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

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

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

Why is this true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we build consistency into our lives?

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

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


2020 Vision

I have been planning this post in my head for a few weeks, since I did some year-end reflection on a bike ride. During that ride, I came to the realization that I need to take a different direction with my coaching practice. That insight planted the seeds for what I am calling my 2020 Vision. I’ll share more about that later in this post, but first, I’ll explain the review approach I took this year.

On that bike ride a few weeks ago, I considered what I believe are my biggest accomplishments in 2019 and the major lessons I have learned in 2019.

The most valuable insight that I gleaned from reflecting on my accomplishments and my lessons was a sudden understanding of why I have struggled to find traction with my coaching business. I have felt myself losing enthusiasm for the logistical and marketing aspects of the business, and my mission has often felt fuzzy. Suddenly, on this ride, reflecting on accomplishments and lessons, I understood why.

The model I was taught and the language out there in the online coaching community have never fully resonated with me. I have had a persistent sense of uneasiness about them. During this review, I was able to admit that to myself and, more importantly, to accept it, so that I could consider other options.

Energized by my new understanding, I felt inspired for the remainder of my year-end review, which I did in my journal. This year, I decided to use a version of my nightly journaling practice, scaled to an annual perspective. Here is what this process looked like:

  • 3 Things that went well in 2019. Just like I do every night to reflect on three things that went well for that day, I examined the course of the year and identified the three things that stood out to me has having gone particularly well, whether through my own efforts or life’s gifts. It is important to acknowledge our blessings and successes.
  • 3 Things I am looking forward to in 2020. Each morning before getting out of bed, I think about three things to anticipate during the day. It makes getting out of be easier and inspires hope and excitement. In this case I considered what I look forward to making happen in 2020, not just what I hope will happen. What actions am I taking to achieve these goals?
  • What is the boldest leap I took in 2019? Each night I determine the boldest leap I took during the day. Sometimes it is something big Sometimes it is littler. But I always figure out what it was. I thought back on the year and decided on the boldest leap I took in 2019. This felt good—acknowledging an accomplishment, even while it is still a work in progress.
  • What bold leap will I take in 2020? On a nightly basis, anticipating this leap establishes a plan and an intention for the next day. From an annual perspective, it does that for 2020. These are my most aspirational goals for 2020, the ones that will inspire and enthuse me to push through the challenges I will face.

That’s it. From the answers I found to these questions, I formed my 2020 Vision. I love the metaphor that that 2020 gives us—clear, perceptive vision that we can trust to guide us in the right direction.

An empty road with grass on the side of the street

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So, as we head toward the new year, this is my 2020 Vision:

Rich Litvin says, “A goal is a place to come from.” My 2020 Vision is written from that perspective.

  • In 2020 I am grateful for my vibrant health and vitality, joyfully maintaining a weight that optimizes my health, my performance on the bike and my sense of self.
  • In 2020 I am thankful that my master work, centered around health and compassion, is supported through the rich rewards of the abundant Universe. Secure in this knowledge, I am peaceful and confident around money.
  • In 2020 I am fully present in my important relationships, including with myself.
  • In 2020 I am doing work that matters, integrated under a theme of health and compassion.
    • I am providing compassionate academic advising to future health and fitness professionals.
    • I am teaching an online course that I developed to share the concept of empowered movement.
    • I have written and obtained a publishing deal for, my book, which teaches that we have the power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives.
    • I am helping people who are motivated by health and and/or ethics to eat, move and think in healthier, more compassionate ways, improving the quality of their lives, while making a positive difference in the world. I have chosen the optimal model for my coaching practice and am grateful that it aligns with my values and my priorities.
  • In 2020 my daily meditation practice results in an even deeper, more meaningful connection with my Source.

I am grateful for the many blessings and lessons that 2019 has brought. I remember feeling discouraged and disappointed at the end of 2018. This year, I can reflect on several accomplishments and feel good about them. I also know I have learned so much about myself, and I have developed a greater trust in my ability to find solutions to the problems and challenges I encounter.

I am excited when I think about the possibilities and promise that 2020 holds.

I will keep my readers posted, as I decide exactly how my coaching practice and online presence will evolve. I am clear that my focus will center on plant-based nourishment, empowered movement and the JustWind mindset. In fact, my 2020 motto is:

Eat. Move. Think. Health & Compassion.

Happy New Year!


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.


The First 10 Days: Proceeding as if Success Were Inevitable

Think about the last time you embarked on a big project or started working toward a major goal. How did you feel? Excited? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Calm? Confident? Maybe it was a combination of some or all those emotions, or, maybe it was a different feeling. Chances are, though, if it meant something to you, there were strong feelings involved.

In my last blog post, I announced for the first time that I am writing a book. At the time I wrote that post, I had several pages of notes and a working title, but I hadn’t officially started writing it. That changed over the last 10 days, when I developed a comprehensive outline on September 1 and then launched into content on Labor Day.

My Labor Day bike ride was full of reflection because launching into the writing feels momentous. I know there is a great deal of work ahead of me, and I have a lot to learn about publishing and even about the differences between writing a blog or an essay and writing a book. Yet, I realize that I feel calm and confident, as well as excited and encouraged. There are several reasons why.

I have a couple of mantras running through my head. One is Marie Forleo’s “Everything is figureoutable.” (I am really looking forward to reading her just-released book by that name.) I trust that I will be able to figure out the things I need learn about the publishing process. Somehow, I believe it will work out. I will learn what I need to learn. It helps me to remember that there are many, many books in existence and that all authors were once first-time authors. If they can do it, I can do it.

Another mantra that really helps me believe that I can do this is Ann Lamott’s reminder that “A page a day is a book a year.” My life is VERY full. As I said in my last post, I am choosing to keep that fullness during this season of life. I may choose differently at some point, but, right now, there is no “spare” time (whatever that is). So, I could let myself become overwhelmed and think, “How can I even think about writing a book when I am so busy?’ Instead, I am calmed and reassured by heeding Lamott’s advice and setting a rough goal of writing a page a day. That seems doable. Even so, I am making some modifications to that goal. For instance, there are some days when it may be truly impossible to write at all. So, I will average seven pages a week, making up for lost days on Saturday and/or Sunday. I will also use some days for editing sections. All in all, I have set a loose goal of completing the writing in a year.

Much of the time, it is wise to set a “firm” deadline or target date for completing a project or achieving a goal. This feels different, though, because it is important to me to keep this a joyful project. That doesn’t mean it will be stress free or blissful every moment, but I don’t think I have much to gain by adding time pressure. I realize that there could be reasons to tighten up my deadline, as I learn more about publishing. For right now, this feels good.

There is value for me in writing publicly about this goal. When you launch a new endeavor, do you share your goal with others, or do you keep it to yourself? I do both, depending on the goal. Some people need to talk about their goal because they need external accountability. That is not the case for me. As an Upholder, according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I respond favorably to both internal and external expectations, meaning that I keep promises I make to myself, as well as those I make to others. I don’t need to feel obligated to another person or group to make sure I do what I say I am going to do. If you haven’t taken Rubin’s quiz, I encourage you to use the link above and take it to help you determine if you would benefit from having some external accountability when you take on a big goal.

In his popular TED Talk, Derek Sivers explains that there is some evidence that talking about our goals makes it less likely that they will be achieved because we experience a surge of satisfaction just by talking about them. There is gratification because we receive social acknowledgement when people respond positively to our pursuit of a goal. He recommends either not talking about our goals or talking about them in ways that minimize gratification. Instead of saying, “I am going to lose 10 pounds,” you could tell a friend or a coach, “I really want to lose 10 pounds, and I need you to scold me if you see me eating something I shouldn’t.” From the first time I heard or read this perspective on sharing goals, I was hesitant to buy in to it. It just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe that is because I am an Upholder. This may be a worthwhile consideration for those who have a different tendency. What has been your experience? Do you benefit from the accountability of sharing a goal, or have you experienced the phenomenon Sivers describes?

My husband Kenny has talked about how he felt when he was training to ride his bike across the United States in 1995, four years before we met. He told all the important people in his life. He said doing so created pressure, and it got to the point when he was just ready to get started and stop talking about it. He doesn’t indicate that he would do anything differently, just that it felt like pressure because so many people knew what he was working toward. Maybe that was a form of accountability for him.

For me the value of sharing my goal is that it makes it feel real. I am putting it out there for the Universe to support me and to position myself to start living as someone who is writing a book. I could do that in secret, too, but putting it out there feels a bit courageous. Of course, there is no guarantee that I will be successful according to any particular definition of success, whether that is completing the manuscript, getting published or earning money from my book. Yet, I feel that I am honoring myself and my vision by stating my ambition and letting the world know about this aspect of my life.

In general, I like beginnings. They feel hopeful and loaded with possibility. That is how launching into my book writing feels. It reminds me of how I feel at the beginning of a long bike ride, early on a weekend morning, when there is a flurry of excitement in my belly as I imagine the adventure the ride could become. Do you experience a similar rush of excitement when you begin working toward a goal? How we channel that feeling makes a difference. It could be recognized as either excitement or fear because the neurological response is very similar.

What strategies do you use to position yourself for success in your big goals and dreams?

How do you stay calm and avoid overwhelm?

I recommend a calming mantra, like “Everything is figureoutable.” I also recommend breaking down a big project into bite-sized bits. If you need help doing that, a coach or trusted friend could serve as a guide to creating a manageable plan. Depending on your goal, scheduling time to work on your project may be a critical component.

Exercise is a longtime lifestyle for me. I always schedule it into my week and know when I will exercise and what I will do (ride my bike, practice yoga, strength train, etc.) each day. It is too important to leave to chance.  I am not formally scheduling my writing at this time. I am going to see how my “page-a-day” strategy works. I might reassess scheduling, if I find that I am not making the progress I desire.

It is also worth considering whether talking about your goal will help or hinder your chances of success. Do you need the accountability of a coach or workout buddy or friend? Do you need to publicly commit, so that you will feel embarrassed if you don’t follow through? Do you think you would be less likely to succeed if you experienced gratification by sharing what you are doing? Or, like me, is sharing your goal a way of honoring the validity of what you are doing and of welcoming the support of the Universe?

The next time you begin something big, take some time to consider what conditions best position you to achieve what you set out to achieve. In my health coach training, we were encouraged to “proceed as if success were inevitable.” Part of that is to start with the right conditions in place. Let me know how I can support you in living with no regrets by helping you establish the right circumstances and strategies for accomplishing what you what to accomplish. (sheri@justwindcoach.com)


Sankalpa

When I awoke around 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to use Insight Timer for a guided meditation to try to quiet my mind. I chose a yoga nidra meditation for rest & sleep, by Diana Warlick.  In the meditation, Warlick introduced the concept of “sankalpa.” I was intrigued by what she said about it—probably too intrigued, given that I was trying to go back to sleep. While the meditation was relaxing, hearing about sankalpa for the first time was energizing, rather than sleep-inducing. I wanted to know more. So, immediately upon rising, after my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I looked up the concept of sankalpa and found an excellent article by Kelly McGonigal, in Yoga International.

In my first reading, I learned enough to understand that sankalpa is somewhere between a life purpose and an intention. This reminded me of an idea from Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s  Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being—that of an overarching umbrella goal, or theme, that each of us needs in our lives as a guiding aspiration that informs every choice. After reading McGonigal’s article and several other sources, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I feel like I have a better understanding of sankalpa and how it differs from a theme, purpose, mission or goal.

I benefit from having discerned how all these concepts, as well as my deepest values, inform my life. Over the past week, sankalpa has become a meaningful addition to my regular reflections.

I haven’t been able to identify the primary source, but I found Richard Miller quoted in several articles (including McGongial’s) as saying, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer. It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”

According to McGonigal, Miller also teaches that sankalpa involves three types of listening: 1) having the courage to hear the message behind our deep desires, 2) welcoming and honestly reflecting on the message and 3) being willing to act in accordance with the message we receive. All these stages of listening are best accomplished from a place of mindfulness, such as can be achieved in meditation. Personally, I also find the bike to be an outstanding place to hear the true callings of my heart and spirit.

As I have learned to do with intentions over the years, it is important to state the sankalpa in the present tense. Just like intentions, when we use the present tense, we operate from a place of abundance and trust that we already have all that we need. This is far more empowering than operating from a place of lack and need.

One of my favorite concepts in the reading I did about sankalpa is Rod Stryker’s teaching that we are all both being and becoming, universal and unique. He explains that there are two parts to our soul or spirit, called atman in the Vedic tradition. Atman means “essence.” The two parts are para atman—“supreme, highest or culmination”—and jiva atman—“individual or personal.” So, the para atman is the part of our spirit that is being—who we already are. It is universal. The jiva atman is who we are becoming—our unique destiny. I love Stryker’s exhortation to “Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

I think this is a wonderful aspiration—to live contentedly in the knowledge that we already have all that we need to fully live our deepest calling, while we take the actions and put in the work that will allow us to live that calling. It is a very comforting and encouraging idea to me.

So, my reading of the teachings about sankalpa lead me to aspire to a sankalpa that takes into consideration both states—the being and the becoming, the universal and the unique. Because there is an element of becoming, I must remember that my sankalpa will likely be a dynamic, evolving truth.

As I pondered my sankalpa on the bike last weekend, I felt called to this truth: “I am a unique expression of the Divine Mystery, contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world with every thought, word and action I choose.” I will sit with this in my mindfulness practice and on the bike regularly to discern if and/or when my sankalpa needs to evolve.

I am excited and energized by new ideas that cause me to think. Sankalpa is one of those ideas, and I am grateful for my nocturnal introduction to it. Despite the sleep disruption to which it contributed by igniting my mind, learning about sankalpa is a gift because it is a new instrument to assist my aspiration to live my Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life.

Sankalpa will be an additional centering tool for me. My core values—compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness—underlie everything I do. Sankalpa helps to remind me where those values initiate—from my para atman, the universal part of me that is being—and to what action those values call me—my jiva atman, the part of me that is becoming, living my unique destiny.

In addition to my core values and theme, my purpose, mission and priorities guide my decisions and my actions. Sankalpa is related to all these, providing a deep, solid foundation, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ it to enhance my growth and guide my evolution.