Releasing Judgment—2020 and Beyond

When things don’t go as we think they should (like all of 2020), it is easy to fall into a pattern of judging and criticizing ourselves and feeling bad about lack of progress where we think we should have progress.

This year, as parenting a teenager has collided with a pandemic, it has become clear to me that my priorities need to shift in this season of life.

For all of us, 2020 is happening on top of the rest of life. If you’re not parenting a teenager, you have something else that would pose a challenge even under less fraught circumstances than a pandemic. Odds are, COVID-19 has exacerbated your situation in some way, too. We’re all still learning as we go, but one of the most important things I have learned so far is that recognizing the need to shift the focus of my emotional and physical energy, as well as my time, stems from honoring the guidance, wisdom, direction and protection of the Universe. I can view myself with gratitude for choosing to honor and act on this guidance, rather than battering myself with judgment for not being able to do it all.

For those of us who are driven and determined to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, releasing ourselves temporarily from self-imposed time frames can be difficult and frustrating. It can feel like slacking.

An alternative perspective is to recognize the restraint that it takes to channel our energy where it is most needed. This view also requires patience with ourselves and with the timeline of nature. It requires trust that we will get back to a place in life where we can focus again more vigorously on the projects that stir our spirits.

It has become clear that my son needs me most right now. Being a teenager is hard in any era. I believe that being a teenager in the age of COVID-19 presents unique and unprecedented challenges. The waters are uncharted for all of us. My most important responsibility right now is helping Logan navigate them. Everything else has to be put on the backburner for this moment. It was a struggle to acknowledge and internalize that and to decide to be okay with it. I’m writing my book, working to complete a vegan nutrition certification and had been striving to build my business, while working full time. All those things matter to me, and I will continue to make progress. Circumstances right now just mean that my already painfully slow progress will be even slower for a while. I must release judgment on myself for that and instead feel grateful that I recognized the need, rather than pushing ahead with blinders, which can be tempting when I am in pursuit of a goal.

Right now, my efforts and energy need to be with Logan—parenting him the way he needs to be parented in order to nurture our relationship, keep him safe and healthy and help him build character.

I have settled into this realization and owned it. I have made the conscious decision to release judgment of myself and make peace with focusing my limited-capacity energy on Logan right now. The signs are here—this is parenting crunch time. Logan is 16. Nothing is more important than giving him the energy and attention he needs right now because there is not much time left before he is a young adult. While parenting won’t end then, it will change, and I don’t want to have missed my chance to be the mom he needed during this stage of his development, in the middle of a pandemic.

Before I know it, I will be in a different season of life, and it will be time again to focus my energy on my personal and professional development projects. I don’t consider myself stalled now, just slowed and, in some cases, temporarily redirected.

I’m still writing—just more slowly. I’m still reading and learning and growing—just with less urgency. I’m still open to business opportunities and development—just in a way that leaves me the time I need to give Logan what he needs.

In this year of uncertainty and distress, all of us are bound to be hit with unforeseen demands that rise to the top of our priorities. The challenge is to recognize these needs and honor them, releasing judgment of ourselves and acknowledging that, not only can we not do it all, but we do not need to do it all. We only need to do what is most important in the moment.

We can see this pandemic and the needs that arise around and during it as an interruption of life, or we can choose to see it for what it really is—life itself. It’s not a version of life we would have chosen, but here it is. So, let’s rise to the challenge, recognize what priorities need to be adjusted and make those adjustments courageously, patiently and without judgment.

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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.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

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Appreciating the Gifts of the Moment

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,

May the moon softly restore you by night,

May the rain wash away your worries,

May the breeze blow new strength into your being,

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.”

–Apache Blessing

I began writing this post early in the morning, the Friday before Memorial Day, in my bedroom, with open windows allowing the sound of gentle raindrops and various birds to serenade me. I appreciate the quiet solitude that I am often able to find in early mornings, while Kenny and Logan are sleeping and before I have to show up anywhere (virtually or in person) else in life. This beautiful Apache Blessing instills peace in my heart when I read it and contemplate its words.

We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, and Kenny was very nostalgic that evening, looking at our wedding album and other photos. It was obvious that he was reflecting on the surreal nature of the passing of 19 years. Where did they go? How do we have a 15-year-old son?

Although he seemed to have a stronger sense of the poignantly fleeting nature of life that evening, I also have more and more of those moments lately.

Whether it is raining or sunny, cold or hot, windy or still—meteorologically or metaphorically—if we can view the moments of our lives according to the gifts they bring, like the Apache Blessing illustrates, we are far more likely not only to appreciate this precious life, but to make something of it.

Our world is busy and full of distractions. As an introvert who is sensitive to external stimuli, this can become overwhelming for me. There are many disappointments that come with this COVID-19 pandemic we are all living. For far too many families, it goes beyond disappointment, to tragedy. And any of us could find ourselves there before this is over. For all of us, there are changes, many unpleasant. I bought groceries Thursday evening, a task I don’t particularly enjoy at any time. I choose my stores based on the likelihood of sensory overload. Right now, though, I really dislike the experience of shopping. Wearing a mask feels like the socially responsible thing to do, so I do it, and many others do, too. But we lose something behind the masks. We can’t really see other people. Eyes say a lot, but not everything. Everyone seems more guarded. It is both harder to hear people and harder to read people. The world feels less safe and more unfriendly. It is a minor thing, but it feels like a loss, and it feels like it may be our reality for the foreseeable future.

Like many, I try to find both the lessons and the gifts of this situation. What can I learn about myself, about life, about what’s next for me? And, what can I appreciate?

Personally, I appreciate (love) having fewer social obligations. I am working from home, and while I am staying plenty busy with that, having no commute at the moment is a gift. It is one I am not looking forward to relinquishing when I do return to the workplace. So, what does that tell me about what I should do moving forward? What changes can I make to have more of this and less of that?

There are undoubtedly some activities I miss. Biking Across Kansas is the highlight of my year, and it is cancelled. I am grateful that I can still ride my bike, though, and we are hoping to create some sort of family cycling adventure when it is safe to do so.

In some ways, this contracting of social activity feels like I have come into my moment. It’s not perfect. There are losses with the gifts, but I feel an obligation to recognize the lessons that may be prodding me to implement changes in my life.

What can I keep from this time? What can any of us?

As I have become more and more aware, time passes all too quickly. I need to make it count, and I need to do that now, in each moment. Because, in no time, 19 more years will have passed. Awareness is the beginning, but action is what really matters. The art is in soaking up the gifts of the moment, while taking action that implements the lessons.

Mindful awareness coupled with impactful action.

How can we achieve that?

While doing laundry and dishes yesterday morning, when I started the post, I was listening to a wonderful interview between Lewis Howes and Jim Kwik (How have I not known about this Jim Kwik? He is amazing!). He says that one of the reasons we don’t make progress is because we are overwhelmed—our project or goal seems too big. I know this can be true for me. He says, “What is the smallest action you can take?” Others, like James Clear, have proposed this idea, too. Just taking tiny actions, consistently, to keep moving forward.

I have a productivity plan that I keep on a spreadsheet with dates and priority ratings. It is the way I keep taking tiny steps. It seems slow and prodding at times, and I certainly get stuck now and then, but it does keep me moving forward. Because my Friday was full, writing this blog post was the only thing on the plan for me yesterday Of course, work and family obligations and an after-work bike ride were also part of my day, but this is the thing that feeds my longing to create and learn and grow. I feel like listening to the lessons and the inspiration that each moment can bring and figuring out how to implement them in my life are so important to really soaking up and appreciating what life has to offer.

If we don’t, time will pass anyway. As I have said in previous posts, I am really afraid of regrets. So, even if it is rainy, or we are in the middle of a pandemic, or I am not making the progress I wish I were making, I do believe I have an obligation to make each day, each moment count.

I am finding gifts in some surprising circumstances and would love to keep you posted. Please join my email list to stay informed and to receive a copy of my plant-based recipe booklet.

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“Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

–Maya Angelou, Excerpt from “On the Pulse of Morning”


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.

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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.