcropping is from where we’re sitting right now?”
Justin was faded, nauseous, and swaying in the mid-day heat of the Eastern Sierra when he the words fell out of his mouth. My head felt like an over-inflated balloon. Dumbstruck, I tried my best at a civil response, “Fuck. I don’t know… Maybe 50 feet? Is this not the summit?!”
“It’s about a hundred feet above where we are now,” he echoed back, knocking my mind into total despondency. “I’m kind of done. The view’s pretty good from here, don’t you think?” I responded like a child who felt satisfied completing all but one of her homework assignments, fickle and listless.
“Let’s just go take a look,” he replied.
We slowly clawed our way up the remaining boulders, circumnavigating the jagged granite ridgeline of Lone Pine Peak until our feet rested on her highest lump. I stared down the immense, craggy legs that seemed to spiral out of control from the tips of my boots all the way down to the Owens Valley, halting a monstrous 7,000 feet below. I had never been so happy to be proven wrong.
Had I leaned into my discomfort, I would have never made it to the true summit. I would have had an amazing 10-hour day out climbing in the alpine, and then I would have turned around and scree-skied my way home without ever setting eyes on the famous north ridge of Lone Pine Peak from above. I was enduring all of the suffering without any pause for reward, and the strangest part is that all it took was an extra 10 minutes of my time.
This wasn’t the first “let’s take a look” moment that happened during the climb, either. Before the summit push, at the base of a steep, 1,200-foot tall chute of loose rock and sand, Justin and I scanned the bedlam of car-sized boulders for a more pleasant route to climb.
“Let’s just check out these rocks over here,” he said with the casual air of a master salesman, at once sly and unobtrusive. We made our way over to a stripe of large stones that jutted out like a funhouse’s staircase from the far right side of the mountain, desperate to avoid the loose gravel. Again, he was right. The five minutes we spent poking around for a better path made the 1 hour and 43 minutes we spent climbing it far more enjoyable.
The lesson is obvious – when you take an extra 5 minutes to research, think, or plan, it can make or break the rest of your day. I started wondering why we don’t apply this technique more often in everyday life.
I recently heard Gabrielle Reece speak on a podcast about the importance of “going first” and how having the courage to take an iota of extra initiative will almost always work in your favor as you traverse your own life. I think the “let’s just take a look” mindset blends perfectly into this space, because it creates a pattern-interrupt to stop certain careless instincts so that we can reap the rewards of our additional effort. The crazy thing is that most people are caught in the stream and so few people even bother to “take a look” or “go first” that the immediate life benefits of instigating the extra effort can be huge.
Try to make the cable guy laugh. Take 5 minutes to research new trail snacks to test out. Price compare even though you already have Amazon Prime. Watch a 3-minute YouTube video about climbing technique. Smile at the checkout girl from Trader Joe’s. Download a topographic map onto your iPhone. Explore a new route on your commute to work. There are thousands of ways this could be applied to an ordinary life that take only seconds or a few minutes.
Here’s what’s really wild – when you allow yourself the negligible time required to peek around a metaphorical corner before launching into a big task, you’re not only solidifying whatever decision you end up making, you’re also exercising the part of your mind that is curious, always learning, and leaning into the new. You’re saying yes to keeping your brain active and open, and you’re committing to not blindly follow the same old patterns simply because they appear easier on the surface.
This is my new favorite life hack. It’s simple but profound and provides immediate benefits. If you have five minutes, take a look. If you have one minute, take a look. What have you got to lose?