Taking My Lane: Being Seen and Establishing Boundaries

There is an intersection about a mile from my home where, when coming from the south, I am particularly aware of the need to remain visible and present myself confidently. As I approach it, I watch all sides and move to the center of my lane. By moving away from the white line towards the middle of my lane, I position myself in the best place to be seen by traffic, particularly those who might turn left in front of me.

Kansas bicycle laws state that cyclists should ride as close to the right side of the roadway as safe and practicable, and I definitely do, but there are times when it is important to be seen and to set expectations for motorists’ behavior. Like so many lessons I have learned on the bike (and will share in my forthcoming book), this one has high applicability to life off the bike, as well.

In addition to being seen at an intersection, there are other situations that call for taking my lane. A couple weeks ago, I was headed south on a quiet, but narrow, two-lane road, when I saw two cyclists on low recumbents heading north. Behind them, a car was approaching on a gentle hill. I moved to the center of my lane, in order both to be seen and to discourage the car from passing between us, squeezing all of us toward the edges of the road. The cyclists and I waved at each other as we passed. As soon as we did, I moved back to the right edge of my lane, smiled and waved at the motorist. In my mirror, I watched the vehicle pass the recumbent bikes safely, and we all went about our day. The driver was delayed for no more than 10 seconds. As I continued pedaling south, I reflected on the brief encounter.

I realized that I felt powerful—in a good way. I had assessed the situation, identified a potential danger for myself and others, found the courage to take a position and acted confidently (and with trust in the driver). The small act of taking my lane made things safer for me and allowed me to advocate for the safety of two oncoming cyclists. Those recumbents, just inches off the ground, are probably more maneuverable than I think (I’ve never tried one.), but I felt like I was in the better position to make a strong move and protect us all.

One of my daily mantras during meditation is, “I am rooted in my power. I stand in it and own it.” As I have gotten older, especially in the last couple years, I have become better at living this mantra. The first step for any of us in doing this is recognizing our power.

I am not perfect in my practice of standing in my power and owning it, but I have gotten so much better at recognizing that I have some power and that I have a right to assert it in situations where I need to set boundaries for myself or others who don’t have, or haven’t found, their voices.

In recent years, I have realized that I lived much of my life fairly passively, deferring to others and feeling like I didn’t have a right to speak up and be heard or to stand up and be seen. I could do it for a cause or a principle—like becoming vegetarian at age 12 and becoming vegan in 2008. I recognized that animals didn’t have a voice or choice, so I stopped eating them in 1982. Then, I stopped eating or using their products in 2008, after I found the courage to learn more about the egg and dairy industries. For many years as a vegetarian, while I didn’t apologize for my principles, I would say, “I recognize that I am the weird one.” As I type that, it actually sounds a lot like an apology. Now, I may still be the weird one, but I own it, and it is not an apology.

I’ve advocated comfortably for others in different contexts, too—for victims of sexual assault, for people living with HIV and AIDS, for my son, for my students—but it has only been in recent years that I have really felt okay about advocating for myself.

Cycling has helped me to realize that there are absolutely times when we need to take our lane to make ourselves more visible or to be heard.

What has taken longer is cultivating the courage to do it, on the bike or off.

When I pull into the center of my lane to make sure I am seen by motorists or to promote proper passing by a car, I am setting a boundary of sorts. I am teaching the motorists how to behave around me. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will respond the way I intend. Most will, but a few may get enraged by what they perceive as my audacity (or sometimes by my very existence). Most, even if irritated, will drive the way they should, to avoid hitting or otherwise endangering me.

Taking a strong position in any setting to be seen or heard and to help other people understand how they should treat us requires courage and comes with risks. But, if we meekly remain against the white line on the bike or in the rest of life when we really need to take a bolder stance, our expectations may be misinterpreted. As Brene Brown has warned, this is likely to lead to resentment. We expect others to treat us a certain way, and they don’t. We haven’t asserted ourselves to instruct them how to treat us, but we resent them for not meeting our unstated expectations.

“What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own.” –Unknown

We have both the right and the responsibility to set boundaries, but this doesn’t excuse blatant bad behavior—by drivers, by the humans in our daily lives or by society and institutions. As I was recently writing a book chapter about taking my lane, I thought of two 21st-century social movements: #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. In both of these movements, members of communities—people who have experienced sexual victimization and African American people—are positioning themselves to be seen and heard and are instructing society in how to treat them. This is a version of taking their lane.

Finding the courage and recognizing our right to take our lane can be a gradual process. I think we often have to live our way into it. For me it has come with the recognition that life is moving ever more quickly, and time is short. With that realization, I have less and less patience and, quite literally, less and less time to shrink into the white line and risk not being noticed. On the bike, it is my life and safety. Off the bike, it is my quality of life and my ability to make the contribution I want to make in the world.

Because time is short.

So, I will keep digging deep to find the courage to take my lane, and I encourage you to take your lane. Position yourself to be seen and heard. Share your message with the world. Speak your truth.

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Comment below to share your experiences with taking your lane. How have you found the courage to do this? Did you live your way into it, like I have, or have you always known how to do it? How has it served you?

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New Heights of Gratitude

Gratitude is frequently discussed in personal development literature. A Google search of the word “gratitude” yields 1,020,000,000 results in 0.65 seconds. That’s a lot in very little time! Clearly, gratitude is a popular concept. The positive psychology and strengths movements tout the benefits of practicing gratitude—living it as a verb, not just considering it as an abstract noun.

Robert Emmons is considered the world’s leading expert on gratitude. In this 2010 article, he explains that there are two characteristics of gratitude—acknowledging goodness in life and recognizing that sources outside ourselves—other people, higher powers, animals, nature, etc.—are responsible for some of the goodness we experience.

If there has ever been a time when the world can benefit from a gratitude practice, 2020 certainly qualifies. Amidst the pandemic, social unrest, political ugliness, rage over masks and incredible uncertainty, finding reasons to be grateful—to practice gratitude—can help us to live more resiliently and productively. In the same article referenced above, Emmons lists benefits of gratitude that have been seen in studies he and his team have conducted. Among these are stronger immune systems and better psychological health, two things that we can all use right now.

I don’t keep a designated gratitude journal or jar, and I don’t have a specific gratitude practice, but there are certain practices that I incorporate into each day that nurture my sense of gratitude.

I have referred several times in this blog to Martin Seligman’s Three Good Things practice. It is simple, yet profound. Every, single night, before I go to bed, I write in my journal three good things that have happened during the day and why they were good. I also do this several other times during the day in my head. They don’t have to be big things. Often, one of my things is, “I rode XX miles safely.” It may be, “The sun is shining.” Other times, it is something bigger. Sometimes, I have to dig deep if it has been a particularly difficult day.

In addition to this practice, I incorporate statements of gratitude into my daily meditation practice, as well as at intervals throughout the day.

These things really help me to feel happier, more peaceful and more centered.

We have a choice every day, pandemic or not. We can focus on what is going wrong and stressing us out, or we can focus on our gratitude for the many gifts in our lives. Focusing on gratitude does not mean that we are denying problems and challenges. On the contrary, it positions us to face them more proactively, rather than from the perspective of a victim.

Like most people, our family has been feeling the heaviness of the uncertainty and fear that this pandemic is causing. It seems to have been particularly hard on our 15-year-old son. His situation is no different than that of millions of kids worldwide. But he is ours, and we see firsthand how it affects him. He was a freshman, just starting his first high school track season when everything blew up in the US, and schools closed for the rest of the academic year. Then, everything was cancelled. Our regular summer trips couldn’t happen. As the months of pandemic life wore on, his motivation waned, leaving him vulnerable to negative influences and bringing down his mood. We were all becoming discouraged and disheartened.

Finally, we decided that we needed a break and planned a road trip to South Dakota for a lot of hiking, fresh air and natural beauty. We had never been and didn’t really know what to expect. We just knew we needed an escape. So, we made reservations though Airbnb (our first experience with it) and set out last Friday. The 11-hour trip to get there was harrowing and humbling. Logan and I thought we would share the driving, but Kenny doesn’t usually give up the wheel. He didn’t this time either, and I am glad.

On I-80, in Nebraska, a loaded car-carrier truck started to pull into our lane, and Kenny had to react quickly and go to the shoulder. That was alarming, but nothing compared to what was to come.

On Highway 385, also in Nebraska, we were enjoying the scenery on the two-lane road, in the winding hills. Suddenly, Kenny said, “Is that guy going to make it?” I looked up to see an oncoming car passing three or four vehicles, including an RV, on a hill. The car was in our lane and moving at over 70 mph. Kenny answered his own question, “No, he isn’t!” (We don’t actually know if the driver was male or female.) Thankfully, Kenny reacted quickly and calmly, pulling onto the shoulder at 70 mph. Coming to a stop as quickly as we could, we sat stunned, as the passing car whizzed past us, presumably making it past all of the cars and moving on down the road. Kenny expressed our good fortune that the oncoming vehicle did not also come on to the shoulder, in effort to avoid a collision. Eerily, we had seen multiple electronic signs on I-80 stating, “Slow down. 109 people have died on Nebraska roads this year.” I awoke early the next morning with the near miss playing in my head and thinking, “We would have added at least four (including the passing driver) to that total.”

It also hit me in those early-morning hours how very grateful I was for Kenny’s quick reaction and the blessings that kept us safe.

The rest of the trip unfolded with less danger, although we encountered some thunder on a couple hikes. But, all in all, the trip felt like a miracle, for which I felt tremendous gratitude. I was also grateful for pain-free travel. I have piriformis syndrome, which causes sciatic pain. Sitting and car rides have become increasingly uncomfortable. At the last minute, on a whim, I decided to take my buckwheat meditation cushion and sit on it. Although I was quite tall in the seat, it worked! I had no pain coming or going. That, too, felt like a miracle.

As we were walking around Hot Springs, South Dakota on very first evening, we came across a boy who was preparing to run. He was clearly a trained runner, and Kenny asked him how far he was going to run. He said, “Oh, six or seven miles,” and we had a brief conversation. By wild coincidence, it turned out that he runs for Maize South, less than 15 miles from our home! Logan had not packed his running shoes because the weight of the pandemic had doused his fire. Upon seeing this boy, he decided he would like to run. We ended up making a 100+-mile trip to Rapid City to buy some, even though he had some nearly new running shoes at home. It was so worth it. He ran each night for the rest of the trip, even after strenuous hikes during the day. Along with his renewed motivation, the mood in our family lifted. We took in unbelievable sights and worked hard together climbing the highest peak in South Dakota and east of the Rocky Mountains. We had real conversations and laughed together. The views were breathtaking, and the bison, antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and chipmunks we saw were delightful. The bison, especially, seemed like a totem of sorts.

We didn’t want to leave. It was all so spectacular. My heart swelled with gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy the beauty together and for what the escape had done for our family.

Real life has returned, including a 13+-hour workday on Friday, my first day back to work (My cushion kept me pain free for that, too!). Still, I hold the gifts of the trip in my heart, and they warm me when I recall them.

We were protected in two near misses on the highways. We stayed safe and joyful on our challenging hikes. Logan regained his motivation. We enjoyed each other’s company.

In many ways the highlight of a getaway that has been the highlight of 2020, so far, was reaching the summit of Black Elk Peak together. All of our hikes were good, but that one feels symbolic of the new heights of gratitude I felt. Even as we return to the struggles of non-vacation life, I will always be grateful for this special time and special place. They were true gifts, helping me to remember what is important, reinforcing the impermanence and fragility of life and instilling a poignancy that urges me to strive for optimal living in each and every moment. Like a long, strenuous climb, it is a journey, a process, but the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit is so worth it.

How do you practice gratitude in your life? What experiences inspire the feeling of gratitude for you? How does this sustain you in difficult times? Let us know in the comments.

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A 53-Mile Lesson in Surviving and Thriving in 2020

“Please subdue the anguish of your soul. Nobody is destined only to happiness or to pain. The wheel of life takes one up and down by turn.”

–Kalidasa

This morning’s ride started off humidly, but blissfully. After a short internal debate—”Do I face the 61st Street dogs early in the ride, with tailwind, or later in the ride, with headwind, but when the dogs are likely to be hot and lazy?”—I headed west. That meant I would pass these pests (Their people are the real pests, since they allow them to run.) within the first three miles, but then be done with them for the rest of the ride. As I approached their home, on the same side of the road, I came upon a rural traffic jam—two slower cyclists up ahead and multiple cars both directions. “Great!” I thought, “Of all places to have to slow down.” I did slow down, knowing that I couldn’t move to the oncoming lane if the dogs ran out to chase. After the last oncoming car passed, I called, “On your left,” and pulled around the cyclists, two Biking Across Kansas acquaintances. We exchanged pleasant greetings, and I said, “Glad those dogs didn’t come out, with all that traffic.” “That’s for sure!” one said, clearly familiar with the furry fiends, as well.

I soon turned south and saw in my mirror that the women continued west. It always feels like a small victory when I get past those dogs without a sighting. Pedaling happily, relishing the quiet Sunday-morning roads, I saw hot air balloonists preparing to launch or wrapping up a flight—I’m not sure which—a few miles later. Except for the dogside traffic jam, the roads were quieter than usual, which had me thinking that people were sleeping off the Fourth of July celebrations.

My ride continued smoothly for several more miles, including a bathroom stop at Lake Afton, until, all of a sudden, 25 miles in, a shockingly painful sting to my groin literally nearly caused me to crash. Disoriented, I realized I was hurtling toward the gravel at the side of the road. I managed to regain control of my bike and come to a stop. Once I clipped out of my pedals and put my feet down, I had to practice great restraint not to strip off my shorts right there on the side of the road. A stinging beastie, apparently unaware or unimpressed that my vegan nonviolence extends to insects, had delivered an excruciatingly painful stab to a very sensitive region. I never did find the perpetrator, but I’m sure anyone who might have been watching from a house window got an entertaining show as I searched.

The scene of the stinging.

After taking some breaths and this photo, I got back on my bike, unsure how it was going to go with a painful groin and shaking body. Fortunately, shortly after getting moving, the pain subsided (Thank you, endorphins.), but the quick reaction that kept me from crashing came at the cost of a serious adrenaline dump from which I never fully recovered for the remainder of my ride. It was a fair trade—staying on two wheels but feeling like I was dragging in the dirt afterwards.

So, I pedaled onward, wondering what stung me. Murder hornet? Given that it is 2020, the thought crossed my mind. I thought about other insect encounters on the bike. Years ago, climbing the big hill (Heartbreak? Wilmar? Manhattan Hill? I can’t remember what it is called.) in Manhattan, Kansas, a bee flew into Kenny’s cycling glove. This resulted in much cussing and an impressive glove removal with his teeth, while we continued to climb with David Blair. Kenny has also been stung by a bee inside his helmet. That also resulted in cussing. One year, as we rode through Andale on the Tour de Parish, Kenny decided to call it a day, and I continued on for the metric century. My phone rang a short time later, but I didn’t answer or check voice mail until I got to the next SAG. I had a message from Logan saying, “A bug is inside Dad’s ear. He went to the emergency room.” According to Logan, he was first alerted to the problem when he heard Kenny yelling profanities in the driveway. So, Kenny has certainly had his share of bike-bug problems. I have had stinging insects fly into my jersey and into my sports bra, leaving trails of tiny bites before I could extricate the creatures. Flies have bitten me through my shorts. On some late-summer evenings, I have come home thoroughly plastered by gnats that had been so thick they flew into my nose and eyes. But no sting has ever hurt this badly or shocked me so dramatically.

I thought about all that as I rode, feeling worn out by the adrenaline dump. Finally, I turned west. Although the wind was not bad at all, by Kansas standards, I looked forward to what should have been a nice push from the east. However, the first things I saw when I turned were two orange construction signs. “No center line.” No big deal; it’s a quiet road. “Loose gravel.” That was less welcome. “Of course there is,” I thought grimly. The gravel wasn’t all that loose, but new chat had been put down since I was last on that road. It was what I refer to as “boulder-size gravel.” Not that loose, fortunately, but it still required a much greater effort than I felt like expending. I tried to distract myself by asking, “What is the lesson in this?” After all, I’m writing a book based on lessons I’ve learned on the bike. Surely, there must be a lesson.

After four miles, I turned back north and soon reached my bathroom stop in Goddard. I felt beaten up by the stinging insect, the ensuing adrenaline dump, the chat road and the humidity.

I was glad to stop for a moment and said hello to a cute little boy and his dad, as I headed into the bathroom. A thorough inspection of the interior of my shorts yielded no evidence of whoever had stung me, and the light was too dim to assess the damage to my skin. I washed my hands and headed back outside. The little boy, whom I soon to learned was three years old and named Tower, approached me and wanted to talk. His dad said, “She’s a smart girl. She wears her helmet.” I told Tower, “Real cyclists always wear helmets. You have a good brain, and you want to protect it.” He asked his dad to get his Spiderman helmet out of the car to show me. Tower talked to me as I filled my water bottle and took my electrolyte capsule. He held the button on the water fountain so I could refill my Camelbak. He said, “You have a flashlight on your handles.” I explained that I had flashing lights on the front and rear of my bike so cars could see me because I ride on the road. He asked about my bike computer and my dog horn. I asked him, “Does your bike have two or three wheels?” He said, “One, two, three, four.” Ah, training wheels. As I prepared to leave, Tower said, “I have a sticker,” and pulled a water bottle barcode sticker off his shirt, gently pressing it to my jersey. I said, “Thanks, Tower. That will be a nice souvenir of our conversation.” I mounted my bike and headed back to the road, telling Tower’s dad, “He is quite the charming conversationalist.”

Heading north, I felt lighter and more energized. I hadn’t totally shed the effects of the stinging/near crash, but I felt happy and recalled other experiences at that very same bathroom stop on the Prairie Sunset Trail, just off 199th Street West in Goddard. Two days ago, I spent an hour and a half in the pavilion there, waiting out a thunderstorm. In 2018 I had another blog-post-inspiring encounter there, when I met Dale who stopped for a bathroom break while on a solo bike ride two days before his 90th birthday.

After crossing Highway 54, I allowed my mind to wander pleasantly again. A mantra, borrowed from Gabby Bernstein, that I use daily in my meditation came to me. “I am open to creative possibilities for abundance.” Then I knew. This ride was a metaphor for 2020. Like the year (2020 just sounds cool!), the ride started with such promise. I had the good fortune of passing the 61st Street dogs without incident, a pleasant exchange with the cyclists I passed and the balloonists, then BOOM! Out of nowhere, I’m stung in the groin (How did the little beast even get between my leg and the saddle?) so painfully I nearly wreck. So startlingly that I am brought to a standstill to assess the damage and recover enough to keep moving forward. (Not unlike the current pandemic when it knocked us all off course and closed and cancelled everything, starting in March.) Making my way after that, I felt battered and weakened. Then, there was Tower, a pleasant surprise who revived me enough to keep going and gave me the boost I needed to recognize inspiration.

As I thought about the ways that my bike ride mirrored the year, I recognized that it was a gift, truly a creative possibility for abundance that called for an impromptu blog post that I expect to develop into a book chapter. It occurred to me that, even as we make our way through the rest of 2020 and beyond, tired and beaten down by the pandemic and all its effects, by social unrest, by political ugliness, by personal and family struggles, we need to remain open to the pleasant little surprises, like curious three year olds and beautiful sunsets caused by the Saharan dust cloud covering the Kansas sun. As the quote at the top of this post reminds us, 2020 and life itself is full of the unexpected. Some of it is painful as heck. Some of it is delightful and energizing. We will always have a mix. We just have to be open to that.

I made it home. Even though I’m sure my average speed was lowered by the exhaustion I felt after the stinging, I made it home safely and in a decent time. (Sadly, when I went to take a photo of the sticker Tower gave me, it was gone. I felt bad because that meant that I had inadvertently littered and because I had lost my souvenir. I guess I was just too sweaty for it to stick.) I think the message of my ride is that we will get through this year. It may be hard, and it may hurt, but there will be joy, too, as long as we allow it in. We have to set the intention and make the effort to notice the gifts, those boosts that will sustain us as we keep moving forward, never completely sure what awaits on our journey but courageous enough to persevere and find out.

What lessons are you learning from 2020? Please share in the comments.

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Taking Action on Insights

In my most recent blog post, I highlighted some of my favorite questions. These questions–like “What do I put after the words ‘I am’?” and “What if?”—can lead to powerful insights that can give us direction on the next steps to take in life.

But insight is meaningless if we don’t so something with it.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

–William Hutchison Murray

There was a time in my life when I chronically overthought and overplanned actions I intended to take. I would spend days, weeks, months or longer researching and making sure everything was in place before acting. Fortunately, I realized quite a while back that this was ineffective. I’m still a planner, but I no longer allow myself to get so bogged down by details that I don’t act on insight.

Taking action will look different in different lives and in different seasons of life. It is important to recognize this and give ourselves grace for this.

Sometimes what gets in the way of taking action is that a project or task or goal seems too daunting. It feels too big and intimidating to even get started.

In my current life, which is very full, I have learned to appreciate incremental progress. Most of my big goals cannot be achieved as quickly as I would like, in order for me to fulfill my responsibilities and to take care of myself the way I want. The reality is that there is only so much time in the day, so I have learned to be patient and to be content with often moving slowly, but moving, nonetheless.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” –John Wooden

When I achieve an insight through pondering valuable questions, if it feels important to incorporate into my life, I add it to my priorities list by including only the next step, although I often have another document where the whole process is delineated. I can give several examples for projects I currently have underway.

  • I am writing a book. I have outlined the whole book in a Word document, but I only write the next step (Yesterday it was finishing Chapter 22.) on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am working on a Vegan Nutrition certification. Only the next module is listed on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am redefining and rebranding my coaching business. I have a Word document with all the steps spelled out. My Priorities spreadsheet shows the next step.

Beside each small step, I list the date that I will next work on that project, and then I prioritize all items listed for that date. If it is a day that I work my full-time job and have something planned (like a bike ride, grocery shopping or, in the days before COVID-19, a cross country meet) for the evening, there may only be one item on my Priorities list for that day. This list includes items like paying bills and putting together the family calendar for the week, but I try to make sure my inspired projects are given a high enough priority that they will get done.

The key is making the step small enough that it is doable. That way, I make progress and have the satisfaction of accomplishing an item on my list.

To recap, when we receive insights through pondering deep questions or ideas, we can use this process to ensure that we take action on those insights:

  1. Make note of it as soon as possible. If I am inspired by an answer I find on a bike ride, even if I can’t immediately flesh out the full concept, I will make a detailed enough note that I can fully develop it as soon as I get a chance.
  2. Identify the steps—or at least the first or next small step you could take—to implementing the insight in your life. Do this on paper, in your journal, in your notebook or on a device.
  3. Find a method for creating your Priorities list. (I use an Excel spreadsheet.)
  4. For your inspired project, take the first step from your detailed list and enter it on your Priorities list. I recommend dating the items you put on it and then prioritizing all items for the present date. For example, I have five items listed for today’s date. They are numbered in terms of priority. Editing this blog post is number three on today’s list. I have already completed the first two.
  5. Then, make it important. This may mean scheduling it for a specific time (in the case of something like working out) or knowing at what point in the day (after work, after my bike ride, first thing in the morning, etc.) you will take this action step.
  6. Act. Do what you say you are going to do.
  7. As soon as you complete the step, enter the next step for that project onto your Priorities list and date it.
  8. Be patient. This is not a fast strategy, but it is a way of not letting what you cannot do interfere with what you can do, as John Wooden admonished.
  9. Keep going and celebrate the progress you are making.

Lifelong learning and continual growth are so important to me. When I think about optimal living, those things are definitely part of the equation. In order to capitalize on my insights (which I believe are gifts!), this basic action strategy allows me to make consistent progress and keep growing.

How do you operationalize the insights you receive through introspection and deep self-questioning? Tell us in the comments.

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Ask Yourself These Powerful Questions to Accelerate Personal and Professional Growth

“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.

Questioning Owl

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.

Try this:

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?”

Simon Sinek asks, “What’s your ‘why’?”

Daniel Pink asks, “What’s your sentence?”

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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