Self-Compassion or Losing My Edge?

We are living in strange times. So much has changed in all of our lives in such a short period of time. I could never have imagined the current state of our world. Maybe that was ignorance or short-sightedness or naivete´, but the events of the last couple months have me working to find my way in this new reality. Partly by necessity and partly through this process of feeling my way, I am doing a lot of things differently. Within these changes, I have found myself struggling to discern the difference between self-compassion and weakness or laziness.

I believe in listening to my gut and in being patient and compassionate with myself, but I also believe in self-discipline and determination and dedication. I believe in living courageously. Where is the line between these values? Are they dichotomous? How can they coexist?

The changes in my life and my habits extend beyond the bike, but I find so many metaphors in cycling (I’m writing a whole book around that.), that the bike is where these are most evident for me.

I’m still riding a lot. I have over 1,100 miles for 2020, so far. I generally ride five days out of seven. But I am doing it differently. Maybe it is okay because I am still putting in the miles, but it does make me stop to think whether I am being honest with myself. How much of this is related to COVID-19 and being socially responsible, and how much of it is losing my edge?

For me, my “edge” is my dedication and commitment to do what I say I am going to do, to live courageously and to push myself. Cycling is the major manifestation of it at this point in my life.

I have an index-card file (old-fashioned, I know!) of cycling routes I have constructed in every direction from Andale, ranging from 15 miles to over 100 miles. I have ridden all of them, mostly alone, some of them hundreds or even thousands of times.

In all honesty, I have felt myself becoming more constrained over the last few years, even before COVID-19. This has mostly been related to multiple scary close calls with chasing dogs. (And I LOVE dogs! Just not irresponsible people who let them run unsupervised. But that is another post.) There are some routes I have avoided completely since a particularly harrowing canine encounter. It feels like I have narrowed my “safe” options a little more in each of the past few years. I have told myself that there is no point adding to my stress if I can have a more enjoyable ride by playing it safe.

This year, in the midst of the pandemic, I have made the decision to do shorter loops on my longer rides, so that I can stop back by my home for bathroom and fluid breaks, rather than stopping in public places. For example, on Sunday, I rode 26 miles for the first loop and 25 miles for the second loop. Somehow this feels both safer and more socially responsible. I ride without a mask, alone on the road or occasionally with Kenny. The more I read and hear about the ability of asymptomatic individuals to carry the virus, the more important it seems to wear a mask when I am around people. So, it seems wiser and more courteous to be more self-contained on my mask-free rides.

But, is that the truth?

Is it just fear? Is it getting soft or weak?

And, whatever it is, what all is behind it?

I have pondered several possibilities.

  • Fear. There is certainly fear involved. This is not just about social responsibility, although that is part of it. But, is it simply that I am letting fear dictate my choices? I don’t believe in living my life from a place of fear, but, if I am genuinely (and justifiably?) fearful, is it smart to listen to it? Is that self-compassion? Is that trusting my instinct to keep me safe, or is it being a wimp? The line between the two seems blurred to me.
  • Uncertainty. It is impossible to plan anything right now. Everything feels uncertain and in question. Maybe that is why it feels safer to stick to known, safe, chasing-dog-free routes that are close to home. The uncertainty of the world is overwhelming. Introducing additional unpredictability feels like too much.
  • Weirdness. Grocery shopping feels so weird right now. Increasingly, it seems like the only appropriate thing to do is wear a mask, just in case we could be asymptomatic, but infectious. Or to help other people feel more comfortable. This is just one more thing to worry about on the bike. Putting a mask on a sweaty face (after pulling it out of a sweaty jersey pocket) sounds unappealing. Not wearing one into a small-town gas station seems rude, if not reckless.
  • Fatigue. Is it just that I am tired, not so much physically, but emotionally? The world feels heavy. Life is more complicated. We have all had to accept a lot of loss in the last couple of months. Maybe I am just exhausted by that and want to minimize my potential for more loss and stress and trauma. Does it just feel easier not to have to cope with apprehension around what I might experience out on the road in farther reaches, even though that sense of adventure and possibility has been food for my soul in the past?
  • Wisdom. Maybe I could take a more positive perspective. Maybe my reluctance to venture farther from home, to stop at small-town gas stations, to road-test routes where I have had previous serious dog problems is rooted in the wisdom of lived experience, replacing the perceived invincibility of youth. It is true that I have had many close calls with chasing, even snarling, dogs. I have had bottles thrown at me. I have been run off the road by a semi. I have been blown off the road by wind. It is possible that all this has accumulated into wisdom that has compelled me to shed the perception of invincibility that I carried through my younger adult years. I never really considered myself to be a risk taker, but I have ridden and/or run many thousands of miles alone, often in remote territory and in unfamiliar cities while travelling. For most of my life, this has just been what I have done. But maybe I now recognize the fragility of life, with the accumulation of loss of people and animals over the years, the recognition of how fleeting my son’s childhood is, the sense of foreboding that comes with realizing that I am likely in the last half of my own life. Maybe this translates to wisdom, to taking chances when it is smart and to avoiding them when it makes sense.
  • Hormones. Pedaling and pondering on Sunday morning, the possibility occurred to me that hormonal changes, like lower testosterone (Yes, women produce it, too.) associated with perimenopause could be contributing to my need to minimize risk. (I have been thinking a lot lately about menopause, in general, and plan to do a fairly extensive review of the literature around it, both for myself and for an idea I have for my coaching practice. Stay tuned, if you, too, are a perimenopausal woman.) This is just speculative pondering at this point, but maybe hormonal changes are producing more risk aversion in my life. Or, is that the very definition of losing my edge? Hmm.

I don’t think I have come to any solid conclusions through writing this post, but I believe there is value, not just for myself, in sharing my struggles because I know we all struggle. I know we are all living in a scary, uncertain and previously unimaginable time right now.

I know others are scared of this world, of COVID-19 and of the social and economic changes that it is bringing.

I know others feel the stress of uncertainty. When will we get back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like in the future? Will the kids have school and sports in the fall? Will we be able to take vacations this summer? Will it be safe to see the older adults in our lives or for them to see their grandkids?

I know that I am not the only one who finds it hard to relate to other people from behind a mask that conceals a smile or other facial expressions. I find that people are less inclined to make eye contact while wearing a mask. Is that because of self-consciousness or because we are all scared of each other right now? Maybe it is a little of both.

I know I am not the only one who feels fatigued by the heaviness of this world—the result of fear and uncertainty and accumulated loss. We have all had to give up traditions, vacations and habits that have been deeply engrained in our lives, that we never could have conceived of abandoning so abruptly and in such volume. Something as seemingly small as the Western social convention of shaking hands now sounds dangerous and has a questionable future. Even as we have become desensitized—“Oh, now school is cancelled. Now Biking Across Kansas is cancelled. Now we might not be able to travel to see family. Of course, I can’t get a haircut.”—the losses, both micro and macro, add up and weigh on us.

I also know that many of us do gain wisdom as we live life. Generally, this is good, but it may cause us to rethink long-held patterns and to look back wistfully on a more carefree time. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I wrote those words in my very first volume of quotes in 2001, but they feel truer than ever now. Our earned wisdom through lived experience feels unquestionably bittersweet, and sometimes more bitter than sweet.

I also know that I am not the only perimenopausal woman who may be feeling her way in the world, as her body changes and takes her mind and feelings along with it. Men experience hormonal changes, too. Testosterone levels decrease as they age. They may have similar feelings of risk aversion. I have recently determined to take a more proactive and positive approach to menopause, which is why I have planned a campaign for knowledge on the topic and a curation of the fruits of my study to share with others. It feels like I a way that I can contribute, while helping myself.

I am a thinker, so I contemplate these things more than a lot people do. But I believe that others are experiencing similar feelings, and I hope my ponderings can help some of you feel less alone and maybe can help you approach your response to these feelings with compassion, patience and self-love.

One of the reasons I love to read and write nonfiction is that I believe we all have so much to learn and to teach through sharing our struggles and what we learn through them. As I said, I learn and experience so much from my bike saddle that has far broader application in life. The issues I address in this post are not exclusive to the bike. My experience on the bike just helps me analyze and come closer to understanding them and to be able to articulate them in a way that may reach others.

I have noticed risk aversion and weariness and fear when it comes to my business, my job, my relationships, just being out in the world.

If you are experiencing a sense of wanting or needing to hunker down or to stay closer to home or to minimize exposure of any kind in the world, know that you are not alone. Even as I try to tease out the truth from the myth from the excuses, I am also committed to being compassionate, yet disciplined and patient, while still striving for excellence.

Maybe excellence doesn’t have to look the same as it used to look. Or maybe it doesn’t have to look the same right now. Maybe it is okay to pause a bit. Maybe it is okay to put in the miles, even if they are “safer” miles right now. Maybe it is enough to honor that I am not just curling up in a ball and shunning life.

I think all of us are still trying to figure out what this pandemic will mean for us and how our world will change. Maybe that is where the patience should come in.

Do any of these ponderings resonate with you? Have you resolved them in your life? What do you think—is it self-compassion to acknowledge and respond to our fears by taking “safer” action, or is that giving in to fear and losing our edge? I would be interested to know your perspective on this topic.

Let’s stay in touch in these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet joined my email list, please do.  I’ll send you my Plant-based Recipe booklet with 28 of my favorite nourishing and delicious recipes.

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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.

Changing Seasons and Moving Forward

I am writing this post in the first week of the dark, cold return to Central Standard Time. This is always a sad time for me because the end of daylight saving time marks the end of my cycling season. Returning to standard time in the curtailed sun-lit hours of autumn eliminates any possibility of weeknight rides because it is dark by the time I get home from work. The cold, blustery Kansas fall and winter will make cycling opportunities hit-or-miss, even on weekends.

This is hard for me. I love cycling. It is my release and my freedom. The bike is where I remember who I am, when the everyday challenges and responsibilities of life, even those I have chosen, threaten to obscure my true self. On top of that, this is heavy advising season at the University, so I really, really need my bike rides.

I have been continuing my basic page-a-day plan for writing my book. This week, I have been working on the early pages of Part 2, in which I will share many lessons learned from the perspective of a bike saddle. As I wrote in my inaugural blog post, back in 2015, cycling has shaped my mindset and the structure of my life in so many ways. It continues to serve as the inspiration and framework for my book and to be a source of joy (as well as fitness) for which I am extremely grateful.

I hear people say, “I like the change of seasons.” Honestly, I don’t. I would be perfectly content with perpetual summer. I like long days and warm air. I realize I would still lose my long days in warmer parts of the country or world, but that might be easier to take if it were not also cold. The end of daylight saving time, admittedly a human-made construct, and with it, cycling season, feels more significant to me than the autumnal equinox.

My goal with this post is not to whine and complain, though. It is to move forward positively, as I reflect on another season of safe and healthy cycling with gratitude. While I honestly believe that I would be just as grateful for my safe and healthy cycling if I could ride as much as I want all year, I can choose to reframe this time in a constructive way.

I can use this off season for increasing my yoga practice, working to strengthen my body for life and cycling, and comporting myself with grace and gratitude through these next four months to achieve as much peace and productivity as possible.

All of us will encounter periods of life when things are not exactly as we would choose. We have two options in those situations. We can stew over our displeasure and feel victimized by circumstances, or we can find a way to make meaning of our situation and create something positive.

That is the challenge for us. When trapped for a period in conditions that deviate from our ideal, what are we going to make of the time?

The key is catching ourselves before we slide into a trench of despair or self-pity. We have to notice when we are at risk for taking this plunge. This requires self-awareness and a conscious decision to choose a higher, more uplifting path.

Then, it takes the determination and self-discipline to pursue that path. Daily meditation helps me, and continuing my rides on the weekends and days off work, weather permitting, will also help. Once we have made the decision to choose better, we need reliable means of staying centered or recalibrating when something throws us off course.

Maybe you love winter. Maybe you are one of the people who relish hibernating indoors and love nothing more than a movie marathon. Even if that is true, and you are in your element with the short, dark, cold days, there will be times, seasonally or otherwise, when you are less than satisfied with your current conditions. What choice will you make—self-pity or positive forward movement? What centering or recalibrating strategies will you use? Do you need help finding your way?

It benefits us to have a consistent daily practice and a strong commitment to our values in place, so that when circumstances unsettle us, we can fall back on them to remind us of what matters most and help us keep moving forward, even if slowly.

Today, Saturday, is forecast to be a nice day. Pretty soon, I am going to gear up and go for a bike ride. Getting my bike fix when I can makes so much difference. It is a matter of making the most of our circumstances and taking opportunities when they present themselves. I’m grateful for this gift of a reasonably warm and sunny day on weekend. I will use the gift to continue to propel myself onward in the best, most positive way I can during this off season, so that I can accomplish the physical, creative, professional and personal development goals that are important to my commitment to living with no regrets.

Let me know how I can help you establish the habits and practices that will enable you to continue moving in your desired direction, regardless of what life throws at you.

My Top 5 Tips for Creating True Well-Being

This post is the third in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. If you missed the first two, you can catch my energy tips here and my mindset tips here.

What does “well-being” mean to you? For me, “well-being” means excellent physical and mental health, accompanied by a deep sense of inner peace and confidence that comes from living my purpose. It may mean something different to you, but my guess is that it encompasses some of the same elements.

Much like mindset, I find that well-being requires constant attention and maintenance. It is not a destination that I reach and remain, without additional effort. However, these are some of the habits and practices that I have found to be crucial components of my well-being:

Outdoor Vegetable Market
  1. Live a vegan lifestyle. Not only is eating plants the most health-promoting way of nourishing my body, but it also allows me to live my most important value—compassion. Living my values is part of well-being for me. Doing so promotes inner peace. I believe that all of us—human and non-human—are the subjects of our own lives. While we enhance our lives by choosing to serve others in a variety of ways, no one—human or non-human—is on this planet to be used by others. By eating plants, my conscience is free, and I feel good about what I am putting into my body. Not long ago, someone asked me if I would get sick if I ate meat. I answered that I might, since my body is accustomed to plants. I have been vegetarian since 1982 and vegan since 2008. But, even more than potential physical effects, I told her it would be very emotionally upsetting. Even the thought makes me feel queasy. Compassion is such an important value to me that violating it would seriously compromise my well-being. Cultivating well-being in our lives requires an honest examination of our conscience, as well as asking ourselves what choices truly support health and inner peace.
  2. Move my body daily. Physical activity plays a dual role in my life, too. Besides keeping me physically healthy, movement is one of the most important factors in my well-being. It makes an unbelievable difference in my mental health. Research has shown exercise to be at least as effective as pharmaceutical anti-depressants, in many situations. It is my biggest stress reliever. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy is most important. It is valuable to incorporate a variety of types of exercise, including cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance training and flexibility work. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Finding something that you will do on a regular basis is more important than constructing a perfect training plan. (If you want more precision, hire a coach with experience in physical training or a personal trainer.) It is better to do something than to have a perfect plan that you don’t execute. A friend recently posted this quote on her Facebook page: “Cycling isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my inner peace.” I absolutely relate.
  3. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Consistently implementing a morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation has made a tremendous difference in my well-being. I have felt, and been, healthier in the past year than I probably ever have. My resistance to colds has been strong. While everything I mention in this post plays into my physical health, I think committing to my mindfulness practice has ratcheted it up another notch. Part of that is probably due to (presumably, based on how I feel emotionally) lower levels of stress hormones circulating in my body. High levels of stress hormones are associated with inflammation, which contributes in a wide array of health problems. Reducing inflammation by decreasing dietary stress on the body (See item #1.) and through increasing inner peace through mindfulness and meditation truly can keep us healthier.
  4. Honor my passions. Some people think that honoring our passions as adults is selfish. I disagree. I think our passions are critical aspects of who we are and are key avenues through which we grow and develop. If there is something that excites you, take time to learn about it and engage in it. Passions come in a lot of different forms. Mine include cycling, reading, writing and contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world through building my coaching business and living a vegan lifestyle. I grow through all these activities. Ignoring them would leave a void in my life. I believe that they excite me for a reason, and I have both the privilege of, and responsibility for, honoring them. I am a better person when I do. Your passions—those things that truly excite and ignite you, those things that won’t leave you alone—are also there for a reason. Honor them to become more of who you are meant to be and enhance your well-being.
  5. Engage in regular introspection. I am an introvert, which simply means that I energize by spending time and space alone. It is exhausting to be around people constantly, without some time alone. Introspection is one of the treats of my time alone. When my son was young, one of the most difficult aspects of parenting for me was feeling like I could never be alone in my head because of constant noise and company. My bike rides were my salvation (and they still are, even though life is different now). They were the only way I could get a little time on my own to be in my head. Whether or not you are an introvert, there is value in introspection. It is how we figure out who we are, what we think, what we believe, what is most important to us. Journaling is a great way to be introspective, and I do it at least nightly, but my time on my bike, where I can think freely is another terrific opportunity to be introspective. I love to think about a question as I ride. It could be anything that helps me understand more about what matters to me. For example, “What is clearly no longer serving me?” was a recent question I pondered on the bike. This helped me make some important decisions. Experiment with the best ways for you to ask yourself key questions and spend time examining them. It will be good for your well-being.

While your definition of “well-being” may be different than mine, I encourage you to try my tips and see how you feel. My guess is that you will feel better, even if you just incorporate one of my tips into your life. If you choose to include them all, I expect that you will feel exponentially better. These tips are not miracles or cure-alls. I do not live in a perfect state of well-being. However, my state of well-being is much more consistent and persistent than it was prior to prioritizing these things in my life.

Bicycle Shadow on the Road

I would love to help you improve your well-being. Contact me at sheri@justwindcoach.com or 316-259-9728, if you would like a complimentary coaching call. You can also click this link to schedule an appointment. To connect with others who are interested in living as well as possible, become part of our JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958072857557272/.

The Bike Is Where I Remember Who I Am

“My workout is my obligation to life. It’s my tranquilizer. It’s part of the way I tell the truth . . ..” –Jack LaLane

The work week and the heaviness of the world can weigh on me to the point where I feel like I don’t have the time, mental space or the emotional capacity to process my higher-level goals or work on the things that matter most to me.

The bike is where I remember who I am.

Part of this is just the gift of the ride. Out on the road—usually alone—my head clears, and space is created for inspiration and introspection. On the bike, whether for one hour or several, I can release the worries, stressors, deadlines and obligations of the rest of life. Although it is temporary, and I am under no illusions that it is otherwise, it is a true gift that has allowed me to find solutions to problems and answers to troubling questions. Often these answers may elude me when I give thought to the questions or issues off the bike. But, setting out on the road opens doors to possibilities that I have not been able to pry ajar during the rest of life.

Alone on the bike, I am free from noise and distractions, and my focus can be given to deeper thought and clearer thinking.

In an article in Scientific American, psychology professor Justin Rhodes explores some of the physiological and neurochemical reasons that exercise enhances thinking. One explanation is the increased blood flow—to the brain and elsewhere—induced by physical activity. Our hyperoxygenated brain is more effective at solving problems and thinking deeply.

Rhodes discusses the role of the hippocampus in exercise. I find this particularly interesting and plan to explore further how the hippocampus may be responsible for much of the mental and emotional benefit I experience during exercise. Memory, emotions and motivation—all factors in the heightened state I feel on the bike—are influenced by the function of the hippocampus.

There is some speculation that the evolutionary explanation for the exercise effect on brain function is that it was beneficial for our ancient ancestors to think more clearly and encode memories more deeply when exerting to fight or flee a danger. While there very well may be some truth to this, I also experience a sense of peace and happiness on the bike that feels inconsistent with a fight-or-flight response.

However, neurochemically, there is basis for this explanation. Albeit volitional and generally positive, exercise is a form of physical stress (which is why it needs to be balanced with rest and nutrition), resulting in physiological adaptations to stress. The brain releases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that protects and repairs neurons throughout the brain and body. Endorphins, hormones which act as a natural analgesic, are produced when we exercise, both minimizing physical discomfort and elevating emotions. This produces the experience known as “runner’s high.” As internally produced opioids, endorphins help form the exercise habit and keep the movers coming back for more.

Those are some of the physical explanations for the emotional benefits of exercise.

It is even deeper than that for me, tough. I feel a strong spiritual connection to the Universe, both that which is tangible in nature and that which is intangible.

This connection goes beyond recognizing the natural beauty around me, as I ride on quiet, rural roads. I do recognize it, and it plays a part in my well-being. I also feel more open, though, to receiving guidance and wisdom from the Universe, and I have found that I can beckon the Universal guidance through a process that I have refined, but that may continue to evolve.

It used to be that ideas and solutions would simply come to me on the bike, fairly infrequently, but powerfully, when they did. As I have nurtured increased mindfulness in my life and have felt an acceleration in personal growth since doing so, I have sought the guidance of the road more consciously. By opening myself to the gifts of the Universe, I have found myself more often the beneficiary of this guidance. While I don’t claim to understand fully (or even at all) its Source, I do have a renewed belief in its existence. And, the bike is where it very often finds me. Or, I find it. I am not sure which it is. I just know that the bike is where I remember (or am reminded) who I am.

Importantly, although it is the bike for me, it might be a run or a walk (I have glimpsed it on both.) for you. Or, if you are an extrovert (I am not.), maybe it is in a group dance or exercise class. Maybe it is in a game. Wichita State University basketball player Ricky Torres was recently quoted as saying, “If there was ever a lot going on in my life, I’d go get in the gym. When I’m on the court, I feel nothing else.” (The Sunflower, Issue 21, Volume 123, November 5, 2018) I believe he is referring to the same phenomenon I encounter on the bike.

So, the first step is finding the physical activity that reminds you who you are by helping you shed the layers of stress and heaviness and worries that daily life can pile upon you. This may take some experimenting, or, if you are lucky, you already know what it is. Maybe it is not just one form of movement, but there is likely one that stands out more than others as most consistently eliciting positive physiological and psychological responses. Commit to incorporating it into your life on a regular basis.

Here is my current practice for prompting the benefit in my life:

  1. I choose a quote from my vast collection. I do it randomly, but move on to another if the one on which I land does not speak to me in the moment. I want a quote that evokes thought and invites pondering and/or serves as affirmation. I may paraphrase it to make it easier to recall or more personal. I commit it to my short-term memory for easy retrieval.
  2. Before I get on the bike, I take three “4-2-6” breaths. This means that I inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 2 and exhale for a count of 6. While there are many beneficial breathing patterns that can be used, and that I use personally, I can’t remember where I first heard this one suggested as a pattern to use when you want to be “on.” (I also use this one before presentations or other times where my performance is important.) In general, controlled breathing patterns stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response. I have not been able to find documentation about why 4-2-6 works to increase focus and is beneficial before performance. I think it may be as much the act of the ritual as anything, but it is effective for me, so I do it.
  3. I think of my quote as I center my mind.
  4. I have found the addition of an evocative question to be particularly effective at inducing great thinking and inviting inspiration on the bike. On my most recent emotionally and spiritually powerful ride, I used four questions that Rich Litvin asked some of his coaching clients: 1. What are your three biggest gifts? 2. What are your top three professional successes? 3. What holds you back the most—and always has? 4. What is the dark side of each of your gifts? Wow! What I learned about myself by asking these questions was incredible and led me to some clear conclusions about where my energy and priorities should be focused. More often, it is just one question, frequently inspired by the quote I choose as my mantra.
  5. I set an intention for my ride. This usually includes the all-important “staying safe,” but my most introspective, insightful and impactful rides are the ones where I set an intention to have questions answered, problems solved, to be open to the best the Universe has to offer or to find peace around a concern. The more specific I am, the better.
  6. Then, I ride. I usually settle into the ride for a few minutes and get out of town before recalling my mantra. I will often visualize around the mantra and may even recite it out loud.
  7. I reiterate my intention and my openness to receive.
  8. I ask myself the question or questions and ponder them.
  9. My mind opens, and I pay attention to the wisdom and guidance that comes my way. When this happens, I find myself feeling lighter, happier, more excited and stronger on the bike. I often notice that I am smiling. I may want the ride to go on and on.
  10. Eventually, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, I must return home. I have recently become more consistent about reflecting as quickly as I can—maybe just after my shower—on what I have learned on the bike. This is best done in my journal, or, occasionally, in a document on my laptop. Much like waking from a dream, I find that I am more likely to be able to remember and use the insight from the ride by capturing it as soon as possible.
  11. I decide where to take action. This is key. Without action, if the insight calls for it, I squander the wisdom the Universe has offered. I have learned to act, if only by taking a tiny first step. It is a way of appreciating what I have been given.

This blog post is one of the actions I am taking after a particularly insightful, if short and cold, ride I had last weekend. I sense that there is much more to come from what I learned on this ride. I am grateful and look forward to creating possibilities, based on my guidance on Saturday’s ride.

The bike is where I remember who I am. It is where I reclaim my power after work and daily life and stressors have eroded my belief in it and loosened my grasp of it. It is where, even more than in my daily meditation, I find myself to be the most open vessel to collect the best wisdom the Universe has to offer. It is a gift to know this about myself, and it is a gift that I want to give you—the awareness of mindful movement as a tool for growing into your Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life. I have not reached any of those yet, but I know that my bike rides propel me more quickly down the long, winding, head- and crosswind-riddled road of my journey to realizing these things in my own life. I believe the intentional pursuit of them is my responsibility, as well as my gift, even if it is painful and challenging at many junctures, not unlike some bike rides.

“Say ‘meditation’ to someone, and they usually picture someone sitting in a quiet, dark room. But you can just as easily meditate, relaxing yourself and visualizing, while your body is in motion during a Moving Meditation. It’s where the real you pops out. It’s when your true integrity, drive, passion, perseverance, tenacity, grace, and patience start to show and shine.” –Stacey Griffith

“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.