An Unexpected Benefit of Acting on Curiosity

Pedaling in the strong, chilly wind this afternoon, I was rocked by the wake of a huge flatbed semi, hauling six or eight massive bales of cotton—fluffy, white centers in pink wrappers. No match for Kansas wind, the tightly-packed bales were shedding cotton balls as the truck barreled south. A curious thought crossed my mind: “I wonder if those cotton balls feel like the ones we buy in the store.” Spontaneously, I slowed to a stop, clipped out of my pedal and leaned over to collect one. It felt similar, but with a seed in it. I smiled at the softness, touched my cheek with it and then put it in the pocket of my windbreaker to bring home.

The cotton ball and the act of collecting it sparked an inspiration.

Prior to picking up the cotton ball, I had been battling the wind, riding more slowly and feeling colder than I wanted. I had also been thinking—one of my favorite of the countless benefits I find in cycling.

This year has been the hardest of my life. It’s not over, nor are the challenges, but I won’t dwell on that here. The inspiration of the cotton ball stirred a desire to write that has been absent for most of the last seven months. Before encountering the cotton truck, I had been asking myself versions of the question, “What do I want to do with my life moving forward?” Any kind of satisfying answer eluded me. The only thing that held any real interest once I really considered it was finding a way to get paid for reviewing cycling gear and adventures. That feels more like a fantasy than a possibility, but who knows?

Cycling, reading writing, vegan living. Those are the steadfast passions that have remained throughout this year of stress and loss and fear. Those are the pillars that have continued to sustain me and ground me.

But writing. That’s what was bothering me before I picked up the cotton. Writing felt too hard, too daunting, too overwhelming. One more thing. And I can’t handle one more thing.

But curiosity led me to pick up the cotton. What did it feel like? In the instant that I picked it up, I felt inspired by the idea of curiosity—both writing and living from a place of curiosity. I recognized that I had allowed curiosity to guide me yesterday when approaching a persistent challenge. It served our family in yesterday’s experiment, and I think it has potential as a guiding principle in other aspects of life.

When I acted on my curiosity and stopped to pick up the cotton, I suddenly felt like writing. So, I am. I promised myself on the bike that I could just write, publish the post to my blog and share it on Facebook—no pressure to send to my mailing list or worry about how many (if any) people would read it. I would just write and post and see what feels good from here. I would write with curiosity.

Since recognizing and honoring the need for a self-care break in April, I have put everything except the necessities on hold—writing a book, building a coaching business, publishing blog posts on a schedule, all the things I believed were goals for my future. I’m not ready to return to any of those things, and I’m not sure I will. I recently heard the term “The Great Reassessment” on a podcast. It was mentioned in reference to the global reassessment that all of us are experiencing to a greater or lesser extent, due to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Certainly, that is part of my experience, too, but the upheaval in my personal life has generated an even greater reassessment for me. Everything I thought I wanted to build feels flat now. Daily life has been reduced to surviving and trying to make the best, healthiest decisions for myself and my family in each given moment. The calculated nature of these decisions is exhausting. There is little room for anything else besides that and a job that is requiring more hours and more energy than I really have to give. I don’t write those things in self-pity. They are just the facts of my current state, and it is from this place that I was thrilled to feel the spark of inspiration that acting on my curiosity about the cotton ignited in me.

Maybe I’ll write consistently again. Maybe I won’t or can’t. Either way, I am committing to myself that I will trust curiosity to lead me to the next thing. Whatever that is. The next step on my path. The next place to which I am called. The next action I should take.

I think I will try on “curiosity” as a mantra in tomorrow morning’s meditation. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but that is the point. Curiosity is about listening to the things that spark our interest and then acting on them to see what happens.

I don’t know if this post will resonate with or benefit anyone else, but it feels like self-care today, and I am trying to trust and follow my intuition and instincts about what I need. Toward that end, curiosity is an attribute worth cultivating.

Navigating life with curiosity requires an open mind and a willingness to be wrong. I think taking a chance to trust curiosity sometimes comes from a place of having little to lose by trying a different approach. That’s where it feels like I am right now. I put the cotton ball in a special dish on my dresser. I’m grateful to it and its wind-blown friends for making me feel like writing again. Even if it is just for today. It feels nurturing in this moment, and I am choosing to trust that. When I set out on this afternoon’s ride, I didn’t expect to find inspiration floating from a passing flatbed, but I am grateful that I was open to curiosity and to where acting on it might lead. The cotton ball on my dresser will remind me to remain curious. I believe it may be a key to moving through our challenges in a more creative way. The gift of writing helps me to process and understand, and just maybe sharing my story will inspire a reader to act on curiosity and benefit from the results.

Taking a Self-Care Break

I hope your week is going well!

You may or may not have noticed that I didn’t publish a blog post this past Sunday.

While I was on my bike on Sunday, it became clear to me that I needed to take some pressure off myself. This is proving to be a very challenging season of parenting. Between that and working way too many hours in my full-time job, I felt like I was reaching a breaking point.

There is so much I want to share about creating mind-body synergy in our lives and about living powerfully from that place, and writing has always been joyful and energizing for me. It still is, but everything else is just too much right now.

The saying that we teach what we need to learn probably applies here. Although the practices that I teach and use make a significant, positive difference for me—and, I believe, for others—the pressures of the rest of my life are wearing me down.

I have written nearly 60,000 words of my book, and I am teaching the final week of the Spring into Action Move for Your Mind class. There is so much more I want to share, but I recognize the need to give myself some grace right now.

So, I am taking a self-care break from blogging, coaching and pursuing a book deal. I’m not quitting those things. I’ll pick them up when the time feels right.

This was a choice that I didn’t want to make, but I felt a sense of peace on my bike on Sunday when I suddenly knew this was the right thing to do to take care of myself. My bike is where I have my best ideas and make my best decisions. I trust the insight and inspiration I receive there.

I don’t know how long this break will be. I sincerely hope that life feels better soon. I have some things to figure out and some decisions to make, but, for now, I will take this pause and try to keep listening for insight on my bike and in my meditation. Take care of yourselves! We have to do that before we can be of any useful service to our world.

Is 2021 Your Year to Blossom?

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

–Anaïs Nin

The first time I remember coming across this quote was in 1996. I was going through a major upheaval in my life and living in a studio apartment in a converted home in the College Hill neighborhood in Wichita, Kansas, sharing a bathroom with two women I didn’t know. A good friend and early mentor, Suzie White, had given me a small book of empowering quotes by women. I still remember when I read this quote. Standing at the dresser that came with the apartment, flipping through the small, spiral-bound book, I froze when I read Nin’s words.

That’s where I am,” I thought.

The risk to remain tight in my bud had become more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

I have loved the quote ever since, and I have applied it to different circumstances over the past quarter century, but the words really hit me again last Saturday. After a bike ride, as is my practice, I randomly selected a quote from the extensive collection I have actively curated since 2001 and got into the shower. The shower, as you may know, is a great place to think, and I love to think and ponder and introspect. The quote where my finger landed was this one. Although I had first encountered it five years prior to starting my first volume of quotes, I never forgot Nin’s words, and had recorded them in that first book.

When my finger landed on this quote, my first thought was, “Cool. Always a good reminder.”

But then I was suddenly tingling with excitement. I knew that I was at another seminal moment in my life where it was time to blossom. And I knew that I could use the concept that quickly unfolded in my brain to help others blossom, too.

I thought about the seasons. Here in Kansas, we are firmly in winter. So far, it hasn’t been too extreme, but it is still considerably colder than I would like for it to be. And grayer. And browner. Try as I might to remain positive, I have a very hard time seeing beauty in the winter. Even snow doesn’t do much for me, I have to admit, because I hate driving in it so much, and I hate the cold so much. Cold Kansas wind feels like an assault on my body, and the heavy gray skies that are so frequent this time of year weigh on my spirits and drag me down into the dumps.

But, as I thought about Nin’s words, I could start to see some value—or at least a purpose—for the winter season that I dread so much. Rest. Incubation. Waiting.

Until it is time to blossom.

Although I have no doubt that I would thrive in a seasonless environment that was warm year round, I can recognize that we have an opportunity to make meaning of the winters of our lives.

There are seasons of life when we need to remain tight in a bud, for a variety of reasons. I think there are also a lot of different types of “flowers” in our lives and periods where we may be ready to blossom in one area but need to remain in a bud in another area.

But there are times when it becomes painful in one aspect or season of life to remain tight in a bud. In fact, the risk—suddenly or gradually—becomes greater than the risk to blossom.

During my shower last Saturday, I pondered Nin’s quote, and I saw clearly how I need to blossom during 2021, and I felt inspired to use my coaching skills and my writing to encourage others to blossom.

I’m excited to launch my special Blossom 2021 Quick Coach Power Sessions. If you feel ready to blossom in 2021, click the button below to sign up to receive a link to schedule your free session. This is a real coaching call—via Zoom or phone—not a sales pitch or consultation. We’ll get right down to business with a powerful coaching conversation designed to help you break free from your bud.

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Who Do You Want to Be in 2021?

We have made it through Christmas and are winding our way toward 2021. I just got brave enough to look at my 2020 Vision post from last year around this time. COVID-19 threw such a wrench into my ideas about what I would create in 2020 that I hadn’t let myself look at it in a long time. Here we are, still entrenched in a pandemic, yet we have to keep living while we are waiting for things to return to “normal.” It was one thing to be knocked off kilter by the surreality of the pandemic, but this is life as we know it for now and for the foreseeable future. So, we must move on.

It was nearly two months ago that I settled on the accomplishments I intend to achieve in 2021, and I clarified an identity mantra a couple weeks ago. These are the beacons I am currently using and what I intend to use to carry me through 2021 toward my vision of success.

“The secret to living the life of your dreams is to start living the life of your dreams today, in every little way you possibly can.” –Mike Dooley

A big part of achieving any meaningful goal in life is to see ourselves as “the kind of person who _________” and then to start living as that kind of person to the greatest extent possible right now.

Creating an identity mantra is one way to do this. Find a way to really clear your head (The bike works best for me.) and honestly ask yourself what you really want to achieve in the next year. Focus on one to no more than five accomplishments that you want to have under your belt by the end of 2021. What would you call yourself if you achieved these things? For instance, if you want to have run a marathon, you would call yourself a runner. If you want to have quit smoking, you would call yourself a nonsmoker. Use this identity to craft an identity mantra—something that you will use as beacon to direct your activities and guide you toward accomplishing what you want to accomplish. The three accomplishments that became clear priorities for me on a bike ride in early November are: securing a book deal, building a robust platform and creating a writing life—clearly all related. The identity mantra that I crafted to help me internalize those accomplishments is: “I am grateful to be a successful author and coach, embodying what I teach and living a life of freedom, flexibility and meaning.”

Say, write, read and visualize your identity mantra every day, several times a day. Really see it and feel it. What does it feel like to have accomplished what you set out to accomplish? What does it look like? How is life different and better? Feel gratitude in advance for your success. The more vivid you can make this for yourself, the better. Visualize it in your journal; in meditation; in prayer; on your walks, runs, swims or bike rides; in the shower; while washing dishes; while driving—any time you can. See yourself going through your day as a person who _______ and immerse yourself in what it feels like to be that person.

“. . . there is actual data showing that visualizing success makes it more likely to become reality.” –Shawn Achor

Reverse engineer the steps to be who you want to be by the end of 2021. What will it take to become that person? Even if you don’t or can’t spell out all the steps in minute detail right away, take time to figure out the major components of success. This may be quite simple or quite complicated, depending on what you are working to achieve. But figure out the big picture and then break it down to the first action you can take. Get started today. And keep going tomorrow. As I have written, we often need to move in tiny steps, but moving is the main thing. Anything is progress.

It is critical to plan for the unexpected, as well as for expected interruptions. Life will get in the way. We are in a pandemic now. Hopefully, we won’t be at some point in the next year. But there will be other things—hopefully, not on this magnitude, but you can be sure there will be something. Or several things. All of us get knocked down by life at times. While I didn’t let go of my identity mantra and my intentions for 2021 during the lead-up to Christmas, I certainly didn’t embody the JustWind mindset in every moment. I firmly believe that when we recognize that we have the power and freedom to choose our perspectives, we can liberate ourselves from the victim mindset (I didn’t succeed at this all the time as Christmas approached.), optimize our lives (this either) and make the difference we are meant to make. (We can never make our best contributions when we are overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.) I’m disappointed in the way I handled this (and every) Christmas season. I am committed to learning from the disappointment and moving forward, doing better in the future. And I am committed to continuing to believe in my identity mantra and to doing something each day to bring me closer to living it as fully as possible.

We have to forgive ourselves when we mess up. It will happen. The key is not to let it totally derail us. We can reframe what success looks like and decide that we are successful when we recognize our missteps on the road to our new identity, decide to learn from them and move forward in a more productive direction. If we can do this, getting right back on the (literal or figurative) bike saddle, and resuming forward momentum, we should pat ourselves on the backs and celebrate our success. Then we keep moving more fully toward the self and the future we envision.

“The question is not whether you’ll slip up but, rather, how you’ll respond when you do.” –Jen Sincero

Bonus points and power: Choose a word for 2021. I started doing this several years ago, and it can serve as a short, powerful trigger to help you make choices that are aligned with your priorities. Put it (and your mantra) on sticky notes where you will see them often. Consider engraving your word on a bracelet or painting it on a stone. (I have done both in the past.) Most importantly, keep it in the front of your mind. It’s important to discern your word carefully. Try it on to see how it resonates. Like many things, I find my best clarity around choosing my word to come on my bike. After I was reminded of the word practice recently (COVID-19 knocked my 2020 word right out of my head.), I tried on a couple words. They were close but didn’t feel exactly right. I went for a bike ride and rode into my answer for 2021: JustWind. It’s my word. It encapsulates my book, my business, my philosophy, my trust in myself—all things I intend to emphasize in 2021. What’s your word for 2021? Why? What does it mean to you? How does it represent who you want to be?

Rather than a traditional New Year’s resolution, I encourage you to try this approach to achieving your desired accomplishments. Decide on an identity and start believing in yourself as that person right now. Get a little head start on 2021 and begin now. Live it. See it. Believe it. Be it.

You can help me achieve my 2021 accomplishments by sharing this post on social media or with someone you think might benefit. If you think it has merit and would like to help me along the way, please share it. This helps me reach people I would not otherwise reach in order to build a robust platform, which is a must for securing a nonfiction book deal.

How can I help you achieve what you want to achieve in 2021? Leave a comment or private message me. Let me know if there is content that I could provide that would be beneficial to you.

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Move to Be Merrier

It happens often. Not every ride. But often. I’ll be riding along, maybe even pushing into a tough headwind, and I’ll suddenly realize I am smiling. Despite feeling a tad bit goofy when I notice the smile, I smile even more.

How fortunate I am to be doing something that causes me to burst into a spontaneous, genuine smile!

I’m not sure when I started noticing the smiles or even when I started smiling on rides. I do remember several years ago on Biking Across Kansas, after riding the hilly last day into White Cloud, Kansas, seeing my friend and fellow BAKer Mike Minihan and hearing him say, “You were just smiling as you rode those hills!” I don’t think I had even realized that I was smiling as I rode past miles of corn fields and up and down miles and miles of hills. The fact that he noticed made an impression on me.

That’s a short excerpt from Chapter 27 of the book I am writing. The chapter itself is more about noticing when I am smiling than about simply smiling itself, but I want to talk about the smiling today.

This is the toughest time of year for me, as it is for a lot of people. We all have different reasons, and it affects us to greater or lesser degrees, but there are many of us who are not fully on board with the songs proclaiming that this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

The core message of my book and coaching work is that when we recognize that we can choose our perspective, we can liberate ourselves from the victim mindset, optimize our lives and make the difference we are meant to make.

I totally failed to embrace and embody my own message this week.

I will spare you the whiny details. Suffice it to say that I allowed myself to be swallowed by overwhelm, as I tried to complete my (online) Christmas shopping, while getting sucked into the whirlwind of a scarcity mindset around time and money. I’m not over it yet, but I have promised myself that I will really, truly, this time learn from this misery and find another way to approach the holidays before next Christmas. At this point, it comes down to damage control, but I intend to live my message more effectively throughout the 2021 holiday season.

Regardless of the time of year, one powerful tool for boosting our moods and lifting our spirits is moving our bodies.

Biking Across Kansas 2015

I’m writing this on Saturday morning. The boys are asleep, so the house is quiet. I am sitting by my front window and looking out at the sunshine. The wind chill is only 27 degrees at the moment, and it won’t get above 37, but, layered in warm gear, it will be warm enough to ride my bike. I am grateful to have the flexibility in my schedule today to ride at the warmest part of the day. I’ll start gearing up around 2 p.m. Hopefully, the sun will still be shining then. I can feel the excitement in my belly when I anticipate my ride. It will only be 15-20 miles, since this is the off season, and I would choose warmer weather, if that were an option, but I get to ride!

For me, cycling goes beyond the well-documented mood boost exercise provides through the release of endorphins—feel-good hormones released by our brains and nervous system when we exercise. Because I regularly reflect on what a gift it is to be able to ride my bike, I experience another level of joy through cycling. But, any form of purposeful physical activity can give us a mood boost, and endorphins are a big part of that.

Even if you haven’t found a form of exercise that makes you erupt into a spontaneous smile (I encourage you to keep searching for one that you love that much!), and even if you revel in winter wonderland and relish the festivities of the holiday season, physical activity can add a spark of joy to your days. Endorphins play an important role in that. Exercise has been shown in many studies over the years to be at least as, and sometimes more, effective than pharmaceutical interventions for depression. Of course, it is crucial to seek professional help, if you are struggling with depression, and there are times when medication may be needed to alleviate particular types of mental health issues. Even so, exercise is a great complement to medicinal treatment for depression and anxiety.

I feel most myself on the bike. Whatever form of physical activity you choose, it is a terrific way to bolster your self-esteem and self-confidence. It feels terrific to follow through on what you say you are going to do. Even if it were a dreary, overcast day, as long as the wind chill was above freezing (and maybe even if it was a bit below freezing), I would ride today. If conditions were too miserable, I would do some other form of exercise. It is part of who I am, and it feels wonderful to keep promises to myself.

How can you benefit from the mood-boosting effects of physical activity, no matter the time of year?

  • Try, try again. If you don’t already have a favorite form of exercise, experiment. Don’t write yourself off as a non-exerciser. It’s too important, for so many reasons. There are countless ways to move your body. Just to start your mental (and maybe physical) wheels turning, here are some ideas. This is not an exhaustive list!
    • Cycling!
    • Running
    • Walking
    • Swimming
    • Yoga
    • Pilates
    • Strength training with body weight, weights, bands, kettlebells and more
    • Group fitness classes
    • Hiking
    • Team sports like basketball, baseball, softball, soccer or volleyball
    • Racquet sports like tennis, pickle ball or racquet ball
  • Find a friend. Or not. Some of us love solo pursuits, or at least activities that we can do alone or choose to do with other people—like cycling, running or walking. Others may want or need the companionship or accountability of a friend or group.
  • Mix and match. A well-rounded fitness program includes exercise for your cardiorespiratory system, as well as activities to build strength, enhance flexibility and challenge balance. Don’t let that stop you, though. While that may be an ideal to work toward, anything is better than nothing. More is better than less, to a point. If you don’t already have a consistent program, pick one activity from the list above or your own idea. Then, add another on a couple days of the week. For example: Walk on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Do yoga (Try Hatha, Power, Vinyasa or Yin. Yoga with Kassandra has hundreds of terrific practice options, organized by style or length.) on Saturday. Do some resistance training with bands on Monday and Wednesday.
  • Enlist a coach or trainer. Are you intimidated by the idea of adding exercise to your life? Do you not know where to start, so you don’t start at all? Give yourself the gift (or ask for it for Christmas) of a session or a package with a coach or trainer who can design a plan for you and help you develop a strategy for success in your particular circumstances.
  • Build a habit. Depending on the study, research has shown that it takes anywhere from 14 to 66 days to instill a habit. The reality probably depends more on what the habit is and a person’s history with adopting positive or losing negative habits. Again, a coach can help you incorporate your habit into your life if you don’t know where to start or need accountability. There are several ways to build a habit.
    • Schedule it. Plan each week and know when you are going to exercise and what you are going to do. Make it non-negotiable.
    • Set yourself up for success. Want to go for a run in the morning? Set out your gear the night before. Know you won’t go to the gym? Plan to walk outside instead. What needs to be in place to make it easy to keep your promise to yourself? Plan ahead and make sure it is in place. No excuses.
    • Make it appealing. Buy yourself some nice walking shoes. Get some cool yoga clothes or a new bike jersey. Ride, run or walk in an interesting location.
    • Decide you are a person who exercises. Identify as a cyclist, a runner, a walker a swimmer, a triathlete, etc. This is what you do because it is who you choose to be.
  • Join an event. I still remember the moment in 1996 when I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon and thought, “I am an athlete.” Even though I exercised prior to training for the marathon, which was my first, it was a transformational experience that set the stage for becoming a cyclist, going back to grad school for a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and many of the things I have undertaken.

The most important thing about exercise is that you do it. It is a lifeline for me all the time, but especially this time of year. It helps me to stay sane, and it helps me to manage my emotions. It’s not a panacea, but it is a tool that can help you find your smile when life gets heavy.

I’m editing this on Sunday morning. I did ride 19 miles yesterday. Even though I should have worn a windbreaker and never really got warm enough, and despite having given myself a black eye in a nasty Christmas gift wrapping accident a couple hours before I rode, I noticed myself smiling as I was riding north into the light, but cold northwest wind. It was a highlight of my day.

I’d love to help you incorporate mood-boosting exercise into your life. Leave a comment or send me a private message to let me know if this content is helpful. Would you like more like it? What, specifically, can I do to help you build an exercise habit?

If you feel like you could benefit from some coaching, click this link to schedule a complementary phone or Zoom session where we can explore ways to work together.

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