My Top 5 Tips for Cultivating a Mindset to Accomplish What You Want to Accomplish and Live with No Regrets

This post is the second in a series of “Top 5” posts, in which I share my best tips and most important practices for developing the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what we want to accomplish and live with no regrets. We get one chance to live this life. Let’s make it the grandest life we are capable of living!

In the last couple years, I have become increasingly aware of the critical importance of mindset in helping me move through life with more power, clear purpose and grateful joy. Our mindset consists of the established beliefs and attitudes we have toward life. One of the mantras I have used for years acknowledges the strength of mindset in our lives, even though I don’t use that word in it:

“My thoughts shape my perception, determine my actions and behavior and create the life I envision.”

This is a mantra I developed, based on inspiration from writing and quotes that had resonated with me. This mantra has meant so much to me. It has helped calm and center me. It has brought me peace. It has strengthened me. Even before I recognized it as a statement of the power of mindset, the mantra served to shape mine.

In her terrific book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal teaches the concept of “mindset interventions.” She says that the best mindset interventions involve being exposed to a new way of thinking, engaging in practice and application of the different way of thinking and teaching others the new perspective. Her whole book was a form of mindset intervention of this life-changing concept: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” This idea and the mindset intervention her book produced helped me realize that most of the stress in life comes from things that have meaning to us, with work and family being top. To eliminate all stress would be to eliminate all meaning. The key is to look at stress differently and realize that we can choose to grow through it, as well as to observe it, without getting completely sucked in by it. While this is easier said than done, viewing stress this way is much more helpful and empowering than viewing myself as a helpless victim of it. This is an example of the power of mindset.

Here are my top five tips for cultivating a mindset that positions you to accomplish the things that matter, so that you can live free of regrets:

I have become increasingly clear that my mindset is critical to my success or failure, when it comes to bringing big dreams to life and achieving goals that matter to me—the things that I will regret if I don’t do. Big dreams and goals can be intimidating, and they require digging deep into the reserves of our determination, resolve and resilience. Getting to, or repeatedly returning to, the mental and emotional place necessary to accept the challenges to make these things happen won’t occur without a mindset of self-efficacy and trust—in ourselves, in the Universe, in the basic goodness of life.

My collection of quotes
  1. Adopt a mantra. This can be a word, a phrase or a sentence that you devise, or it can be a quote that is meaningful for you. I use a combination, and I vary them regularly. There are some, like the one above, that are tried and true and that I use at some point (or at several points) just about every day. Others may be with me for a moment, a day or a season of life. Words are very meaningful and powerful for me. I have a collection of quotes that I have been growing for 18 years. I am on my sixth formerly blank book, with pages covered, front and back, in quotes I have collected from a wide range of sources. I find a lot of them in the books I read. I sometimes record them from webinars or podcasts. Sometimes an individual or a sign or a t-shirt strikes me, and I write down the quote. Some of my quotes are from well-known thought leaders. Others are from more obscure authors. Some are my own creations or words that come to me in a dream or upon awakening. I refer to my quotes several times, every single day. I travel with my current book, so that I have at least some of them with me, even when I am Biking Across Kansas. These quotes are my most sacred texts. You may find your mantras in more traditional sacred books or in prayers. You may have one, or you may rely on many, like I do, but I encourage you to adopt a mantra as a centering mechanism, something that can help you to return to the mindset you desire to embrace and embody. Personally, I like to focus on a mantra at transitions—upon awakening, before exercising, before getting in the shower, before driving, when I turn off my booklight to go to bed, etc. When I choose a mantra (usually at semi-random) before a bike ride or drive or shower—some time when I can think—I may ponder it deeply for several minutes or longer. Other times, it may just provide momentary focus that helps me remember what matters to me. Either way, reflecting on a mantra is one of the most valuable tools for cultivating a mindset that allows me to behave in the way I want to behave and stay focused on achieving my goals.
  2. Meditate. There are many ways to meditate, and I used to believe that I couldn’t do it. However, for well over a year a now, I have had a consistent morning mindfulness practice that includes meditation. My advice is to keep it manageable. Realize that anything is progress. Generally, my morning meditation is between five and 20 minutes, depending on the available time. At its most basic level, meditation is simply stilling your mind to be in the present moment. It is as simple as:
    • Sitting or lying comfortably with a fairly straight spine. You don’t need to be cross-legged, on a meditation cushion; you just need to be comfortable.
    • Closing your eyes or gazing gently at the floor in front of you.
    • Focusing on your breathing. I usually focus on the feeling of the air as it moves in and out of my nostrils.
    • If your mind wanders (and it will), simply notice and return your attention to your breath. I took a mindfulness course last fall, and one of the most helpful ideas I gleaned from it was to imagine sitting by a stream and to picture my thoughts as falling leaves. When I become aware of a thought, I watch it land on the water and simply float downstream. I use that technique to return to my breath.
  3. Implement rituals. Rituals are key for maintaining a beneficial mindset. These tips I am listing are not mutually exclusive. This is because, while each of these ideas is effective on its own, there is synergy when they are put together or used throughout the day. My rituals often reflect this. Rituals help me to feel that all is right with the world. They remind me of what matters, what I want to accomplish and how I want to behave. Here are some of the rituals I use daily:
    • Finding my mantras and/or quotes for reflection
    • Upon awakening, naming three things to which I am looking forward in the upcoming day
    • My morning mindfulness practice
    • Breathing exercises when stressed and before I eat
    • Journaling nightly, including my “3 Good Things” journaling (I also do this mentally throughout the day, if I am feeling stressed, asking myself, “What are three good things that have happened so far today?)
    • A bedtime series of fascial release movements
  4. Follow thinkers who inspire you. Read books by authors whose message supports your mission. Listen to podcasts. Listen to audiobooks. Watch videos. If possible, attend conferences, workshops or lectures. Any of these can serve as a booster shot for your resolve. Some of the current thought leaders whom I use to support my desired mindset are:
  5. Cultivate gratitude. My “3 Good Things” ritual is one of the ways I cultivate gratitude, but I have found that intentionally looking for the positive gives us so many more things for which to be grateful. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “I heard someone say once that all our life experiences are either lessons or gifts—that we either learn from our daily experiences or they are simply blessings to be treasured and appreciated. I like that. It means that every moment is an opportunity to grow or to be grateful (or both!).” This perspective is an excellent example of maintaining a winning mindset by using gratitude. I consciously notice and feel awe throughout the day for my countless blessings. Doing this instantly shifts my mindset back to a more helpful place, if it has started to stray.

Try these five suggestions for cultivating a mindset to set yourself up for living with no regrets. It is not a one-and-done endeavor. I find that it takes daily attention, but each dose of mindset intervention, using the things I list above, takes me farther down the road in the direction of my big dreams, even if the steps (or pedal strokes) are slow and plodding at times.

If you would like help cultivating the mindset you need to live the way you want to live and to help ensure that you are living with no regrets, schedule a complimentary call, using this link.

“How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and do what really matters.” –Stephen R Covey

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.

The Bike Is Where I Remember Who I Am

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

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

The bike is where I remember who I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that.”

“But I was only in my late 70s when I did that.” When I heard those words, I knew this chance encounter was even more special than I had initially realized.

I wanted to write this post the minute I got off my bike on Sunday, because I was so pumped about meeting Dale, but life has been very full, so it had to wait a couple days.

I look forward to my longer weekend rides all week. Work and family obligations encroached on my time this past weekend, and I anticipated Sunday morning’s ride feeling frustrated that I would not be able to ride as far as I would like. However, I was determined to make the ride a positive experience and celebrate the miles I would get.

Empowered movement combines mindset and movement. Before I get on the bike (or practice yoga, do strength training, go for a walk, etc.), I choose a quote on which to reflect and set an intention for the ride. On this ride I decided that I would reflect on my quote and repeat some mantras and affirmations each time I turned a different direction.

One of the advantages of riding on quiet, rural roads is that I can talk out loud most of the time. Each time I turned a corner, I spoke my quote, some related affirmations and other words that came to my mind. It was all very stream-of-consciousness. I felt more inspired and energized each time I voiced my empowering words.

I was excited by the time I stopped for a bathroom break 23 miles into my ride. As I came out of the bathroom on a rail trail just off the road where I was riding, an older man rode up and propped his bike against a park bench. We greeted each other, and then he said, “I see you all the time on 21st Street. We are usually going opposite directions, and I say to myself, ‘There is the lady on the white Fuji, and she goes WOOSH!’” He introduced himself as Dale, and we shook hands.

We talked about how lucky we are to have great areas to ride and about various organized rides we have done. He said he had seen me riding with my son on the Wicked Wind this year, a ride in May, where it was pouring rain. We commiserated about how cold we got on the Wicked Wind. He told me about riding the Katy Trail and how well-supported that ride was. We were just two cyclists, enthusiastically sharing stories and our mutual love for cycling.

I asked Dale if he had ever done Biking Across Kansas, which I ride every year. This is when the conversation took an amazing turn.

Dale said, “No, I have never done BAK, but my brother and I rode across Kansas in four days. (BAK is an 8-day ride, often with multiple days in the 70-90-mile range.) But, I was only in my late 70s when I did that. I’ll be 90 in two days.”

Holy smokes!!!!!

Dale told me that he started riding at age 71, when he purchased a $10.00 bike at a garage sale. He said, “I went for a ride and thought, ‘This is fun!’”  He bought many bikes after that, including some very nice ones, but said he had trimmed his bike stable from seven to two, just in the last few weeks.

“Until I was 85, I rode 7,000-7,500 miles a year,” he told me. (I ride 4,000-4,500 miles a year, and that is quite a bit.) “Now, I only ride 3,000-3,500.” Still, not too shabby for a nonagenarian!

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said. “I don’t take any medicine, and that’s pretty good for my age.”

No kidding!

Then, he said, “I’m kind of a health nut, too. My wife and I have been vegetarian since 1951.” I said, “That’s awesome! I’m vegan.” “To be honest,” he said, “we eat vegan all the time, except when a relative is trying to be nice and makes us mac & cheese because they know we don’t eat meat. When that happens, we’ll eat it. But, otherwise, we eat vegan.”

We talked for several more minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Despite our age difference, we clearly understood each other.

Finally, we parted ways because we were heading different directions. I was excited and energized as I got back on my bike, really uplifted by our conversation.

Then, it hit me. Dale was a gift from the Universe, helping to affirm that I am doing the right work with my coaching practice, including my free Facebook group. My mission is to teach the lifestyle practices that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world. Some of the key pillars of what I teach (and practice in my own life) are mindfulness, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement. Dale is the embodiment of living and aging with power and purpose.

And, seriously, what are the odds of running into a nearly-90-year-old, nearly-vegan cyclist on this particular ride, where I was putting so much energy into manifesting the conditions I want to create in my life . .  . in KANSAS?! He had apparently noticed me for years, but we had never talked until that day.

One of my mantras on that ride and since was, “I am grateful that I am attracting exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, for exactly the right reasons.”

As I pedaled north, I knew, really knew, that Dale was one of my people—a true gift from the Universe to encourage me to continue working toward my goals.

I am grateful for Dale and look forward to seeing him again. Meeting him was amazing! My only regret is that I didn’t think to ask him if we could take a selfie together. I have a great, warm picture of him in my mind, though. What a gift!

Equanimity in the Wind

We Kansas cyclists know wind.

My original blog post explained the inspiration behind the JustWind name and philosophy. Justwindmusings.com blog continues to evolve into my coaching practice website, justwindcoach.com. I was encouraged last week, when I reconnected with an acquaintance with whom I had had no contact in nearly a decade. Out of the blue, without knowing the name of my coaching practice or my blog, she told me that she has always remembered our conversation when I explained the concept of adopting the perspective that life’s challenges are “just wind.” Her recollection helped validate for me the benefits of applying the “just wind” reframe in the face of challenges and difficulties.

Winds in Kansas were so strong on Tuesday that my son’s track meet was postponed. This is a reminder that, even when viewing challenges as “just wind,” there are times when we must stop and regroup. Occasionally, doing so is both prudent and necessary. Sometimes we encounter an obstacle so big that it causes us to step back and adjust. The important this is that we do get back on track and that we take from it what we choose to aid in future growth and progress on our path.

Regaining Equanimity

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”—Marcus Aurelius

Because the winds of life will blow, sometimes even knocking us down or pushing us off course, it is crucial that we have strategies to help return to equanimity, which is a state of calm steadiness, even in the face of chaos around us. Here are some of the strategies that I use personally and that I teach my coaching clients:

  1. Mindfulness: To me, this means being in the present, rather than being caught up in the frenzy of past regrets or future worries. Practicing mindfulness allows us to think before we act, to remember our priorities and to make conscious choices. It is a decision to act with purpose and to remain in alignment with our values. I see mindfulness as having at least two parts—a dedicated time for practicing mindfulness (Morning works well for me.) and anchors and rituals to return to mindfulness at key times (such as meals) throughout the day.
  2. Breathing exercises: While breathing exercises are part of my morning and pre-meal mindfulness practices, I also employ them throughout the day in moments of stress, times when I need or want increased focus and when I want to reset my mood and mindset. Noticing the breath, intentionally deepening and slowing the breath and practicing particular breathing patterns can all facilitate a return to equanimity.
  3. Empowered movement: Setting an intention for exercise and reflecting on that intention throughout a movement session often evokes feelings of relaxation, peace, gratitude and even joy or euphoria, after a long, stressful day. I can literally feel the weight of the day lift from my body on a good bike ride, where I am really focused on my intention for the ride. Any kind of physical activity can serve this purpose.
  4. Powerful words: I have mentioned in previous posts how much I love quotes. I have collected them for years and refer to my volumes (I just started my sixth blank book!) at several points throughout the day to find words that speak to me in the moment. If I do this before an opportunity to think—like a bike ride, drive or shower—I will contemplate the quote or use it as a mantra during that activity. It is amazing what insight can come from this practice. It often allows me to reset and steady myself in the face of life’s winds.

Appreciating the Winds

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”—Elisabeth Kubler Ross

As difficult as it can be in the moment, we have much to gain, and a better chance at achieving equanimity, if we can find appreciation for the winds of life that batter us. It may not be so much that we appreciate the winds or challenges themselves, but that we recognize that they are a big part of what makes us who we are.

I find that riding into 35- or 40-mph wind for hours, while not exactly fun, is much more bearable when I remind myself that the winds are making me stronger and increasing my mental toughness. I often draw back on previous experience facing brutal headwinds or holding my line in the assault of crosswinds. I tell myself, “This is tough, but it is not as tough as the Satanta to Ashland day (an infamous day on Biking Across Kansas 2006).” I finished that day (and then sank, exhausted, onto the school bathroom floor to nurse my 1-year-old son), so I know that I have it in me to survive other ordeals.

We become stronger when we face the winds and survive.

Not only that, but we are shaped and changed and made unique by our difficult experiences. Acknowledging this is not the same as asking for these trials. Like the wind in Kansas, though, they will occur. When we can appreciate them for the lessons we learn and the strength we gain, we are better able to handle them. We become more adept at staying upright and at keeping on course amid the challenges.

Adopting regular rituals and practices that allow us to return to equanimity positions us on a peaceful platform to reflect on, and benefit from, the growth that we can achieve through courageously pedaling forward in life’s wind.

Our Habits=Our Lives

January is a great time to reflect on the direction we choose for our lives in the coming year and beyond. My process for doing that begins with a deep look at how my daily actions are serving my values, purpose, personal and business missions and vision for my life.

While each of those facets could be the subject of at least one blog post, my goal here is to explore the ways that our habits shape, direct and even create our lives.

“If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again . . . When I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life and my capacity to live. If these patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” —Christopher Alexander

Dictionary.com defines “habit” as:

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

Thoughtful consideration of that definition illuminates the importance of habits in our lives. When our patterns of behavior, of nourishing and moving our bodies, of speaking, of consuming information, of treating humans and nonhumans in the world and of an almost limitless assortment of other possible actions are leading us in the direction we want to go in our lives, the path ahead of us becomes easy to follow. It no longer requires effortful resolve. It is just what we do.

Conversely, it is easy to be led mindlessly away, little by little, from our desired destination, if our habits do not serve what we truly want to create in our lives.

As we begin to move through this new year, Chris Brogan provides us with a winning strategy:

“My great years are built on keeping a bigger mission in front of me, but looking at my daily actions as the molecules of that mission.”

He clearly recognizes the necessity of attending to the small daily habits to achieve the bigger goal.

I make more effective choices when I approach my daily routine mindfully and stop to consider whether a choice of action or an ingrained habit advances either my personal or business mission.

As a journalist for National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn the secrets of the communities in which the world’s longest-lived people thrive. His journey led him to write The Blue Zones, so that he could share the longevity practices he had uncovered.

The book made an impression on me when I read it several years ago, and I was reminded of it late last year when I came across The True Vitality Test, which offered a snapshot of my likely life expectancy, contrasted with my healthy life expectancy and my possible life expectancy.

Although I consider myself very healthy, and I have recently earned my certification as a health coach, I was startled by the 10-year gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy.

I recognized that, to serve my purpose and values, I needed to adjust my personal mission. It quickly became:  To close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. (My next blog post will elaborate on this concept, as well as on related programs that I will offer through my coaching practice.)

My personal mission to close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy serves as a gauge to assess the foods I eat daily, the way I eat those foods, my stress level, the amount and quality of my sleep and other habits that govern my life.

If I determine that my habits are not carrying me closer to my mission, I am in a powerful position to choose actions that will and practice them regularly so that they become habits.

My mission as a health and habit change coach is to teach the lifestyle practices (habits) that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.

The small actions, or “molecules,” as Chris Brogan calls them, that shape our days ultimately shape our lives.

Keeping our mission in the front of our minds enhances our ability to make positive daily choices.

One way I do this is by meditating on my missions in my mindfulness practice every day. For me, this is just a matter of reciting my missions in my head (along with other important guiding recitations) while I am in a state of focused calm.

Empowered movement is an important component of both my self-care and my coaching practice. Empowered movement means exercising from a place of clear intention and using the time and space that movement can create to speak to myself in an empowering way. Along with a quote or mantra that I choose for a bike ride, walk, yoga practice, or other form of exercise, I also remind myself of my missions and the other guides that help me stay focused.

I anchor my missions for myself by posting them near my computer at work and in my “organization station” (a closet I have claimed as my own) at home. I see these and other reminders frequently, and, in the case of my computer at work, somewhere that I may encounter stressors that threaten to steer me off course. These anchors help me persevere on the path that I have chosen.

My daily choices are not perfect, but I am much more likely to choose actions and cultivate habits that serve my missions when I remind myself of them frequently. Essentially, these practices that I have in place are, themselves, molecules of my mission, just as they guide the other habits that stack up to create the big picture of my life.

Will Durant summarized some of Aristotle’s teachings by explaining that the philosopher believed,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It is rare that a single act defines our lives or determines whether we live the missions we have discerned for ourselves. However, what we do repeatedly certainly does have a significant effect on the masterpiece we are creating through our lives.

When we hold our mission in mind and choose our actions based on a commitment to serving that mission, those actions will become habits, and those habits will add up to excellence.

See future posts for my practices around clarifying and honoring my values, purpose, mission, motivations and vision. In the meantime, pay close attention to your habits because they determine your life.

Reflections on the First 100 Days of 2016

When I completed my #100HAPPYDAYS challenge with the turn of the new year, I committed to myself to undertake two new 100-day practices. Last Saturday marked the 100th day of 2016. As I was on my bike that morning, I reflected on the first 100 days and my progress toward the goals I set for myself.

First, because I finished Michael Greger’s How Not to Die at the same time the new year was dawning, I committed to myself to use, and strive to complete each day, the goals in his wonderful Daily Dozen app. Although I wasn’t perfect in my completion of the nutrition and exercise goals set by the app, I am very satisfied with my success in this aspect of my first 100 days. Eating according to the Daily Dozen goals has become an engrained habit that has improved my physical, mental and emotional well-being. I am confident that this will remain a daily part of my life.

In addition to striving to eat each component of the Daily Dozen (like three servings of beans, one serving of cruciferous vegetables and two more servings of greens daily), I also internalized the practice of thoroughly maximizing the consumption of green-light (whole, plant-based) foods and minimizing the consumption of yellow- or red-light foods. I was close to this in a lot of areas anyway, but there were a couple of types of food that consistently had a hold on me.

At times I ate a high-volume of (reasonably healthful, always vegan) energy bars. In these early days of 2016, I have not consumed an energy bar. There are certainly worse things I could eat, but the added sugar (even less-refined sugars like agave nectar and brown rice syrup) had a tighter grasp on me that I acknowledged for years. The bars I ate were comfort foods, often consumed in stressful times throughout the day. Replacing these admittedly convenient snacks with fruit, vegetables, whole grains or nuts has been easier than I expected, and I find that I am often less hungry throughout the day than when I was eating one, two, three or even sometimes four of these highly caloric bars throughout a work day.

Additionally, vegan dark chocolate held me in its sway. At one point, when my son was two and we had recently moved, I realized to my horror that I was completely addicted to chocolate. I awoke thinking about how to get it, and I would panic if my supply ran low. I cut myself off from any form of chocolate for three years. Then, I thought I was safe to return to eating it. Sometimes I was. But sometimes stress got the better of me, and I would eat much more than I planned. A dependence crept back in, if somewhat moderated from the dark period years prior.

With Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, I am striving toward nutritional ideals, not running from fear and controlled by dependence on comfort foods, and I have found that this has healed my relationship with food. Many might be surprised (at least I think) to learn that I have often had a fairly disordered relationship with food. It was not an eating disorder exactly, but an unhealthy expectation for food to comfort, soothe and fix me. There have been periods (especially in recent years) when I felt guilty every time I ate. I constantly disappointed myself by not living up to my expectations around eating. The first 100 days of 2016 helped me to release my disordered thinking, like my body better (although I still have room for improvement) and feel truly good about almost everything I am putting into my body. Food should nourish me. Period. It can’t fulfill any other emotional need or fill a void. The habits I cultivated over the first 100 days have put me on the path of true nutrition and healthy, guilt-free enjoyment of nature’s abundance.

My second goal for the first 100 days was to make writing progress every day. That goal has proven to be more elusive, but, as I reflected on my bike on the 100th day a week ago, I think it has evolved into something bigger and arguably more valuable. What I have realized is that not everything fits into my life every day. That is the bottom line. I have to make choices, and I have to give myself room to breathe. In my ideal world, I would ride, read and write to my heart’s content daily. But, I have to pay the bills, so work consumes my time and my mental energy more often than I would like. And, I am mom to an 11 year old who is increasingly involved in activities (but nothing like some kids). And I am a wife and part of an extended family. And I have to sleep. Nourishing my body takes time and planning. So, some days I get to make progress on my writing. Other days, I think about it and wish I could do more, but have to make a choice.

My encounter with B6 toxicity and small fiber peripheral neuropathy last year was a wake-up call. At base, it was the result of poor stress management and feeling like I had to find a way to fit everything into my life. I tried to do that through over-supplementation, and it had negative results for my body. It scared me because I realized that my attempts to mask my stress had led to something that could have done permanent damage. So, I had to make changes. And make choices. My mantra and my guiding beacon has been Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, “You do what you can do as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.”

Those words have been such comfort and salvation for me. They remain posted above my computer at work, and I continue to get better at living them. I have had to adjust my expectations at work, as I have in my writing and the rest of my life. I no longer demand of myself that I get through all my email daily. I already give up almost every single lunch period, eating and working at my desk most days of most months. I finally gave myself permission to go home even if I had many unopened emails in my inbox. When I am booked with appointments, back to back, all day, every day, for months, it is simply not possible to fit everything else into the serendipitous minutes when I finish an appointment early or a student runs late or (jump for joy!) no-shows. I enjoy my job, but I have had to adjust my expectations, and I have made it a practice to manage students’ expectations. I let them know that it may take me a couple days to get back with them when they contact me, but I assure them that I will respond, and I do. Ideally, I would get to everybody every day. But I can’t and remain healthy.

Writing is the same. I make it enough of a priority when I can that I keep up a semi-regular practice of progress, but I have released the guilt of not accomplishing my stated goal every day. That outcome of my 100 days has probably been more significant than the prolific production of written content would have been. I have learned (and am still learning) better balance and patience with myself.

I have had to apply Gilbert’s words and the internalization of them to other aspects of my life as well. I fall prey to worry that dear friends may feel hurt that I can’t make it to all the events and activities I would like. I have to push aside concerns that I may be perceived as neglecting causes that are deeply important to me. Ultimately, I have to do what fits. I have to prioritize inner peace over constant activity. I have to know my introverted self and how much stimulation and interaction I can handle until downtime is a must.

There was a long period in my life when one of my biggest fears was “settling” in any arena. That concern still arises from time to time. Have I sold myself short in terms of my temporal and financial investment in my education? Do others think so? Am I limiting my success because I am afraid to take risks or to make sacrifices? Have I been inconsistent? Indecisive? A disappointment to myself or others? There are times when those questions and concerns still seep through the cracks in the walls I have erected to shield myself from them. Ultimately, though, my 100 days and last year’s health scare have made it clear that I simply have to take care of myself. Trusting my instincts regarding personal limits is a vital aspect of that self-care.

I feel good about my first 100 (now +7) days of 2016, and I feel ready to move forward in a way that maximizes my nutrition and allows me to find a measure of satisfaction with my writing progress and the expectations I have for it in my life. Additionally, the lessons I have learned through the 100 days practices will continue to nurture me in every component of my life. I am grateful for the #100HAPPYDAYS challenge and for the habits and method it has instilled. I fully intend to move forward with those lessons in my toolbox for personal growth.