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.

JustWind Mindset in the Face of COVID-19

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

Change & Possibility

I am starting to write this post from the overlook to the pool at Heskett Center, while Logan is starting his lifeguard training. This feels like a moment of possibility and change. He hopes to get a job as lifeguard this summer. It is hard to believe that he is old enough! Where have 15 years gone? He was excited as we drove here this morning, and I love that. I want him to be excited about the possibilities for his future.

I feel on the brink of possibility, too. For the past year, I have struggled with clarity over my goals for my coaching practice. Some circumstances lately have reenergized me with a stronger sense of purpose for my practice. It has become clearer to me that what I want to accomplish is to help people who are motivated by health and/or ethics to eat, move and think in healthier, more compassionate ways, improving the quality of their lives, while making a positive difference in the world.

Toward that end, I have invested in some coaching and guidance of my own, and I am doing some work to further clarify next steps. I have a sense of what is next, but I am also open to inspiration and possibility. There are three components that I know I want to emphasize.

Plant-powered nourishment. The most compassionate way of feeding our bodies is also the most healthful. I don’t believe this is coincidental. Eating foods that don’t require someone to suffer or die undoubtedly creates more positive energy in our world than consuming the products of fear and violence. This is good for all of us. I want to help others discover how wonderful it is to eat delicious plant foods that are filled with fiber (only found in plants, not animals) and antioxidants.

Empowered movement. It feels good to move our bodies, and it serves our minds and spirits when we engage in physical activity that we enjoy. One important goal of my coaching practice is to help people find joy and enhance their lives through movement. Cycling (and previously running) has been an enormous part of my life and has contributed to the development of my character and to so much personal growth. I see what physical activity does for Logan and for others of all ages, and I want to help people realize how much empowered movement can enrich their lives.

JustWind mindset. I started this blog in 2015 with a post about the JustWind story. We have the power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives. I want to help people understand this, through both my coaching practice and my in-progress book. Realizing this has made such a difference in my peace of mind, my happiness and my stress management. Taking responsibility for our own lives creates possibility. When we decide that we are not victims of the winds of fate but can push forward despite resistance and challenge and disappointment, a whole world of opportunity opens. Meditation is one method for cultivating the JustWind mindset that I personally use and can share with people who aspire to live from this happier, more empowered position.

So, as Logan starts lifeguard training today and track practice tomorrow, and I begin the program in which I have invested, possibility looms large. It feels like an adventure. Really, that’s what life should be. It has not always been (and is still not always) easy for me to view it this way. Doing so requires an intentional effort to release anxiety and make room for inspiration.

It is an ongoing work in progress for me, but it makes life so much more fun and so much less stressful when I can remember to live this way. I look forward to helping others recognize and incorporate these principles, too, through my writing and through my coaching practice.

Let’s see what we can make of these next several months of 2020!

Discovering Courage & Community in the Written Word

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

–James Baldwin

While I certainly don’t think my pain and heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, a couple of recent books have awakened the realization that I’m not alone in certain experiences that, admittedly, I had previously believed were unique quirks. This has caused me to think about the many ways that we can find both courage and community through the written word.

The biggest a-ha moments occurred while I was reading Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl. I was drawn to this book because I hoped it would help me to understand and release certain experiences of embarrassment and shame that have continued to haunt me. Initially, I was disappointed, and, I have to say, I struggled to stay focused reading it. I even skimmed some parts. Then, I encountered Chapter 8.

“Cringe attacks” That’s what she called them. As soon as I read the words, I had the thought, “So, it’s not just me? Other people do this, too?”

Cringe attacks are the name that Dahl gave the experience of suddenly, out of the blue, being blindsided by a memory of an embarrassing or shame-filled experience. It is something that I have never discussed with anyone, but it has nagged me for as long as I can remember. Certain memories have been perennial pests, popping up time and again, year after year. The time in 2001 when I made a poor choice about what to wear to work. The time when I was about 15 that I still can’t bring myself to state publicly. The cringe attacks come in vivid flashes, utterly unbidden, usually causing silent or out-loud exclamations and shaking of my head, in an effort to quickly usher the thoughts away.  

In recent months, my biggest tormentor has been an experience of mistaken identity at the beginning of fall 2019 semester. At a University social event, I saw someone from the back and thought it was someone else who I knew had fairly recently started working at the University. She’s someone I like and was happy to see. I think I called her name (well, the name of the person I thought she was) and touched her on the back. She turned, and I continued to talk to her, as I looked at her face. I knew this other person, too, but, for some reason that I still don’t understand (and, believe me, I have analyzed it ad nauseam to try to figure this out), it didn’t register until she said something, clearly trying to signal politely that she was not who I thought she was, about the location of her office. This woke me, and I made a hasty and ungraceful exit. Immediately, I wondered, “What is wrong with my brain? Is this early-onset dementia?” Was I spaced out from the stress of being in a social, mingling setting, which I hate? Whatever it was, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t immediately realize, when she turned, that I was talking to the wrong person. If I hadn’t known the woman in front of me, it would have been embarrassing and awkward, but not as mortifying as this was, since I knew her (and, worse, she knew me), too. For months it has popped randomly into my head. There does not have to be a trigger. Seemingly out of nowhere, the memory will barrel back into my consciousness, and I will feel a visceral clench of shame in my stomach, in my face. A cringe attack!

Reading about this phenomenon, I felt a sense of community with the unknown others (Does everyone do this? Even if it is just some of us, knowing that it is not just me helps.) who are tormented by cringe attacks. Until reading this, I thought I was the only person who suffered such attacks. More than anything else I have done to try to dampen the shame and embarrassment I felt around the mistaken identity, knowing that others have cringe attacks and witnessing their courage in sharing them, has helped me find both community and courage. I have had more healing and release since learning this and since starting to think about sharing my story in my blog than in the preceding months of trying to banish my negative feelings through Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping), meditation (not just for that reason, of course) or any other strategy, like hard intervals on my bike. Although finding out that I was not alone in the cringe attacks did not change the original experience, it seemed to normalize the whole thing for me—at least enough that I could write about it, further diluting some of the poison. It may seem silly, but the anguish has been real.

“Mind pops” are cringe attacks’ benign cousins. These aren’t particularly bothersome, but, again, I thought this regular occurrence was just part of my weirdness. A mind pop describes the sudden, apparently random, appearance in our conscious thoughts of less painful recollections. They aren’t upsetting, but they have often left me wondering, “Where did that come from?” A common form of mind pop for me occurs in the middle of something entirely unrelated. For instance, during my yoga practice on Thursday morning, I suddenly found myself mentally at the intersection of 151st W and 109th N, north of Bentley, Kansas, on my bike. Why? I don’t really mind, especially when it is a cycling mind pop. It’s just puzzling. There is nothing particularly unusual about the locations that show up as cycling mind pops. Why there? Why at this particular moment? I could understand if I had experienced something emotionally significant, but they usually just represent routine bike rides. Odd. But maybe normal?

My mind pops don’t only happen around cycling. That is just one of the more common forms for me. While reading about mind pops in Cringeworthy didn’t provide the same emotional release that learning that others have cringe attacks did, but I felt a little less alone, a little less weird. Others have mind pops. Interesting.

Listening on Audible, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, by Ada Calhoun, gave me a different type of feeling of community. As a Gen X (roughly those born between 1961—or 1965, depending on the source—and 1981) woman, I have never really thought about myself as part of a generational community. You hear a lot more about Baby Boomers and Millennials, and I never really gave that much thought, which was part of Calhoun’s point. I have always thought that the angst I have felt over my path in life and over some of my choices were uniquely mine, unrelated to my position in history. And they are, in the specifics. But Calhoun pointed out that a lot of women my age experience this existential angst to a greater degree than some other generations, and that this suffering has often gone without recognition. While hearing many stories from other Gen X women who grew up with similar messaging, in a particular, shared historical context was a bit depressing, it also helped me recognize that my generation is one form of community for me, beyond just having grown up listening to the same music or, on a micro-level, gone to school together.

That’s the power of the written word—recognizing that we are not alone in experiences that we may have believed were exclusively ours and because of which we may have felt lonely.

Our own writing can be a place for us to find and express courage and, by sharing our stories bravely, to help others find courage. I have a dear friend who is writing a memoir. Sharing our stories in full honesty requires forging through pain and shame and guilt and many difficult feelings. I have been privileged to read some of her early chapters, and she is taking on all the pain courageously, baring her feelings and her memories because she believes (and I do, too) that her story can make a difference in the world.

That is also the power of the written word.

There are so many ways, these days, that we can read and benefit from learning others’ stories and realizing that we are not alone. We can heal and gain courage and feel a kinship with others who have gone through similar experiences. We learn that other people have gone through the trials and torments and embarrassments that we have. We feel a sense of community. That gives us strength.

We learn so much from books. Books (albeit mostly Kindle, for convenience) are still my favorite form of the written word. There are other ways, too, that we can find courage and community in reading and writing. Blogs and social media have opened up whole new avenues of expression and connection through the written word. I think this is a particular benefit to introverts, like me, but we can all grow through our interaction with these forms of writing.

I’m so thankful for my literacy, my vision, my drive to read, my call to write, the countless authors and writers I have read—and will read 😊–in my lifetime.

Courage and community. Compassion is my highest core value. Courage and community help us grow in compassion—for self, others, the animals, our planet.

What are some of the books that have made the biggest difference for you? How have you discovered courage and community through any form of the written word? How can you use the written word to make a difference?

I sincerely hope that my writing—whether in this blog, my in-progress book, my social media sharing, my soon(ish)-to-be-published essay or any other writing I do—will speak to others, at least occasionally inspiring courage and growing community.

Writing really is a superpower. Reading really is an amazing gift. I am grateful for both in my life.

3 Keys to Increasing Consistency in Life and the Benefits of Doing So

Continuing to work on my book, I have been thinking and writing about consistency recently. It is a trait that is important to accomplishing most things in life. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my book-writing strategy centers around Anne Lamott’s guidance, “A page a day is a book a year.” Adhering to that basic pace is working. I have written nearly 29,000 words. If life gets in the way of my daily page, I catch up the next time I am able to write. With a hectic first week of classes at the University and a completely occupied Saturday yesterday, I will be catching up today. With consistent practice, I am making steady progress.

What we do—or don’t do—on a regular basis sets the stage for what we are able to accomplish in life. This is true for our health, our relationships, our academic and professional endeavors, even our spiritual growth. Our patterns create our lives.

Why is this true?

Consistency allows us to plan. Whether it’s a cross country training program or a regular meditation practice, we can plan when we are consistent. When a coach has a consistent, coherent, structured program and openly communicates that plan with his or her athletes, they know what to expect, how to eat before practice and how to supplement practices with outside training. Absence of consistency—randomness—leaves us floundering. Performance suffers. Mental sharpness deteriorates. When we are consistent in our practice, or when we are provided with consistent structure to our days, we know what to expect and can plan effectively.

Consistency fosters trust. When people in our lives are consistent, we can trust them. We feel safe. Inconsistency leads to unpredictability, which is not comforting in a work, home or school environment. When we are consistent in our habits, we can trust ourselves to do what needs to be done.

Consistency simplifies decision making. Because I have a consistent daily habit of exercise, I don’t have to debate with myself whether or not I will exercise. The type, duration and intensity of physical activity varies from day to day, but I plan it into my schedule each day. I don’t have to decide. My consistency is my commitment to myself.

Consistency creates excellence. Consistent effort is how we get good. No matter how much innate talent someone has, dedicated work on a consistent basis is still necessary to become highly skilled and to perform reliably. Practicing any habit or skill in an arbitrary fashion will limit the progress that can be made. Consistency facilitates a solid foundation on which to build stronger skills and from which to reap benefits.

“Consistent” does not mean “boring” or even “the same.” Some people place a high value on spontaneity and shrink away from the idea of being “tied down” to consistency. They fear that life will become dull and monotonous if they develop and maintain consistent habits. I disagree. I believe consistency frees us to have bigger wins and more fun. We are better able to direct our energy and effort into productive activities when we are consistent. Rather than internally battling over whether or not we will eat in a certain way or move in a certain way, we just do it. We can trust ourselves, and we can plan our lives.

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign” ― Victor Hugo

How do we build consistency into our lives?

  1. Schedule: In my experience, the best way to ensure that something we say matters is accomplished is to schedule it. Either put it physically into the calendar or at least know when it will be (definitely) done. It is difficult to achieve consistency—whether in a training program or in taking daily steps toward a goal, like writing a book—unless we schedule when the activity is going to happen. Scheduling automatically elevates the priority level of the activity. It becomes non-negotiable when we equalize it with other important appointments in our lives.
  2. Commitment: Schedule it; then, follow through and do it. Keep the promises you make to yourself. Believe that you are worth it. Truly believe that it is a non-negotiable part of your day.
  3. Purpose: Know why you want to become consistent. Why does it matter if you follow through with what you said you wanted to do? What does consistency achieve for you? What do you have to lose if you are not consistent? By taking the time to consider these questions and answer them for yourself, you have something on which to draw back when life throws challenges your way. When we are clear why something matters and frequently remind ourselves of the reasons consistency is important, it becomes so much easier to maintain.

No matter what it is you want to achieve, I encourage you to ditch erratic efforts and decide if a habit, a practice, a training program, a nutritional strategy really matters to you. If it doesn’t, maybe that is what you need to ditch. Stop pretending it is important. Admit it is not. Move on. If it truly does matter, then schedule it, commit to it and do it. Consistently.