“I AM: Two of the most powerful words. For what you put after them shapes your reality.” –Unknown
I have seen this quote attributed to a number of people and haven’t been able to verify its origin, but that does not negate the quote’s power for me. In trying to determine the original source, I discovered that Gary Hensel wrote a book with this quote as the title, but I think the quote predates the book.
I am (See how I have used them already? 😊) a lover of words. In them I find inspiration and courage and strength and comfort. I have mentioned many times in this blog how much my collection of quotes means to me. I had loved quotes for years but started “collecting” them in 2001. Our friend Susan, a fellow logophile, came to our house in Wichita to meet us for a trip down to the Hotter‘N Hell Hundred bike ride in Wichita Falls, Texas. She noticed a quote I had placed on our bathroom mirror, and when she returned home to the Kansas City area, she sent me the blank book, inscribed with a few quotes, that started my collection. I am now on my sixth volume and cherish the words within those books as sacred guides.
Really, though, this post is about a specific arrangement of words—words formed into questions.
I love and use mantras and affirmations every day. Some of these are lifelines I have committed to memory for managing stress and fear and overwhelm. Some of my most powerful experiences around words center around questions, though.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is a practice of mine to choose a quote before I begin physical activity (as well as at many other transition points throughout the day). Often my best, most inspirational experiences occur when I choose a question or when I create a question from the quote on which I land.
The ambiguously sourced quote at the beginning of this post is one of those. I can ask myself—you can ask yourself—“What do I put after the words ‘I AM’?”
This is a question worth asking. Whether we follow those words with nouns (“I am a lover of words.”), verbs and adverbs (“I am feeling overwhelmed.”) adjectives (“I am strong.”) or verbs (“I am creating the life I truly want to live.”), we are owning, creating and living what comes after them.
Get quiet. Close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Now, say to yourself, “I am peaceful and calm.” How does that feel? If you pay attention, I bet you notice a sense of calm come over you.
Now, say to yourself, “I am so stressed.” How does your experience change?
Next, think of something to which you aspire. For example, I am working on my first book, so I can say to myself, “I am a published author.” Or, “I am a writer.” Or, “I am sharing a message the world needs to read.” Any of these instill a sense of determination and strength in me.
We can reframe our identity this way. Years ago, I had a personal training client who tearfully told me, “I don’t want to be a washed-up, overweight, middle-aged woman.” I told her, “Then don’t see yourself that way.” Tell yourself, “I am a runner. I am an athlete. I am crossing that finish line, and it feels great.” (I was training her to run her first 5K.) She embraced this reframe, embodying the new self-image and successfully completed that and future races. Most importantly, she developed self-confidence and self-esteem that improved her quality of life outside the gym and off the road.
So, here’s the question to ask yourself: “What words do I put after ‘I am’?” Take time to ponder this on a bike ride, a run, a walk or even in the shower. This really matters, so be honest. How do you feel about the words you put behind “I am?” If they are not empowering, how can you change them so they are?
Another short question I have been asking myself lately is “What if?” Again, what you put after it is what really makes the difference. I have been asking, “What if I really allow myself to succeed in my business? What if I have the courage to invest the time, energy and money in myself so that I can create the business that lets me live optimally?”
What is it you want to create in your life? Ask yourself, “What if I . . .?”
I think these two questions are universal and can have meaning to all of us. However, some questions may speak more to some of us than others.
Jim Kwik asks, “What is your dominant question?” After being labeled by a teacher at a young age following a head injury, he would tell himself, “I am the boy with the broken brain.” He learned to ask himself how he could change that perception.
Listening to Jim Kwik this morning while making my breakfast, I picked up another gem. “Our struggles become our strengths.” This inspired me to ask myself on my bike ride, “What strength can I create or derive from my struggles?”
All of these speak to identity. It matters how we identify because we tend to live out our identity. The more powerfully we choose to answer these questions, the more powerfully we grow and the more powerfully we live.
There are plenty other worthwhile questions to ask ourselves. We just need to notice opportunities to create them and then give ourselves the space to ponder them. (Physical activity is the best way, in my opinion.) Pay attention to words that strike you. Can you turn them into questions that can lead you down a path of growth? I feel a visceral excitement when I encounter words that do this for me. Receptiveness to their power is key. We have to be willing to ask ourselves these questions and then be committed to implementing the answers that inspire us. We’ll talk more about that in my next blog post.
For now, in the comments below, please share your most inspirational questions OR the answers the above questions generated for you. How do they make you feel? Both the current answers and the aspirational answers are important. Let us know how you are impacted by these questions.
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May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.”
I began writing this post early in the morning, the Friday before Memorial Day, in my bedroom, with open windows allowing the sound of gentle raindrops and various birds to serenade me. I appreciate the quiet solitude that I am often able to find in early mornings, while Kenny and Logan are sleeping and before I have to show up anywhere (virtually or in person) else in life. This beautiful Apache Blessing instills peace in my heart when I read it and contemplate its words.
We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, and Kenny was very nostalgic that evening, looking at our wedding album and other photos. It was obvious that he was reflecting on the surreal nature of the passing of 19 years. Where did they go? How do we have a 15-year-old son?
Although he seemed to have a stronger sense of the poignantly fleeting nature of life that evening, I also have more and more of those moments lately.
Whether it is raining or sunny, cold or hot, windy or still—meteorologically or metaphorically—if we can view the moments of our lives according to the gifts they bring, like the Apache Blessing illustrates, we are far more likely not only to appreciate this precious life, but to make something of it.
Our world is busy and full of distractions. As an introvert who is sensitive to external stimuli, this can become overwhelming for me. There are many disappointments that come with this COVID-19 pandemic we are all living. For far too many families, it goes beyond disappointment, to tragedy. And any of us could find ourselves there before this is over. For all of us, there are changes, many unpleasant. I bought groceries Thursday evening, a task I don’t particularly enjoy at any time. I choose my stores based on the likelihood of sensory overload. Right now, though, I really dislike the experience of shopping. Wearing a mask feels like the socially responsible thing to do, so I do it, and many others do, too. But we lose something behind the masks. We can’t really see other people. Eyes say a lot, but not everything. Everyone seems more guarded. It is both harder to hear people and harder to read people. The world feels less safe and more unfriendly. It is a minor thing, but it feels like a loss, and it feels like it may be our reality for the foreseeable future.
Like many, I try to find both the lessons and the gifts of this situation. What can I learn about myself, about life, about what’s next for me? And, what can I appreciate?
Personally, I appreciate (love) having fewer social obligations. I am working from home, and while I am staying plenty busy with that, having no commute at the moment is a gift. It is one I am not looking forward to relinquishing when I do return to the workplace. So, what does that tell me about what I should do moving forward? What changes can I make to have more of this and less of that?
There are undoubtedly some activities I miss. Biking Across Kansas is the highlight of my year, and it is cancelled. I am grateful that I can still ride my bike, though, and we are hoping to create some sort of family cycling adventure when it is safe to do so.
In some ways, this contracting of social activity feels like I have come into my moment. It’s not perfect. There are losses with the gifts, but I feel an obligation to recognize the lessons that may be prodding me to implement changes in my life.
What can I keep from this time? What can any of us?
As I have become more and more aware, time passes all too quickly. I need to make it count, and I need to do that now, in each moment. Because, in no time, 19 more years will have passed. Awareness is the beginning, but action is what really matters. The art is in soaking up the gifts of the moment, while taking action that implements the lessons.
Mindful awareness coupled with impactful action.
How can we achieve that?
While doing laundry and dishes yesterday morning, when I started the post, I was listening to a wonderful interview between Lewis Howes and Jim Kwik (How have I not known about this Jim Kwik? He is amazing!). He says that one of the reasons we don’t make progress is because we are overwhelmed—our project or goal seems too big. I know this can be true for me. He says, “What is the smallest action you can take?” Others, like James Clear, have proposed this idea, too. Just taking tiny actions, consistently, to keep moving forward.
I have a productivity plan that I keep on a spreadsheet with dates and priority ratings. It is the way I keep taking tiny steps. It seems slow and prodding at times, and I certainly get stuck now and then, but it does keep me moving forward. Because my Friday was full, writing this blog post was the only thing on the plan for me yesterday Of course, work and family obligations and an after-work bike ride were also part of my day, but this is the thing that feeds my longing to create and learn and grow. I feel like listening to the lessons and the inspiration that each moment can bring and figuring out how to implement them in my life are so important to really soaking up and appreciating what life has to offer.
If we don’t, time will pass anyway. As I have said in previous posts, I am really afraid of regrets. So, even if it is rainy, or we are in the middle of a pandemic, or I am not making the progress I wish I were making, I do believe I have an obligation to make each day, each moment count.
I am finding gifts in some surprising circumstances and would love to keep you posted. Please join my email list to stay informed and to receive a copy of my plant-based recipe booklet.
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“Lift up your eyes upon This day breaking for you.
Give birth again To the dream.
Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings.
–Maya Angelou, Excerpt from “On the Pulse of Morning”
We are living in strange times. So much has changed in all of our lives in such a short period of time. I could never have imagined the current state of our world. Maybe that was ignorance or short-sightedness or naivete´, but the events of the last couple months have me working to find my way in this new reality. Partly by necessity and partly through this process of feeling my way, I am doing a lot of things differently. Within these changes, I have found myself struggling to discern the difference between self-compassion and weakness or laziness.
I believe in listening to my gut and in being patient and compassionate with myself, but I also believe in self-discipline and determination and dedication. I believe in living courageously. Where is the line between these values? Are they dichotomous? How can they coexist?
The changes in my life and my habits extend beyond the bike, but I find so many metaphors in cycling (I’m writing a whole book around that.), that the bike is where these are most evident for me.
I’m still riding a lot. I have over 1,100 miles for 2020, so far. I generally ride five days out of seven. But I am doing it differently. Maybe it is okay because I am still putting in the miles, but it does make me stop to think whether I am being honest with myself. How much of this is related to COVID-19 and being socially responsible, and how much of it is losing my edge?
For me, my “edge” is my dedication and commitment to do what I say I am going to do, to live courageously and to push myself. Cycling is the major manifestation of it at this point in my life.
I have an index-card file (old-fashioned, I know!) of cycling routes I have constructed in every direction from Andale, ranging from 15 miles to over 100 miles. I have ridden all of them, mostly alone, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times.
In all honesty, I have felt myself becoming more constrained over the last few years, even before COVID-19. This has mostly been related to multiple scary close calls with chasing dogs. (And I LOVE dogs! Just not irresponsible people who let them run unsupervised. But that is another post.) There are some routes I have avoided completely since a particularly harrowing canine encounter. It feels like I have narrowed my “safe” options a little more in each of the past few years. I have told myself that there is no point adding to my stress if I can have a more enjoyable ride by playing it safe.
This year, in the midst of the pandemic, I have made the decision to do shorter loops on my longer rides, so that I can stop back by my home for bathroom and fluid breaks, rather than stopping in public places. For example, on Sunday, I rode 26 miles for the first loop and 25 miles for the second loop. Somehow this feels both safer and more socially responsible. I ride without a mask, alone on the road or occasionally with Kenny. The more I read and hear about the ability of asymptomatic individuals to carry the virus, the more important it seems to wear a mask when I am around people. So, it seems wiser and more courteous to be more self-contained on my mask-free rides.
But, is that the truth?
Is it just fear? Is it getting soft or weak?
And, whatever it is, what all is behind it?
I have pondered several possibilities.
Fear. There is certainly fear involved. This is not just about social responsibility, although that is part of it. But, is it simply that I am letting fear dictate my choices? I don’t believe in living my life from a place of fear, but, if I am genuinely (and justifiably?) fearful, is it smart to listen to it? Is that self-compassion? Is that trusting my instinct to keep me safe, or is it being a wimp? The line between the two seems blurred to me.
Uncertainty. It is impossible to plan anything right now. Everything feels uncertain and in question. Maybe that is why it feels safer to stick to known, safe, chasing-dog-free routes that are close to home. The uncertainty of the world is overwhelming. Introducing additional unpredictability feels like too much.
Weirdness. Grocery shopping feels so weird right now. Increasingly, it seems like the only appropriate thing to do is wear a mask, just in case we could be asymptomatic, but infectious. Or to help other people feel more comfortable. This is just one more thing to worry about on the bike. Putting a mask on a sweaty face (after pulling it out of a sweaty jersey pocket) sounds unappealing. Not wearing one into a small-town gas station seems rude, if not reckless.
Fatigue. Is it just that I am tired, not so much physically, but emotionally? The world feels heavy. Life is more complicated. We have all had to accept a lot of loss in the last couple of months. Maybe I am just exhausted by that and want to minimize my potential for more loss and stress and trauma. Does it just feel easier not to have to cope with apprehension around what I might experience out on the road in farther reaches, even though that sense of adventure and possibility has been food for my soul in the past?
Wisdom. Maybe I could take a more positive perspective. Maybe my reluctance to venture farther from home, to stop at small-town gas stations, to road-test routes where I have had previous serious dog problems is rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, replacing the perceived invincibility of youth. It is true that I have had many close calls with chasing, even snarling, dogs. I have had bottles thrown at me. I have been run off the road by a semi. I have been blown off the road by wind. It is possible that all this has accumulated into wisdom that has compelled me to shed the perception of invincibility that I carried through my younger adult years. I never really considered myself to be a risk taker, but I have ridden and/or run many thousands of miles alone, often in remote territory and in unfamiliar cities while travelling. For most of my life, this has just been what I have done. But maybe I now recognize the fragility of life, with the accumulation of loss of people and animals over the years, the recognition of how fleeting my son’s childhood is, the sense of foreboding that comes with realizing that I am likely in the last half of my own life. Maybe this translates to wisdom, to taking chances when it is smart and to avoiding them when it makes sense.
Hormones. Pedaling and pondering on Sunday morning, the possibility occurred to me that hormonal changes, like lower testosterone (Yes, women produce it, too.) associated with perimenopause could be contributing to my need to minimize risk. (I have been thinking a lot lately about menopause, in general, and plan to do a fairly extensive review of the literature around it, both for myself and for an idea I have for my coaching practice. Stay tuned, if you, too, are a perimenopausal woman.) This is just speculative pondering at this point, but maybe hormonal changes are producing more risk aversion in my life. Or, is that the very definition of losing my edge? Hmm.
I don’t think I have come to any solid conclusions through writing this post, but I believe there is value, not just for myself, in sharing my struggles because I know we all struggle. I know we are all living in a scary, uncertain and previously unimaginable time right now.
I know others are scared of this world, of COVID-19 and of the social and economic changes that it is bringing.
I know others feel the stress of uncertainty. When will we get back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like in the future? Will the kids have school and sports in the fall? Will we be able to take vacations this summer? Will it be safe to see the older adults in our lives or for them to see their grandkids?
I know that I am not the only one who finds it hard to relate to other people from behind a mask that conceals a smile or other facial expressions. I find that people are less inclined to make eye contact while wearing a mask. Is that because of self-consciousness or because we are all scared of each other right now? Maybe it is a little of both.
I know I am not the only one who feels fatigued by the heaviness of this world—the result of fear and uncertainty and accumulated loss. We have all had to give up traditions, vacations and habits that have been deeply engrained in our lives, that we never could have conceived of abandoning so abruptly and in such volume. Something as seemingly small as the Western social convention of shaking hands now sounds dangerous and has a questionable future. Even as we have become desensitized—“Oh, now school is cancelled. Now Biking Across Kansas is cancelled. Now we might not be able to travel to see family. Of course, I can’t get a haircut.”—the losses, both micro and macro, add up and weigh on us.
I also know that many of us do gain wisdom as we live life. Generally, this is good, but it may cause us to rethink long-held patterns and to look back wistfully on a more carefree time. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I wrote those words in my very first volume of quotes in 2001, but they feel truer than ever now. Our earned wisdom through lived experience feels unquestionably bittersweet, and sometimes more bitter than sweet.
I also know that I am not the only perimenopausal woman who may be feeling her way in the world, as her body changes and takes her mind and feelings along with it. Men experience hormonal changes, too. Testosterone levels decrease as they age. They may have similar feelings of risk aversion. I have recently determined to take a more proactive and positive approach to menopause, which is why I have planned a campaign for knowledge on the topic and a curation of the fruits of my study to share with others. It feels like I a way that I can contribute, while helping myself.
I am a thinker, so I contemplate these things more than a lot people do. But I believe that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I hope my ponderings can help some of you feel less alone and maybe can help you approach your response to these feelings with compassion, patience and self-love.
One of the reasons I love to read and write nonfiction is that I believe we all have so much to learn and to teach through sharing our struggles and what we learn through them. As I said, I learn and experience so much from my bike saddle that has far broader application in life. The issues I address in this post are not exclusive to the bike. My experience on the bike just helps me analyze and come closer to understanding them and to be able to articulate them in a way that may reach others.
I have noticed risk aversion and weariness and fear when it comes to my business, my job, my relationships, just being out in the world.
If you are experiencing a sense of wanting or needing to hunker down or to stay closer to home or to minimize exposure of any kind in the world, know that you are not alone. Even as I try to tease out the truth from the myth from the excuses, I am also committed to being compassionate, yet disciplined and patient, while still striving for excellence.
Maybe excellence doesn’t have to look the same as it used to look. Or maybe it doesn’t have to look the same right now. Maybe it is okay to pause a bit. Maybe it is okay to put in the miles, even if they are “safer” miles right now. Maybe it is enough to honor that I am not just curling up in a ball and shunning life.
I think all of us are still trying to figure out what this pandemic will mean for us and how our world will change. Maybe that is where the patience should come in.
Do any of these ponderings resonate with you? Have you resolved them in your life? What do you think—is it self-compassion to acknowledge and respond to our fears by taking “safer” action, or is that giving in to fear and losing our edge? I would be interested to know your perspective on this topic.
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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.
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.
Throughout the surreal developments of the last couple weeks, I have doubted that there is anything of value I can provide—through my writing, through my coaching, through my online presence. I have thought, “Why bother?” because I have felt so overwhelmed by the news on COVID-19, by the abrupt transition to working from home (which I would love, under the right circumstances and with time to prepare and organize), the shock of K-12 school closures, the end of track and other spring sport seasons and the uncertainty and fear of the future. I made a significant investment in a business course just days before everything fell apart, but working on my business in any public way seems both insensitive and futile at this time. Still, I have to believe that we will get through this, that, collectively, we will be okay.
More than any other event that I can recall in my lifetime, it seems that we are all in the same boat. Certainly, some of us have more robust resources to cope. But we are all living this previously unimaginable reality that has so suddenly become ours.
Health and compassion are my themes. My goal is to dwell at the intersection of those two themes and to contribute to their growth in the world. So, how can I best do that in this interrupted life?
For my answer, I return to the roots of my blog that evolved to include my coaching practice and the book I am (still, despite this dramatic change of life) writing: the JustWind mindset. For those who are unfamiliar with the story behind the JustWind name, you can read my original blog post here. To give a brief recap, the concept originated in June 2002, on the last night of Biking Across Kansas, a cross-state bike ride that I love and in which I have participated since 1999. Kansas is windy. That is an undisputed fact. Every BAK has wind, but 2002 was particularly windy (even featuring a severe thunderstorm with 95-mph straight winds that shredded tents). The wind had beaten us up all week, and I was starting to get a cold. On the last evening, as I looked for our bags among those that had been unloaded from the luggage truck, I complained grumpily to my friend David about the wind. He shrugged and gently said, “It’s just wind.”
I had a moment of profound insight: I could choose to be miserable (even doing something I loved—cycling), or I could choose to recognize the challenge for what it was and keep turning the pedals to move forward and stay upright. I realized that I could do this, not just on the bike, but in every aspect of life. It was truly an awakening for me and one that has led to a great deal of (long and protracted and always-evolving) growth for me. Essentially, I realized that we have the power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives.
I decided that sharing this reminder is the primary value that I can add to the coping strategies for managing the disruption created by this pandemic. I am endeavoring to remember to engage the JustWind mindset as I make my way through these strange days. My effort is imperfect. I have had moments of crisis and extreme agitation. I panicked last week when I had to make a rushed 50-mile round trip to my office, when I heard that I may lose access entirely in this incredibly busy advising season that has suddenly transitioned to phone advising. I yelled at Logan later that evening when he kept throwing a plastic tumbler into the stainless-steel sink, noisily and unsuccessfully trying to land it inside another one (a version of the highly irritating bottle-flipping craze of a few years ago). He persisted when I asked him to stop, and I lost it. But, when I can remember, it helps.
We all have to find our own best ways of handling this, and I suspect that the issues are different for introverts and extroverts, but I will share some of my strategies and hope they help. Please share your own in the comments. We can learn from each other.
My husband Kenny reads COVID-19 news out loud what seems like approximately 23 hours a day. While I agree that it is important to stay informed, this wears on me. I am working primarily at home, Logan’s school is closed, and Kenny is on an indefinite hiatus from his work as a bus driver and groundskeeper for the school district. We are all suddenly together in what feels like a very small house for many hours a day. Logan would be on Xbox nonstop if we would let him. Kenny reads the news out loud to me. While I am working at home, while I am studying my business course, while I am writing (He is sleeping now.), he reads. While I am dialing the phone for my next student appointment, while I am tracking appointments, while I am responding to email, he reads.
These are the things I am doing to cope, to escape, to strive to thrive:
Empowered movement: For me, this consists of cycling about three evenings a week (Thank you, daylight savings time!) for 15-20 miles and building mileage on the weekend days. I rode 30 miles each day this weekend, despite cold, dreary conditions. A couple mornings a week, I do yoga (Yoga with Kassandra is my favorite.), strength training or Foundation Training. Training my body helps me to feel better physically and mentally and to feel stronger and be more resilient. It prepares me to face more effectively whatever comes my way.
Reading: My life is too full (even in this strange new world) to allow time for simply sitting and reading, but using skills I honed years ago as an undergraduate who worked full time and went to school at night, I read while I am getting dressed, washing dishes, folding laundry, brushing my teeth—every spare moment. I read over 60 books a year this way, and they help me stay sane and continue growing and evolving. They help a lot now. I just finished reading Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip & Dan Heath. It was very good, and I gleaned from it some useful decision-making strategies. After finishing it this morning, I started Deep Listening: A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind and Open Your Heart, by Jillian Pransky. Reading, like cycling, is a tremendous escape for me.
Meditation: My morning meditation practice, as well as some moving meditation on the bike, helps me stay grounded and centered. I incorporate breathing exercises and Kundalini yoga, and it starts my day from a place of peace and grace.
Plant-powered nourishment: Of course, I eat plants, not animals all the time, but it is even more important to be mindful that the food is nourishing and supporting my mental and physical health at this time. It is easy to want to eat just comfort food in this crazy situation, but I try to keep in mind the bigger picture. As I wrote this yesterday, I had just finished my breakfast smoothie. I included hemp seed, maca, turmeric and magnesium gluconate for extra nutritional support. This morning, I had Kashi and dry oatmeal with frozen berries and cherries, cocoa (full of antioxidants!), walnuts, vegan yogurt, ground flaxseed, maca, turmeric and magnesium gluconate. Breakfast is important, but so is everything we put into our mouths throughout the day.
Hope: As I said above, I have to believe that we will get through this. I do believe we will be changed. I hope the changes are for the better. Some of them may not be or may not feel like they are, but we can choose to grow through the changes. So, I am not relinquishing my goals, although I am giving myself some grace and adjusting the pace of my pursuit. I am still writing my book, writing blog posts, working my business course (but holding off on public-facing activities because pushing forward with those seems insensitive) and pursuing certification as a running coach. I am choosing to trust that everything will happen in the right time, in the way that it should.
Structure: All too suddenly, our days look different. Even if I have an ultimate goal of being able to work from home, I want it to be in circumstances I choose, not a situation thrust upon me, in my busiest time of semester, with no time to prepare thoughtfully and comfortably. So, I am creating a new structure for myself. I took time yesterday to establish a structure for Logan’s days because this cannot be perpetual spring break. He needs athletic (He has continued to run.), academic and household responsibilities each day. There will still be time for Xbox (although I have to admit that I absolutely hate that thing). Structure helps us to make sense of our days and make use of our time for productive activities.
JustWind Mindset: We don’t know how long this will last or how brutal it may get. On my bike, I literally have been blown off the road by the Kansas wind. I have felt many times like I am being pushed backward by headwind or could be knocked over by crosswind. I just keep turning the pedals (and, after some deep breaths, get back on the road after having been blown off). I am remembering all this and trying to apply it to COVID-19. It will change our days, our plans and our ways of life, but we can handle it. We just have to choose the empowered perspective that allows us to believe we can and then take action to do so.
As I said, I would love to see your comments about how you are striving to thrive during this pandemic. Please let us know.
I wish all my readers (and all the world) health, safety, happiness and peace in this scary and uncertain time. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Let’s follow the CDC and WHO, as well as local, recommendations, guidelines and orders. Let’s try to stop this thing as soon as we can, take what we learn and move forward powerfully. Blessings to all!
“The moment you accept responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you gain the power to change anything in your life.” –Hal Elrod