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Jailbreak from Mediocrity

What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?” –Iris Krasnow

Between multiple, consecutive gray, overcast days and a disappointing setback Friday night, I found myself on my bike yesterday (after yet another weekend rain delay!) thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..”

In this case, the “easier not to” referred to bothering to build a coaching business. It is not the first time that thought has crossed (or hung out in) my mind. Sometimes, that thought has gotten the better of me for a period of time. Lately, I have been more successful at warding it off, but it was coming back with a vengeance yesterday.

It’s not just building my business, though, I realized, as I pedaled into the headwind in a fairly heavy mist. It’s also easier not to ride my bike. It’s easier not to write a blog post, take a course, cook a healthful dinner, go to the trouble of learning new software and practices for managing business finances, have a child, be in a relationship. You name it. It is probably easier to sit on the couch and not take the chances or put forth the effort to do any number of things in life.

But, if we don’t, what’s left? Did we live at all?

For me, with the coaching business, I believe there is a reason that the idea hasn’t left me alone since it first presented itself around 2001. I pushed it away for several years because it seemed impractical, with a young child and little support or enthusiasm from others.

It rose back to the surface, though, a couple years ago when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my career and had experienced a couple major professional disappointments in a few years. This time, I promised my idea and my spirit that I wouldn’t shove it back down.

Still, it’s not easy, and it’s the “uncharted territory” to which Iris Krasnow refers. Any time we take a risk on something new, it is scary. Accidents and unforeseen events can take place. We may have to climb over huge obstacles we didn’t even know were there. Yet, finding out what is at the end of the journey in this uncharted territory is compelling. Sticking with the known and not worrying about getting dirty or risking some scrapes and bruises might be safer on one level, but soul crushing on another.

Years ago, when I first read Krasnow’s words, I experienced a visceral negative reaction to the concept of mediocrity. Rather than the pursuit of dominance over others, the rejection of mediocrity is for me a reaction to my belief in my responsibility to optimize my strengths, talents, resources and experiences–to give back in proportion to what I have been given.

It has become clear to me over recent months that my recurrent urge to serve the world through a variety of manifestations of health and habit change coaching—including blogging; individual coaching; my free Facebook group: JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose; and future workshops, classes and nonprofit work—is a calling from the Universe.

Sometimes, I have relished the synchronicity and signs that have reassured me that I was on the correct path. Other times, it feels like I am braving Krasnow’s uncharted territory all alone, in the desolate and uncertain wilderness.

My mindfulness practices, along with my cycling, have become lifelines for me, helping me stay grounded and focused during the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. When I start to stumble and risk falling into a pit of hopelessness, I have practices in place these days to throw down a net and catch myself before I hit bottom.

The net helps me bounce back up and courageously return to the uncharted territory.

Yes, it would be easier not to bother, at least for a while. But, then it wouldn’t be. Then, regret would set in–disappointment in myself. I would be mired irrevocably in the muck of mediocrity.

This prison that Krasnow describes is even more frightening to me. As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. To be trapped there with the disappointment and shame that mediocrity would bring feels like the worst fate.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself that I am just starting to share with a few people. They are scary. But, the alternative to pursuing them is worse.

So, how do I—and how do you—persevere on an uncharted journey of uncertainty and risk? Here are the things that currently sustain me:

  • I have cultivated a deeper belief in the abundance of the Universe, in an updated way that resonates with me, as the person I am today. We each must find our own path here, but I have come to believe that finding it is crucial. It will likely evolve over time, but it is important to honor our need for a connection to something greater. I have a consistent, cherished daily mindfulness practice that now includes meditation, which I long believed was something I could not do. Now, I can’t do without it.
  • I have connected with supportive others, including a couple of Facebook groups and some business coaches. This helps when I feel alone. I can serve others in the group, while I receive support and guidance myself. As in any relationship, there can be disappointment, but I have grown much more since connecting with the people in these groups than I was doing entirely on my own. Finding the right fit is important. Although my coaching certification institution emphasized that they were “my tribe,” they weren’t. I had to find the right people on my own.
  • I trust my own intuition and instincts. Mindfulness has helped me tune into this and honor this more than ever. I have always believed in doing this, but I am more likely to trust myself now than I used to be. I can really listen when I am in my state of mindfulness, whether it is during my formal practice each day or it is just found in my increased centeredness, a residual effect of my practice. Much like exercise has benefits that last for hours following the actual movement, mindfulness resets my emotional barometer and keeps me on a calmer, more receptive plane throughout the day.
  • I strive to maintain the lifestyle practices that I teach for living and aging with power and purpose—purposeful living, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement—with a high level of integrity. Taking excellent care of my body, mind and spirit best positions me to persist when the going gets tough.

These are what I recommend to you, as you dig deep and find the courage to attempt the jailbreak from mediocrity too. What does that mean for you? Which is more frightening—uncharted territory or known mediocrity? How can I support you?

“There is an inner knowing that there is more to life than the mundane, as well as a desire to create meaning of one’s life by doing the best that one is capable of doing.”

–Linda Kreger Silverman

2 Techniques for Calming a Busy Mind

My mind is busy! I am sure a lot of minds are. In general, I am glad to have an active interior life. There are times, though, that this blessing can be a curse. Often, throughout the years, I have wished I could turn off my brain. In the past, the closest I usually came to that was on my bike, which is still one of the best ways to release the “busyness” of my mind. Interestingly, doing so frequently opens the channel for my greatest creativity and introspection. I am grateful for this avenue to self-exploration and expression.

 

In the last year, I have added a consistent mindfulness practice to my morning routine and have been pleasantly surprised to discover how much it has come to mean to me. I even look forward to it, much like my anticipation of a bike ride.

 

It can still be challenging to calm my mind. Now, though, I am able to be more forgiving and accepting of myself and to acknowledge that my mind is busy trying to accomplish important things. I can recognize more quickly when I have followed a thought off on a trail. Then, I can gently acknowledge my mind’s activity and consciously return to my breath.

 

Two techniques tend to be helpful for keeping my focus on my breath and in the moment. I use both, depending on what most resonates with me at the time. The first is noticing the feeling of my inhalations and exhalations at the tip of my nose. The tangible sensation of my breath entering and exiting my nostrils can be effective for keeping my mind in the present. At other times, I picture myself enveloped in a golden ball of light. Besides keeping my focus on the present, this also feels uplifting and spiritual. Done well, I even feel the warmth of the light, which I interpret as an exchange between my Source Energy and the energy from the Universe, replenishing and renewing my internal well.

 

Over the year or so of consistent practice, I have noticed that I am happier, calmer and better able to manage stress. I am more easily able to return to a positive state. The renewal that I envision with the golden ball of light is real. I only have to open the channel to receive it, by consciously quieting the noise and activity that frequently occupy my attention, so that my awareness is sharpened to accept the gifts of the present moment.

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Closing the Gap: The Sequel

As soon as I turned north onto 247th Street, I recognized that changes had been made. As a cyclist, I am intimately acquainted with the roads I ride frequently. This particular road, a main thoroughfare into and out of my small town of Andale, Kansas, while certainly not the roughest I ride, had become pretty jarring because of large gaps that had developed over time, due to the wear and tear of traffic and the brutal extremes of Kansas summers and winters.

What I noticed immediately was that Sedgwick County road crews had patched the cracks with tar and asphalt.

While it wasn’t a pretty or luxurious repair, it made a noticeable difference in the quality of the ride. The symbolism struck me.

The wear and tear of life—chronic illness, inactivity, low-quality nutrition, luck and other lifestyle factors that work with our genetic inheritance—is what creates the gap between our life expectancy and our healthy life expectancy. The gaps can make for a bumpy, uncomfortable ride, both in life and on the bike. Like the road crews did with tar and asphalt on 247th, we can choose to close the gap between our life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, through our lifestyle choices.

I originally wrote about this concept and about my inspiration for focusing my health and habit change coaching practice around teaching the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose in this post, back in March 2018.

Now, I am ready to take this to the next level—and to hep you do that in your own life. I am excited to announce my new free, 4-week JustWind Close the Gap Facebook group, which will launch on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Registration for the group starts today, Sunday, July 15.

This group is for anyone interested in closing the gap between their life expectancy and their healthy life expectancy. That gap is a crucial period that can make an enormous difference in our quality of life and our experience of aging. In this 4-week, free Facebook group, you will find support in your journey toward living and aging with power and purpose. Highlights of the group include:

  • 4 Facebook Live presentations (1 each Sunday)
  • Daily motivation & inspiration
  • Daily bite-sized Gap Closers (activities to help you inch your way to a smaller Gap)
  • Information on personalizing and deepening your Gap Closing

I am very excited about this group and have been working hard to prepare meaningful content that, if you are willing to put in the work, can help guide you toward significant changes in your experience of life and aging.

This is a labor of love and passion because, as I have witnessed the suffering around me, as family members and friends age, I am highly motivated to control what I can to be as healthy and as productive as possible, for as long as possible. I am fully aware that there are factors beyond our control, but I am also cognizant that we can take responsibility for our experience of living and aging and make it as smooth a ride, with as narrow gaps, as possible.

If the idea of closing the gap between your  life expectancy and your healthy life expectancy, in order to live and age with power and purpose, appeals to you, and you like the idea of sharing the journey with a supportive community of similarly motivated people, please take a moment to join the group and to share this post and/or the group link with anyone you know who might be interested.

I am looking forward to joining with you in this proactive project, helping each other close the gap for a smoother ride through life, right to the end of the ride.

Decisions, Decisions

I recently had a decision to make—one that would influence an even bigger decision in my life.

The state of limbo that an unmade decision creates can be utterly grueling, at least for me. I like clarity and resolution. Those things feel neat and tidy. They feel like freedom to me. Unmade decisions feel heavy.

I had already been stewing in a murky soup of fear and doubt. Then, this new sub-decision presented itself. It was painful. For days, I felt burdened, even depressed, thinking that one direction represented sensible prudence, while the other represented impossibility and irresponsibility. It seemed like the smart thing to do was err on the side of prudence. But, the thought of going that direction made me sad.

I have referred in other posts to the value I place on the quotes I have collected since 2001. I flip randomly several times each day to various quotes and find those that speak to me in the moment. I reflect on them, especially when I am in situations when I can think, like riding my bike, taking a shower, driving, etc.

In the midst of the heaviness of this new decision, as well as what it might mean for the bigger picture of my life, I flipped to one of my more recently recorded quotes. It is more practical and straightforward, and less inspirational, than many of my quotes. It was just what I needed, though.

Eric Johnson was quoted in Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity as saying, “One of the best ways to help people cast experience in a new light is to provide a formal decision-making system—such as a flowchart, a prescribed series of questions, or the engineering design process—that denies our brains the easy options we crave.”

Flipping to this quote reminded me of what I had learned in that book, so I Googled “Engineering Design Process Charles Duhigg” (author of Smarter Faster Better) and found this article.

I took the few minutes I had that morning before I needed to leave for work to start journaling through the steps. Then, still feeling laden with the unfinished business of making the decision, I got on my bike after work with the intention of completing the steps in my head.

I found the “Debate Approaches” step to be most useful on my bike. I framed my sub-decision within the context of my bigger decision and imagined three viable scenarios for my future. Then, I put each to the test against my values, purpose, personal and professional missions and the vision I want for my future. By the time I finished my bike ride, I felt lighter—as though the murkiness and heaviness around me was starting to clear.

Feeling encouraged by the insight I had gleaned from my inner work the previous evening, I approached my mindfulness practice after my workout the next morning with hope and set the intention that the right decision would be clear to me. As I was gathering my things from my small home gym and preparing to head back upstairs after completing my mindfulness practice, I literally had a moment of illumination. The weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I felt what I had so long been seeking—CLARITY!

The shift in my mood and my outlook was immediate. I knew the right decision, and I immediately released the “prudent,” but soul-sucking choice. Not only that, but I knew my next step!

What was amazing is that almost right away an opportunity presented itself that supported the decision I had made.

Then, I remembered an audio book (more on this in a future post) that I had somehow gotten for free. (I don’t remember why now.) I had listened to a little bit of it a few months ago, but then I didn’t feel motivated to continue—until this burden of indecision had been lifted. So, I started listening again, and fireworks (the kind that are just in my head and don’t make noise that scares animals) went off.

This is exactly what I need to hear!

Finding clarity around this big decision has been liberating and empowering. I am making real progress toward manifesting my vision, and I am finding that the Universe is supporting me. I know this is right, and I am so grateful for feeling that clarity.

I know that it will be important to keep nourishing this momentum of clarity and enthusiasm. Life can easily get in the way and threaten my determination, but this feels so good, and the support I am receiving from the Universe feels so real, that I am committed to following through with this vision.

If you find yourself stuck in murky indecision, I recommend trying the engineering design process. (The diagram I used is only one of MANY available with a quick Google search, so if it doesn’t speak to you, find one that does.) Although I write in my journal daily and am a huge proponent of doing so, it was freeing my mind, on my bike and in my mindfulness practice, that ultimately felt most productive for me. When you “debate approaches,” I encourage you to consider your values and what is most important to you. I did this through systematically running each option through the test in my head, against what I have defined as my values, purpose, missions and vision. Doing so brought the right decision into clear view. This clarity is further supported by the signs I have since received (and continue to receive!) from the Universe.

I hope this process will be as beneficial for you as it has been for me.

A Different Slant on Common Advice

One of my favorite and most frequently used mantras is, “My thoughts shape my perceptions, determine my actions and behaviors and create the world I envision.”

Goethe’s advice to live each day as if life had just begun contradicts the popular recommendation to live each day as if it is your last. I find the idea of living as if life had just begun much more hopeful and inspiring. While living as if time is short (which it is, in the big picture) can remind us to make the most of each moment and to prioritize what matters, I think such a mindset can also discourage pursuit of our dreams and even encourage a fatalistic perspective.

I prefer a more optimistic, proactive approach to life.

If I think that life is drawing to a close, I am less likely do something challenging like build a health coaching business or even put in the work to be a stronger cyclist or to live as healthfully as possible. If I am living as if each day is my last, why bother?

But, if I adopt a perspective that views each day as a clean slate, a new opportunity, a chance for a beginning (with the benefit of the wisdom I have earned along the way to getting here), my options feel, if not limitless, far less bounded by fate or even time.

Every day is a chance to make a difference, to live my purpose and my values more fully, to embody my personal and professional missions. By choosing this outlook, I can act accordingly. It feels worth the risk to go after my goals and worth the effort to improve and grow.

It is easy to get discouraged when goals are not achieved as quickly as I might hope because life and responsibilities get in the way. However, I am empowered by embracing the belief that each day gives me a new chance to work toward my dreams and to add value to the world in new and exciting ways.

Tim McGraw hopes we get the chance to “live like we are dying.” My wish for you and for myself is that we seize the chance to live like we are living—right now, every day—not just existing or biding our time until we until we really are in our last days.

The mission of my coaching practice is “to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.” I believe this mission is far better served by living each day as if life has just begun and goals are worth pursuing and that my efforts matter.

I encourage you to try on this perspective and see how you like it. Compare it to viewing each day as if it were your last. What would you do differently if you lived each day as if life were just beginning?

Right Time. Right Questions

“You mustn’t wait until the perfect conditions to begin a task. Rather tackle it boldly until the conditions become perfect.” Tony Fahkry

There are some ideas that reappear repeatedly throughout life, in various contexts. For me, one of those has been the idea of not waiting until the perfect time to start something new, take on a challenge, etc. Different thinkers have expressed this in assorted ways and to varied audiences, but the gist of the message is the same: “It will never be the perfect time. Conditions will never be exactly right. There are always reasons NOT to do/try/risk something.” So, we just have to jump in and move forward anyway. Most writers follow up this advice with the hopeful message that, by jumping right in, we will create the perfect conditions once we get started. We will find the support, help, guidance and resources that we need.

On some level, I know this advice is true—at least the part about there being no perfect time or situation.

But, I do believe that some times or situations are better than others. I also think there can be a wrong time.

So, that is where it gets complicated for me. How do I know when it is the best time or least wrong time?

And, I am not so good at believing that everything I need will appear once I jump in. As much as I want to believe this deeply, I am not fully there yet.

How do I know if this is weakness or wisdom?

I guess this is where Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice comes into play:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

My worry is that it would be all too easy, though, to “live the questions” until the moment of possibility has passed.

There is a quote in my volumes of collected quotes that, maddeningly, I have not been able to locate recently. I think it is from the Buddha, and its recommendation is frequently part of my mindfulness practice. It says to sit with two questions daily: 1. “Who am I?” 2. “What do I want?”

I really try to believe that asking myself these questions regularly will help me to know when it is the right time to move forward with my coaching practice more assertively and to know exactly what that means. That is a big, pressing question for me right now.

Like my last post, this one has sat untouched and unfinished for nearly a month, as life has been occupied by other activities. In the interim, additional questions have arisen.

On June 4, I turned 49. That event presented me with the questions, “Where do I want to be when I am 50? How do I get there? What needs to change?”

I began pondering those questions right as I was preparing to leave on vacation. From June 8 to June 16, I was Biking Across Kansas. I thought I might find the answers to the questions around my last year in my 40s as I was working in the wind, heat and hills to make my way across the state. However, I found that what I needed most was to allow myself to just empty my mind of those questions and of so many worries that I realized had been weighing me down more heavily than I had known.

Instead of finding the answer to where I wanted to be when I turn 50, I found a new question. “What do I want to take back to real life from BAK?”

I was able to find some answers to that one. I want to release some of the pressure I have been placing on myself. I want to try to focus on the basics—the things that really matter—and let go of the rest, as much as possible. I want to take back the courage and the energy I feel on BAK. Although I was working very hard and riding my bike for several hours a day, I noticed that I was much less tired than usual. Allowing myself to let go of the typical worries that occupy my mind was energizing.

I am trying, with varying degrees of success, to implement the BAK lessons into my post-BAK life, while I am back to trying to answer where I want to be when I am 50 and how to get there. Gretchen Rubin recently asked in a Facebook Live presentation, “If you got one thing accomplished this summer, what would you want it to be?” While I was on my bike on Sunday, I thought about this. Initially, I thought about what one thing I would want to accomplish in each of five areas of my life: health, finances, relationships, career and spirituality. Walking on campus on Monday, I narrowed this to THE one thing that is more important to me to accomplish this summer than any of the others. That clarity feels good. It helps me to know where my priorities are and how to make decisions that support those.

I do believe that I have a better idea of where I want to be when I am 50 and how to get there, although I am still refining those answers. In the spirit of BAK, I am trying to focus on what matters most and to release pressure while figuring out how to take the next steps with my coaching practice and in life. This is a delicate balance—making progress toward where I want to be, without making the journey miserable because of so much pressure.

I guess it is like a bike ride in difficult conditions. I know I must continue making forward progress, turning the pedals and covering ground, to get out of the heat/wind/rain, but I want to avoid blowing up in the process. So, I back off my speed and intensity when necessary. And, I make sure I have what I need—water, electrolytes, gel, a cold towel for my neck.

I will continue to flesh out my ideas around where I want to be when I am 50 and put in process a strategy to get there, but I will also remember that part of living and aging with power and purpose is living in joy and gratitude right now. I will “live the questions,” while checking in with myself to avoid getting stalled. In that way, hopefully, I will live my way into the answers and recognize the “right time” when it presents itself.