How to Stay Motivated when Everything Is Cancelled

As I pedaled into 40-mph headwind on my April 1 bike ride, coincidentally the anniversary of the day when Kenny gave me my first really nice road bike, a LeMond Buenos Aires, in 1999, I thought of Kristin Armstrong’s quote, “The test of a passion is the love of the drudgery it involves.” Because there is some drudgery involved in pedaling into a 40-mph headwind. Yet, cycling is one of my driving passions.

Just the previous day, we had publicly announced the cancellation of my beloved Biking Across Kansas cross-state tour for 2020, due to COVID-19. As I slowly turned the pedals, I pondered the reasons that I was riding in hellacious wind when BAK (and probably every other spring and maybe summer) organized ride is cancelled.

The answer came pretty easily: It’s part of who I am. One of my favorite mantras is one I paraphrased from a Neale Donald Walsch quote. It grounds me and helps me to make considered decisions. And it helped me answer my own question about why I was facing that wind, when seemingly every extrinsic reason had evaporated with COVID-19. “Each act is an act of self-definition.”

Every choice I make—from how I eat to how I move to how I think—defines me. My actions tell myself and the world who I am and what I value. Part of my self-definition is “cyclist.” Cyclists ride. We don’t have to have an event for which to train or a reason outside ourselves. We ride because it helps us remember who we are and helps us to be better people, acting from a place of centeredness. I wrote about this in 2018 in my post “The Bike Is Where I remember Who I Am.”

Even so, there was a fleeting moment in that headwind when, dragged down by the weight of what this pandemic is doing to our world, I thought, “Why bother?” With everything, including my absolute favorite event of every year, cancelled, why should I ride when it was drudgery, bordering on danger (in the crosswind).

But then I remembered my mantra. I remembered who I was. And I knew.

Of course, it’s not just BAK and my other annual bike rides that are cancelled. Everything is cancelled. Logan’s and every other high school, college and middle school athlete’s track, softball, baseball, swim and other spring sport season. Road races. Wimbledon. Summer Olympics. Conferences. Church services.  Family Gatherings. School!!!! Haircuts!!!! The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. As an introvert who gets overwhelmed and stressed out by excessive (from my perspective) gatherings and events, I don’t mind missing some group activities. But there are some I cherish. And there are others that I know are just as dear to other people. It is hard on all of us. And it can get depressing. And it can be demotivating, if we let the “why bothers” take over.

So how do we stay motivated when everything is cancelled?

There are a lot of creative strategies being employed. Zoom is getting a workout (and being exploited, sadly) like never before. Many people feel the need to connect visually, in real time with others, and we are fortunate to live in a time when connection has never been easier. Many virtual events are taking place. Everything, from campus visits to races, is being conducted virtually.

A couple weeks ago, Logan participated in a virtual 1600m time trial with his Flying Angels club teammates. He ran alone on our own Andale High School track, with only his parents and grandma watching, but I took a video and shared it on social media. The kids got to test themselves, and loyal fans who are missing track season got to watch.

Logan took the initative to organize a virtual 3200m race as an event on Strava for April 25. He has invited competitors from all over the world (because he has an amazing following, compared to my measly one. But I digress). We are focusing his training for the next couple weeks toward that event. He is excited about it. He’ll run physically alone, but in the virtual company of other athletes, and they’ll report their times. He is trying to think of a virtual medal or badge he can award.

So, when it comes to athletic endeavors, there are some creative ways to stay motivated. But we often have other goals in life, outside of athletic accomplishments. Sometimes, events are reasons. Upcoming vacations or weddings or reunions can be motivating factors for eating healthfully and achieving a weight at which we feel confident and strong and healthy. We may have a goal of building a successful business, but it feels both impossible and insensitive to push forward in the current world. Why bother?

As I rode into the wind that day, I thought about this and wanted to share my ideas:

  • Remember: Each act is an act of self-definition.
    • Who do I want to be? As that person, what would I do? These questions can help guide your choices.
  • Determine your most important priorities.
    • What truly matters and why? Be very specific. This is not some broad concept like “health” or “family.” This is a clear statement like, “I am building a viable business that will give me options, so I can leave my full-time job if and when and for the reasons I choose.” We can formulate similar statements for each of the most important priorities (which I think are somewhat different than goals) in our lives.  Think about the broad arenas that comprise our lives and consider what your priorities are within each of them: Health, Financial Well-being, Relationships, Legacy (the mark we make on the world, paid and unpaid) and Spirit. You will likely find some areas more compelling than others.
  • Reverse engineer.
    • What needs to happen for me to achieve this? Really think about this. What steps are involved? What actions need to be taken? “If I walk backwards and retrace my steps from that place of a lived priority, how did I get there?” Then commit to taking the necessary steps to do it.
    • One of my priorities is to optimize my health and fitness. They are gifts I have been given, and I believe I have a responsibility to make the most of them, so that I can have a positive impact on the world. I have not perfected this. But it is on my mind every single day. And, for the most part, I live it. Cycling is part of living that priority. So, I ride. Our passions are also gifts. And roadmaps. So, follow those, as you think about how you will achieve your true priorities.

These are the best ways I know to stay motivated when everything is cancelled. Be creative. Think about ways that you can still motivate yourself and others. But also go deep. Reflect on what matters most, who you really are, your most compelling aspirations and then backtrack in your mind and heart to unveil the steps, the daily actions, the moment-by-moment choices that got you to the place that you envision. Remind yourself constantly, again and again—because I find that is what it takes—why it is important, why it matters, why you cannot give in to the insidious “why bothers.”

And take the actions that embody your highest self-definition.  You are worth it, regardless of whether or not an event or activity or season you anticipated actually comes. Fundamentally, you are worth it. And, while it feels like the world is cancelled and closed or, at the very least, on pause, remember that this really is a season of our lives. Maybe it is not one we would have chosen or could ever have anticipated, but we find ourselves living it. So, don’t forget to live. Dig deep and unearth your intrinsic motivation. Your whys. And don’t let them get covered back up. It takes consistent effort, but keep them in front of you, pulling you in the direction of your priorities.

One of the images I have used with coaching clients is that of a beautiful, radiant golden ball of light, full of my (your) dreams and aspirations. Picture it in front of you, pulling you toward it with a magnetic force. Its beauty is astonishing and compelling. Follow that golden ball of light and keep pedaling or walking or running or rolling toward it. It transcends COVID-19 and cancellations and disappointment. Our dreams still matter. And we can still take steps to define ourselves in alignment with them. I believe we still have a responsibility to do so, even if the steps look different than we expected them to look. This is a time that calls for creativity and innovation. We can grow through this, if we choose.

Two days ago, as I was scrolling through notifications, as I prepared to get on my bike after work (from home), I saw an event, the Sand Plum Bicycle Classic, had been scheduled for June 7. It is usually in early May, and we would normally be on BAK on June 7. It seemed like a tiny pinhole of light and hope. It still seems aspirational. I certainly am not ready to register yet because it is hard to believe that it can actually happen. But maybe. Somebody believes. Somebody decided to put a bit of hope out there. So, I tapped the “interested” star on the Facebook event, and I will keep it in mind as I train. But I am training for me. For whom I am. For the person I want to be. For the health and fitness I want to have in my life. I don’t need an event out there to get me on my bike. But I don’t mind one either. A pinhole of light and possibility and hope.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Remember what matters and don’t let this time slip away into a mush of excuses and “why bothers.” Keep visualizing the golden ball of radiant light, filled with your highest aspirations and most important dreams and priorities, pulling you toward it with each self-defining act you choose. It doesn’t matter what’s cancelled. You are still who you are. And you can still become who you want to be.

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