Think Better to Live Better

“The highest drive we have is to act consistently with how we perceive ourselves—it is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.” –Jim Kwik

The way we think about ourselves in any situation matters because we tend to live up—or down—to that perception.

Neal Donald Walsch said, “Every act is an act of self-definition.” I agree, and I think it can be applied in two directions.

Our behaviors define us. They tell us and the world who we are.

But our self-perception—or self-definition—also determines the behaviors we choose.

Psychologists use the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the inner conflict people experience when they act in a way that contradicts what they believe to be true about themselves.

As Jim Kwik mentioned, we are driven to act consistently with our self-perception. So, cognitive dissonance can occur when we either have a low perception of ourselves and strive to elevate our lives or when we have a high perception of ourselves and act in a way that doesn’t jibe with that perception.

This is why it is so important to upgrade our self-perception.

I have shared the story of the JustWind mindset which holds that we have the power and freedom to choose our perspectives and acknowledges that we can harness that power to live the life we want to live and make the difference we are meant to make.

Just like the mindset intervention that I experienced when my friend David answered my complaints about the wind with a shrug and the comment, “It’s just wind,” on 2002 Biking Across Kansas, sometimes we need a mindset intervention when it comes to our self-perception.

Here are 5 ways to create a mindset intervention and upgrade your self-perception.

  1. Act “as if.” Father of American psychology William James said, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” Sometimes we need to act in an elevated way in order to start perceiving a higher version of ourselves. Just as our self-perception determines the behaviors we choose, we can intentionally act in a way that is aspirational in order to allow ourselves to recognize that higher version as who we really are. Subconsciously, the actions follow the perception, but consciously—with intention—the perception can follow the actions.
  2. Visualize yourself acting as you want to act. Actions count most, but they may need a little boost. Visualizing yourself living the way you want to live can be very effective. Close your eyes and, either as part of your meditation practice, or as a practice all its own, do your best to really see and feel yourself acting at this higher level. What does it feel like? What does it look like? How do you feel about yourself? What does it create in your life? What doors will it open for you? Visualize it as vividly as possible.
  3. Write a letter to yourself. A great way to give yourself a mindset intervention to upgrade your self-perception is to write yourself a letter. Project yourself some distance into the future—maybe one year, five years, whatever feels right—but try to make it a time frame that is not so far off that you can’t fathom it. Write to yourself and congratulate yourself for all the work you have put in to accomplish your goals and elevate your quality of life. Make it as detailed as possible. Describe what you’ve done and how it has enhanced your life. Take your time writing it and reread it often.
  4. Teach someone else. As the saying goes, we often teach what we most need to learn. Help someone else level up their self-perception. Teach them these strategies. Tell them how you perceive them. As you teach and help someone else, watch your own self-perception increase.
  5. Surround yourself with people who lift you up. We can’t always control who is around us on a regular basis. This can be hard. We can definitely get dragged down be negative people who don’t bring out the best in us and aren’t trying to grow. Even if you can’t eliminate these negative people in your life, you can bring in some positive ones—in person and/or virtually. Social media has plenty of downsides, but it also can serve as a way to connect you with people who share your aspirations of living at a higher level. Join groups centered around the way you want to live and act. Listen to podcasts. Read books and blogs. Find ways to grow the positivity in your life and expose yourself to it often. Aspire to emulate these positive influences and see yourself in the same light.

None of these strategies will guarantee an upgraded self-perception, but all of them can help, especially when done on a regular basis.

This is important work because we become who we believe we are and who we believe we are capable of becoming.

Think better (about yourself) to live better.

“The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.” –William James

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A Fresh Perspective on Regret

As I have accumulated more and more evidence of how quickly life moves and of how short it really is, the specter of regret has loomed increasingly large in my life. The idea of looking back and wishing I had made different choices scares me. In one of the evolutions of my coaching practice, I even identified as a “No Regrets Coach.” I thought most other people must be as frightened as I was of ending up with regrets. Since that concept never gained traction, writing a blog post about regret may be risky or futile. Maybe there will be no interest.

Recently, though, I have been introduced to a fresh perspective that I find tremendously helpful. You might, too, so I decided to share my new insight.

My bike ride a couple Sundays ago started out pleasantly. I knew it was the calm before a front moved in, but I was happy to be out there enjoying my ride. I had had a rough track record of harassment by badly behaved humans and dogs (still the fault of their humans) over the previous couple weeks, but I was riding highly vetted roads on a Sunday morning, when it is generally quiet. Suddenly, just as I was really settling in to enjoy my ride, I spotted a dog ahead—large; black, with a white chest, and jumping out of his skin with excitement. He had clearly seen me before I saw him and was eagerly waiting for me to enter his chase zone.

After a really scary encounter the previous weekend with a different dog, I just couldn’t handle a confrontation. Abruptly, I made a U-turn in the middle of 247th Street. Realizing I was turning around and not wanting to lose this opportunity, the dog took off after me on a dead run. I hammered the pedals and blared my dog horn. It took two blasts, but the stronger second one stopped him in his tracks, stunned and confused, giving me the break I needed to watch him drift farther and farther back in my mirror. After that adrenaline surge, I switched directions and recalculated my route in my head.

Several miles later, “Hmm, is that a sprinkle I felt?”

A few more questionable sprinkles, and soon there was no wondering. Heavy mist settled upon me, coating my sunglasses and dripping off my helmet. On my altered route, I would make a pass by my house and resigned myself to ending my ride then, six miles short of my goal for the day, since the heavy mist was making it harder to see.

But then inspiration hit.

Not wanting to lose the moment, I rode right past my street and felt a surge of excitement as some ideas I had been pondering for a couple days really started to gel.

A few days earlier I had seen a Facebook post that Mel Robbins shared. It was a quote from Nakeia Homer:

“Forgive yourself for learning some things the hard way.”

I had no idea who Nakeia was (I have since learned.), but those words really spoke to me.

After seeing Mel Robbins’ shared post, I started tossing the concept around in my mind, but it was on my soggy, rerouted bike ride that I saw, through my mist-covered lenses, what the words really meant to me.

They offered a fresh perspective on regret.

For several years, in my quote collection, I have had Brene’ Brown’s quotes: “Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” and “’No regrets’ doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living with no reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.”

Those words must have struck me at the time I originally read them in Rising Strong because I recorded them in my quote book, but in the years since, I have resented them and rejected them. When I have landed on them while randomly select a quote for reflection, I have brushed them off and chosen something else.

Suddenly on that bike ride, alongside Nakeia Homer’s words in my head, I saw them in a different light.

I recognized that the feeling of regret—and my fear of it—is actually learning the hard way.

This is such a helpful perspective for me. I invite you to explore it, too.

It allows me to shine a compassionate light on a personal paradox. There are certain big decisions that I made years ago that I have, at times, viewed with a twinge (or more) of regret. The paradox, though, is that while the person I am today would not make the same choice as I did back then, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, if I had not made the choice I made back then.

On that wet bike ride, I realized that these regret-evoking decisions were opportunities to forgive myself for learning the hard way. Having made the choice I did propelled me down the road toward a greater understanding of the lesson I needed to learn.

Learning the hard way is still learning. It is valid and deserves to be recognized for the lessons and progress it brings.

What occurred to me on another bike ride last week is that learning the hard way may be incremental. That is okay, too. We make a decision, choose a direction, take an action. If the results of our movement are not what we hoped or expected, it is important to acknowledge that. With the acknowledgement that our decision or action didn’t lead to what we wanted, we can choose to forgive ourselves for learning the hard way and then make an informed decision about how to proceed. Sometimes the results of our next decision also may be disappointing. This is where the recognition that learning the hard way is sometimes incremental comes in. We move farther along our journeys with every decision, become more fully the people we are capable of becoming, and we forgive ourselves for—and release ourselves from the pain of—learning the hard way.

I have come to recognize another paradox around regret. This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but that attribution is disputed. I am not sure who actually said it first, but for a long time, I have taken it as a caution and held it to be true. Taking this fresh perspective on regret opened my mind to the paradox. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Regardless of the original author of those words, what I realized while pedaling with a push from a strong northwest wind was that it is not that simple. Everything we don’t do—whether by conscious choice or by the default of not choosing—means that we do something else. Every time we leave one action on the table, something fills the void. We may come to regret—and learn the hard way through—whatever fills the void. It may not be clear whether it is what we didn’t do or what we did instead that led to the disappointment, regret and, as long as we recognize it, learning.

I have always found forgiveness to be difficult, whether for myself or others. I have tried to understand it and to embrace it more openly, but it has been elusive much of the time. During my yoga practice last week, it occurred to me that, not only can I acknowledge regret as learning the hard way and forgive myself, but I can also more easily find my way to forgiving others when I recognize that we all learn the hard way.

That doesn’t mean that everything is excused. Some actions are just wrong and cruel, and I can’t begin to understand what is behind them, but we are all flawed works in progress (unless we have stagnated through hopelessness, callousness or deprivation). When I can look at people who have hurt me, but who still play a role in my life, and see that they, too, sometimes learn the hard way, it can open the door for me to forgive them for being flawed and still having lessons to learn.

The essence of the JustWind mindset is that we have the freedom and power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives. Viewing regret as a marker of learning the hard way and having the compassion to forgive ourselves for needing to learn that way in some (many) instances feels life changing. Instead of being stuck in a stew of regret, disappointment, shame and guilt, we can acknowledge the hard lesson for what it is, recognize that learning the hard way is still learning, compassionately forgive ourselves (or others) and choose to move forward in a way that serves us and our world more powerfully.

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JustWind Mindset in the Face of COVID-19

Throughout the surreal developments of the last couple weeks, I have doubted that there is anything of value I can provide—through my writing, through my coaching, through my online presence. I have thought, “Why bother?” because I have felt so overwhelmed by the news on COVID-19, by the abrupt transition to working from home (which I would love, under the right circumstances and with time to prepare and organize), the shock of K-12 school closures, the end of track and other spring sport seasons and the uncertainty and fear of the future. I made a significant investment in a business course just days before everything fell apart, but working on my business in any public way seems both insensitive and futile at this time. Still, I have to believe that we will get through this, that, collectively, we will be okay.

More than any other event that I can recall in my lifetime, it seems that we are all in the same boat. Certainly, some of us have more robust resources to cope. But we are all living this previously unimaginable reality that has so suddenly become ours.

Health and compassion are my themes. My goal is to dwell at the intersection of those two themes and to contribute to their growth in the world. So, how can I best do that in this interrupted life?

For my answer, I return to the roots of my blog that evolved to include my coaching practice and the book I am (still, despite this dramatic change of life) writing: the JustWind mindset. For those who are unfamiliar with the story behind the JustWind name, you can read my original blog post here. To give a brief recap, the concept originated in June 2002, on the last night of Biking Across Kansas, a cross-state bike ride that I love and in which I have participated since 1999. Kansas is windy. That is an undisputed fact. Every BAK has wind, but 2002 was particularly windy (even featuring a severe thunderstorm with 95-mph straight winds that shredded tents). The wind had beaten us up all week, and I was starting to get a cold. On the last evening, as I looked for our bags among those that had been unloaded from the luggage truck, I complained grumpily to my friend David about the wind. He shrugged and gently said, “It’s just wind.”

I had a moment of profound insight: I could choose to be miserable (even doing something I loved—cycling), or I could choose to recognize the challenge for what it was and keep turning the pedals to move forward and stay upright. I realized that I could do this, not just on the bike, but in every aspect of life. It was truly an awakening for me and one that has led to a great deal of (long and protracted and always-evolving) growth for me. Essentially, I realized that we have the power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives.

I decided that sharing this reminder is the primary value that I can add to the coping strategies for managing the disruption created by this pandemic. I am endeavoring to remember to engage the JustWind mindset as I make my way through these strange days. My effort is imperfect. I have had moments of crisis and extreme agitation. I panicked last week when I had to make a rushed 50-mile round trip to my office, when I heard that I may lose access entirely in this incredibly busy advising season that has suddenly transitioned to phone advising. I yelled at Logan later that evening when he kept throwing a plastic tumbler into the stainless-steel sink, noisily and unsuccessfully trying to land it inside another one (a version of the highly irritating bottle-flipping craze of a few years ago). He persisted when I asked him to stop, and I lost it. But, when I can remember, it helps.

We all have to find our own best ways of handling this, and I suspect that the issues are different for introverts and extroverts, but I will share some of my strategies and hope they help. Please share your own in the comments. We can learn from each other.

My husband Kenny reads COVID-19 news out loud what seems like approximately 23 hours a day. While I agree that it is important to stay informed, this wears on me. I am working primarily at home, Logan’s school is closed, and Kenny is on an indefinite hiatus from his work as a bus driver and groundskeeper for the school district. We are all suddenly together in what feels like a very small house for many hours a day. Logan would be on Xbox nonstop if we would let him. Kenny reads the news out loud to me. While I am working at home, while I am studying my business course, while I am writing (He is sleeping now.), he reads. While I am dialing the phone for my next student appointment, while I am tracking appointments, while I am responding to email, he reads.

These are the things I am doing to cope, to escape, to strive to thrive:

  • Empowered movement: For me, this consists of cycling about three evenings a week (Thank you, daylight savings time!) for 15-20 miles and building mileage on the weekend days. I rode 30 miles each day this weekend, despite cold, dreary conditions. A couple mornings a week, I do yoga (Yoga with Kassandra is my favorite.), strength training or Foundation Training. Training my body helps me to feel better physically and mentally and to feel stronger and be more resilient. It prepares me to face more effectively whatever comes my way.
  • Reading: My life is too full (even in this strange new world) to allow time for simply sitting and reading, but using skills I honed years ago as an undergraduate who worked full time and went to school at night, I read while I am getting dressed, washing dishes, folding laundry, brushing my teeth—every spare moment. I read over 60 books a year this way, and they help me stay sane and continue growing and evolving. They help a lot now. I just finished reading Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip & Dan Heath. It was very good, and I gleaned from it some useful decision-making strategies. After finishing it this morning, I started Deep Listening: A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind and Open Your Heart, by Jillian Pransky. Reading, like cycling, is a tremendous escape for me.
  • Meditation: My morning meditation practice, as well as some moving meditation on the bike, helps me stay grounded and centered. I incorporate breathing exercises and Kundalini yoga, and it starts my day from a place of peace and grace.
  • Plant-powered nourishment: Of course, I eat plants, not animals all the time, but it is even more important to be mindful that the food is nourishing and supporting my mental and physical health at this time. It is easy to want to eat just comfort food in this crazy situation, but I try to keep in mind the bigger picture. As I wrote this yesterday, I had just finished my breakfast smoothie. I included hemp seed, maca, turmeric and magnesium gluconate for extra nutritional support. This morning, I had Kashi and dry oatmeal with frozen berries and cherries, cocoa (full of antioxidants!), walnuts, vegan yogurt, ground flaxseed, maca, turmeric and magnesium gluconate. Breakfast is important, but so is everything we put into our mouths throughout the day.
  • Hope: As I said above, I have to believe that we will get through this. I do believe we will be changed. I hope the changes are for the better. Some of them may not be or may not feel like they are, but we can choose to grow through the changes. So, I am not relinquishing my goals, although I am giving myself some grace and adjusting the pace of my pursuit. I am still writing my book, writing blog posts, working my business course (but holding off on public-facing activities because pushing forward with those seems insensitive) and pursuing certification as a running coach. I am choosing to trust that everything will happen in the right time, in the way that it should.
  • Structure: All too suddenly, our days look different. Even if I have an ultimate goal of being able to work from home, I want it to be in circumstances I choose, not a situation thrust upon me, in my busiest time of semester, with no time to prepare thoughtfully and comfortably. So, I am creating a new structure for myself. I took time yesterday to establish a structure for Logan’s days because this cannot be perpetual spring break. He needs athletic (He has continued to run.), academic and household responsibilities each day. There will still be time for Xbox (although I have to admit that I absolutely hate that thing). Structure helps us to make sense of our days and make use of our time for productive activities.
  • JustWind Mindset: We don’t know how long this will last or how brutal it may get. On my bike, I literally have been blown off the road by the Kansas wind. I have felt many times like I am being pushed backward by headwind or could be knocked over by crosswind. I just keep turning the pedals (and, after some deep breaths, get back on the road after having been blown off). I am remembering all this and trying to apply it to COVID-19. It will change our days, our plans and our ways of life, but we can handle it. We just have to choose the empowered perspective that allows us to believe we can and then take action to do so.

As I said, I would love to see your comments about how you are striving to thrive during this pandemic. Please let us know.

I wish all my readers (and all the world) health, safety, happiness and peace in this scary and uncertain time. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Let’s follow the CDC and WHO, as well as local, recommendations, guidelines and orders. Let’s try to stop this thing as soon as we can, take what we learn and move forward powerfully. Blessings to all!

“The moment you accept responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you gain the power to change anything in your life.” –Hal Elrod


Change & Possibility

I am starting to write this post from the overlook to the pool at Heskett Center, while Logan is starting his lifeguard training. This feels like a moment of possibility and change. He hopes to get a job as lifeguard this summer. It is hard to believe that he is old enough! Where have 15 years gone? He was excited as we drove here this morning, and I love that. I want him to be excited about the possibilities for his future.

I feel on the brink of possibility, too. For the past year, I have struggled with clarity over my goals for my coaching practice. Some circumstances lately have reenergized me with a stronger sense of purpose for my practice. It has become clearer to me that what I want to accomplish is to help people who are motivated by health 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.

Toward that end, I have invested in some coaching and guidance of my own, and I am doing some work to further clarify next steps. I have a sense of what is next, but I am also open to inspiration and possibility. There are three components that I know I want to emphasize.

Plant-powered nourishment. The most compassionate way of feeding our bodies is also the most healthful. I don’t believe this is coincidental. Eating foods that don’t require someone to suffer or die undoubtedly creates more positive energy in our world than consuming the products of fear and violence. This is good for all of us. I want to help others discover how wonderful it is to eat delicious plant foods that are filled with fiber (only found in plants, not animals) and antioxidants.

Empowered movement. It feels good to move our bodies, and it serves our minds and spirits when we engage in physical activity that we enjoy. One important goal of my coaching practice is to help people find joy and enhance their lives through movement. Cycling (and previously running) has been an enormous part of my life and has contributed to the development of my character and to so much personal growth. I see what physical activity does for Logan and for others of all ages, and I want to help people realize how much empowered movement can enrich their lives.

JustWind mindset. I started this blog in 2015 with a post about the JustWind story. We have the power to choose our perspectives, and the ones we choose shape our lives. I want to help people understand this, through both my coaching practice and my in-progress book. Realizing this has made such a difference in my peace of mind, my happiness and my stress management. Taking responsibility for our own lives creates possibility. When we decide that we are not victims of the winds of fate but can push forward despite resistance and challenge and disappointment, a whole world of opportunity opens. Meditation is one method for cultivating the JustWind mindset that I personally use and can share with people who aspire to live from this happier, more empowered position.

So, as Logan starts lifeguard training today and track practice tomorrow, and I begin the program in which I have invested, possibility looms large. It feels like an adventure. Really, that’s what life should be. It has not always been (and is still not always) easy for me to view it this way. Doing so requires an intentional effort to release anxiety and make room for inspiration.

It is an ongoing work in progress for me, but it makes life so much more fun and so much less stressful when I can remember to live this way. I look forward to helping others recognize and incorporate these principles, too, through my writing and through my coaching practice.

Let’s see what we can make of these next several months of 2020!


6 Key Ingredients in My Healthiest Year+ Ever

There are so many wonderful ways we can take care of ourselves. What a gift that we can continue to learn new techniques and practices throughout our lifetimes!

I gave a presentation a couple days ago on self-care for academic advisors at the University where I work. I addressed inherent job risks for advisors and the importance of setting boundaries in our lives (not just important for advisors!). I also shared some of my favorite self-care practices, including some that I have discussed in previous blog posts, like square breathing, 3 Good Things, quotes, mantras exercise and meditation. It was fun for me to reflect on many of the things that have been most helpful in elevating the quality of my life.

I am grateful to enjoy excellent health, in general. I attribute this to many things, including rich blessings, which I believe obligate me to make a positive difference in the world in proportion to the gifts I have been given. In addition, I believe that I have a responsibility to take excellent care of the strong, healthy body I have been given.

For over a year now, I have been particularly fortunate to have very little trouble with colds or any other ailments. More than ever—and I really do mean ever—I have stayed exceptionally healthy.

In this post, I want to share with you six key ingredients I have used to create my recipe for my healthiest year plus.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are certainly other important things that I do to stay healthy and feel well.

This is also not medical advice. I am not a health care professional, and you should consult yours for medical advice specific to your situation.

I am a certified health and life coach, and I am a human with half a century (egad!!!!) of caring about and being interested in contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world—starting with how I treat, and what I do with, my own body. Through trial and error and lived experience, I have found certain things that I have incorporated into my life on a permanent basis because they made a noticeable difference in my health and well-being. I thought about listing the six I am featuring in this post alphabetically, because there is not necessarily a hierarchy of contribution to my wellness. I do think they have been additive over time, though, so I decided to list them chronologically, in order of when they became part of my regular practice. Each “ingredient” I list here has added to the previous ones to create a recipe for health that really serves me. They have made such a difference that I decided to share and explain.

1982/2008: Whole-Food, Plant-Based Nourishment

A pot of lentil and vegetable stew
Lentil Veggie Stew

This one has evolved over time. My journey to plant-based eating started in 1982, when I was 12. I became vegetarian (I didn’t even know vegans existed back then.) because I had never liked the idea of eating animals. From the time I was very young, it made me sad. Finally, after several upsetting experiences, including having the butchered flesh of a cow named Blackie, whom I had met, come into our home, I took the announced that I was never eating meat again. It was a lonely world for an adolescent vegetarian back then. I was the only vegetarian in my family or my group of friends (although my friend Quynh’s mother was vegetarian, but there was a language barrier between us). There was no internet. I had to go to an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore or library to get any information. And there wasn’t much in those days. Still, I knew I was on the right path for me.

I cut meat from my diet for ethical reasons, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice an increase in stamina between my seventh-grade basketball season and my eighth-grade basketball season. I first noticed it when running laps for basketball. This is anecdotal, of course. There was no scientific study isolating vegetarianism from other possible contributing variables, but I wasn’t consciously looking for a difference, and I found one. I was maturing, too, but I decided that my vegetarian diet was the main factor in my improved stamina. I still believe that.

So, the internet and better information came along, but, honestly, I wanted to believe for many years that I was living my values by being vegetarian. Even once the tools were there for finding out the whole truth about the egg and dairy industries, I avoided researching—until my conscience would no longer let me. In early 2008 I decided that, since one of my core values was integrity, I needed to find out if I was really living in integrity. I researched the egg and dairy industries and found out that some of the most horrific animal living conditions and some of the worst cruelty exists in the production of eggs and dairy products. Learning the truth was painful, and it was not convenient. A fair amount of guilt ensued for not trying to learn this sooner, but it became clear that, in order to live according to my professed values (Compassion is #1!), I needed to become vegan.

So, I did.

It has become easier and easier to be a plant-based eater. The internet is not only a source of information, but a source of community. Books abound these days! You can have them delivered to your electronic device instantly, 24 hours a day. Such a different world. Being vegan is not lonely. It is joyful. I have wonderful, caring vegan friends.

In addition to improved mental health, due to living in alignment with my values, my physical health improved. My skin became clearer. My colds became milder. I stopped having bladder infections, after having spent a couple rounds of two years each on prophylactic Macrodantin (until I developed resistance). True story. These things really got better, and my vegan diet was the difference.

I eat a mostly whole-food, completely plant-based diet. This is one of the most significant factors in maintaining my excellent health. It is easier than ever. If you would like my help transitioning, email me at sheri@justwindcoach.com. Or, get 28 of my favorite recipes when you join my email list here.

1992: Consistent, Intentional Exercise

Two people on road bikes
BAK 2017 with Logan

I was reasonably active as a child and teenager. I played basketball from 4th through 9th grades (proudly helping my Sacred Heart 5th– and 8th-grade teams win Oklahoma Catholic Grade School Athletic Association state championships! 😊). I played my freshman year at Mount Saint Mary High School, but we played public schools, and I found out I was not anywhere near as good a player as I had thought I was. After a season mostly on the bench, my basketball career reverted to driveway pick-up games with neighborhood boys (while my brother was planting the seeds for his future career as a technology genius by working inside on his Commodore VIC-20 and 64). I did sporadic exercise in fits and starts from then until 1992, when I was working on my undergraduate degree at Wichita State University. I worked full time and went to school at night. I finally started going to the Heskett Center (the building where I now work full time) to exercise between work and my 7:05 p.m. classes. I also did step workouts at home. I cringe at flashback to the then-fashionable tights and leotards I wore in public in the Heskett Center. I can only hope that there were never any pictures taken that might turn up in building archives.

Eventually, I started running, and in 1996 I committed to run the New York City Marathon as part of the Leukemia Society Team in Training. My life changed when I crossed the finish line in that first marathon and started thinking of myself as an athlete.

Ever since, endurance sports have been a major part of my life. Cycling came into it when I met my husband and trained for Biking Across Kansas in 1999. I got hooked and now serve on the BAK Board of Directors and love that week in June more than any other each year. (Registration for BAK 2020 opens this Friday. Register on 11/29 for a free jersey.)

I know that consistent, daily exercise is a major factor in my mental and physical health. In addition to cycling, I incorporate yoga, weight training, walking and other forms of exercise. I do something virtually every day.

I have a Master of Education degree in Exercise Science and held a personal training certification for 10 years, until I had to let that go in 2011, when a personal tragedy prevented me from recertifying. I am considering adding certain future certifications in physical activity. In the meantime, intentional movement is an integral part of who I am and why I am healthy.

2012: Echinacea

A picture of a tea cup and a box of tea bags.
Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea

Specifically, Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus Tea. I am a believer in this stuff!

2011 was a difficult year for me. It ended in a very painful way that shook my world. I decided that 2012 was dedicated to recovery. This took a variety of forms in my life, but one thing I did was research what could enhance my immune system because I was getting sick more frequently than I wanted. Some of my research led me to echinacea. Admittedly, scientific research has shown mixed results, but I decided to give it a try. I think I first tried it when I felt myself coming down with a cold, and I just didn’t want to be sick. I was pleasantly amazed at how mild my symptoms quickly became and how soon I was well. It could have been coincidental, but I was convinced. I adopted this tea into my daily routine. I drink a cup every, single morning. When I am on Biking Across Kansas, where it may not always be easy to make tea, I cut open a tea bag and include it in the magic mix of nutrients I put into my preworkout energizer. If I feel like I am getting sick, I will drink extra cups—up to five a day. It almost always stops or dramatically lessens my symptoms and shortens the duration (based on my history with colds) of my illness.

I have recommended this tea to many people over the years. My skeptical husband even became a believer after he tried it.

Whether or not the science backs up the efficacy of echinacea for immune health, my anecdotal experience has been unequivocal. It made, and continues (over years) to make, a noticeable difference.

2014: Algae

Bags of spirulina and chlorella
ENERGYbits & RECOVERYbits

I honestly can’t remember how I first learned about ENERGYbits. It might have been through Brendan Brazier’s work on plant-based eating for athletic performance, but I am not sure. Anyway, at some point, I was looking for a way to enhance my energy level on the bike, and I found ENERGYbits, which is the name of both a company and a specific product made by the company. Initially, I only used ENERGYbits, which is 100% spirulina algae. I would swallow the spirulina, conveniently compressed into easy-to-swallow tablets. It’s food, not pills, but I do prefer to swallow, because it sticks to my teeth if I chew it. There is controversy around spirulina because it can be contaminated, if it is not organically grown in controlled conditions. ENERGYbits prioritizes the safety of its algae, so I feel great about using their products. Company founder Catharine Arnston learned about the benefits of algae when she was researching ways to help her younger sister heal from breast cancer. She concluded that a plant-based diet, heavy on greens, was a powerful healing strategy, and she learned that algae contains the highest concentration of alkaline-promoting chlorophyll of any food. Using algae as part of her plant-based diet, her sister healed and has remained free from cancer for 10 years.

For several years now, I have used ENERGYbits before my bike rides and RECOVERYbits afterward, often blended into my recovery smoothie. They truly make a difference in my energy level and endurance on the bike, and they help me recovery quickly and fully after tough rides. I sometimes give them to Logan before and after his training runs and races. He has noticed a benefit on his long runs.

ENERGYbits products aren’t just for athletic performance, though. They can be incorporated into a healthful, plant-based diet daily to energize, clear toxins and enhance overall nutrition. For an answer to the ever-popular question all vegans get asked, “Where do you get your protein?” take a look at this information comparing usable protein per acre of various animal and plant protein sources. Algae is also an outstanding source of B12. In addition to ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits, there are also BEAUTYbits and VITALITYbits, although I have not used those products personally. If you want to make this a part of your nutritional plan, you can get 20% off when you use my discount code JustWind. Type it in the discount code box at checkout. (Full disclosure, I receive a free bag for every 10 bags bought using my discount code. Although I have been an affiliate for years, I have never promoted it, so I have bought all the bags under my code, up to this point. 😊)

2018: Meditation

My New Meditation Cushion

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I thought for years that I couldn’t meditate. When I was in my health and life coaching certification trainings, my constant, nagging concern, when I traded coaching sessions with my training partner, was stress and what it did to me and how I couldn’t get it under control.

Finally, in early 2018, I decided to give meditation a real try. I called it “mindfulness” for quite a while because “meditation” didn’t feel quite right. Until it did one day. After a short time of consistent, daily practice, I noticed how much calmer and more peaceful I felt. I was managing stress so much more productively. To my surprise, I started to look forward to my daily meditation in the same way that I do my bike rides.

What I noticed most is that my health took a dramatic turn for the positive. I went over a year without a single cold, even when students, coworkers and family members around me were sick. As I said above, I think all these “ingredients” have been additive, but this one has been huge. Since I have practiced meditation daily, I have only had one real cold and no laryngitis, which used to plague me on a regular basis. Even the cold I did get was quite mild, and most people didn’t even know that I had one.

I attribute meditation to taking my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health to the next level. As I taught in my presentation to fellow advisors this week, there is no one right way to do it. This was a limiting belief I had to overcome in order to allow meditation into my life. My practice incorporates breathing exercises, mindfulness, visualizations, affirmations and Kundalini yoga, depending what feels right on a given day. Now, I would not skip a single day. I meditate anywhere from about 10 minutes to around 30 minutes, depending on the time I have. I do it first thing in the morning or immediately after my morning workout. It is a game-changer.

2018: Mindset

A person posing for the camera

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This is probably the most difficult to explain concisely. Maybe that is why I am writing a whole book that addresses the topic. The picture is of a content me. Life is not perfect, but I have made a choice to live consciously and to choose my perspectives carefully. I still experience stress, but I have learned how to think of it differently and to choose an empowering approach to it. Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It was life changing. I’ve written about it previously because it had such an impact on the way I view stress and how I allow it to affect me. It took a while for me to fully internalize her message, but it started percolating right away. The biggest takeaway from McGonigal’s book for me was the idea that a meaningful life is a stressful life. The same things that bring us the most stress—family, work, school—are the same things that bring us the most meaning. Recognizing that can change everything.

I don’t live in constant bliss, but I am healthier and happier, and part of that is my mindset. Meditation supports my chosen mindset, and so do several other practices, but consciously and actively choosing the mindset I want to hold is the first step. It is a big step that has made a rewarding difference.

So, these are some of the most important things that have contributed to my healthiest year plus ever. My guess is that any one of them added to your life could make a positive difference in your physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual health. Adding them together has compounded their benefits in my life.

I know I am not invincible. I could drop dead or be stricken down with some horrific illness (or a cold) tomorrow. I am committed to doing my part to take care of the gifts I have been given, though. These are some of the ways I do that.

I can be reached at sheri@justwindcoach.com or through a comment on this blog post or social media. I’d love to hear your experience with any of these or other practices that have made a healthy difference for you.