What Drives You?

I love good questions. I enjoy pondering a provocative question on my bike or at other times when my mind is free to consider it. I experience a visceral surge of excitement when presented with a question that begs for deep exploration.

As I prepared to get into the shower after my bike ride yesterday, I was reading (and loving!) Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People. As he recalled an interview with one of the individuals featured in the book’s case studies, he explained that he had asked his subject, “What drives you?” That question elicited the familiar surge of excitement, letting know that I needed to explore what drives me. Since I was getting into the shower, the question presented itself at the perfect time. The shower is a great place to think because it is private (except when I am on Biking Across Kansas) and quiet, and I am usually able to wash myself without concentrating too hard on what I am doing, freeing up mental bandwidth for exploring interesting questions.

As I washed off the road grime. I asked myself, “What drives me?” It didn’t take long before I settled on “growth and improvement.” As I thought about it some more on today’s bike ride, I recognized that “growth and improvement” are the ways that my internal drivers manifest themselves. A more complete picture is this formula:

Strengths + Values=Internal Drivers (Motivation)

My top Clifton Strengths are: Intellection, Input, Relator, Learner and Maximizer.

For many years my core values have been: Compassion, Excellence, Integrity and Fitness.

The combination of my strengths and my values comprise my internal drivers, which manifest as growth and improvement.

Although each element—strengths, values and internal drivers—looks different for every individual, I think strengths and values are the consistent building blocks.

Ultimately, I want to be growing and improving continually in my life. I have come to view this as my personal evolution. Always ripe for a (mechanically imperfect) cycling analogy, I picture the equation formulating my evolution as turning wheels on a bicycle. My progress—evolution—ebbs and flows with the revolutions of the wheels. They take me to the next stop on my ride, but, like a bike tour, I keep getting back on and moving forward to the next destination. This is what growth and improvement are to me, continual evolution, rather than a transformation that takes place as a singular event. My strengths and values are like the hubs of the wheels, with my internal drivers (or motivation) the drivetrain.

Over time and with a lot of introspection, I have fine-tuned my life to allow me to grow in the ways that feed my soul and are important to me.

I am driven to use my strengths to think and learn and grow within the boundaries of my values.

I am driven to grow in compassion by living a vegan lifestyle and helping others to learn about plant-based nourishment, as well as by treating all human and non-human animals with compassion. I am not perfect in my practice of this, but I am driven by my aspiration to live in full compassion.

I am driven to provide excellent service and to put forth my best work in my advising, writing, coaching, teaching, parenting and relating. By continually striving toward excellence, I can pursue a higher level of one of my core values, while employing all my major strengths.

I am driven to pursue integrity by living my values, even when it is challenging, in a world that does not always support them or understand me. This is an ongoing growth opportunity.

I am driven to maintain a high level of fitness because doing so allows me to live my other values more fully and to ensure that I can keep growing and improving.

What drives you?

I encourage you to ask yourself that question and to create time and mental space to explore the answers. Then—and this is key—find ways to allow your deepest intrinsic motivation to play out in your life.

Find your strengths: One excellent and informative way to gain insight about your internal drivers is to take a strengths test. Both Clifton Strengths (linked above) and Via Strengths can provide valuable self-awareness. Via is free online. Clifton requires the purchase of a book and/or a code. They are different, but both can help you consider what makes you tick.

Clarify your values: You can find many values lists online and in books. I have never found one that I really consider to be comprehensive. (I’m not sure there is such a thing.) The best one I have found is in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., which I am also currently reading, for the Wichita State University Leadership Book Club. Years ago, I discerned my values through my own reflection and introspection. Brown gives some excellent tips for guiding this process. She says, “Ask yourself: Does this define me? Is this who I am at my best? Is that a filter that I use to make hard decisions?” Brown recommends settling on two core values. As I said, I have four.

“Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.” –Brené Brown

Consider what the combination of your strengths and values suggest about what drives you. (Strengths + Values=Internal Drivers): What is it that propels you forward in life? Whether you consider it an internal driver or drivers, motivation or your “why,” I think there is value in knowing. Thinking about it is a worthwhile endeavor.

When you figure out what drives you, take an honest look at your life. Does it reflect your motivations, the things that push you forward? For me, it is continual, progressive evolution in key areas of my life. I need to feel like I am living my values and maximizing my strengths more effectively each day. For you, it could be family or financial freedom or a cause that is close to your heart. Whatever it is, own it. Honor it. Find ways to build your life around it.

If you are interested in exploring this and other deep questions as a way to optimize your life, make the difference you want to make and live with no regrets, contact me at sheri@justwindcoach.com to schedule a coaching call. I’d love to help you figure out what drives you and find ways to honor those motivations in your life. I believe there are reasons that certain things are driving forces in our lives. These intrinsic drives are part of our unique mode of expression in the world—the contribution we want to make and the legacy we are here to leave.

How a Nightly Journaling Practice Can Help You Increase Happiness and Achieve Goals

I have journaled for many years. For a long time, I did it frequently, but without any real structure or schedule. That changed in 2011, when I was looking for strategies to help me feel more positive about life, during a particularly painful time. I learned about Martin Seligman’s “Three Good Things” practice. I have written about this practice previously because it has been (and continues to be) so meaningful to me.

The simple “Three Good Things” practice became the foundation for the journaling that I faithfully began doing each night. Every single night—even when I am Biking Across Kansas—I write in my journal about three things that went well during the day. Sometimes they are big things. Often, they are small things. The point of the practice is to stop and notice that good things happen, even on the most mundane day. Sometimes it is more difficult than others to come up with my three things. On a particularly difficult day, it might be something as basic as, “My warm shower felt good.” This helps me recognize gifts and blessing in the midst of challenges and disappointments. In addition to naming my three things, I follow each with the question, “Why?” and then write about why this was a good thing. This reflection is brief, but it is key to noticing why I feel good about something. In a 2005 study by Seligman, et al., participants who used the Three Good Things” practice for a week experienced improved mood for six months. I recognized the benefits so quickly after starting it that I made it a permanent practice.

This practice is so helpful that I have added check-ins throughout the day, when I am feeling stressed or tired or anxious. Mentally, I will take a moment to name three good things that have happened up to that point in the day. A variant that helps me get out of bed in the morning is to identify three things to which I am looking forward in the coming day.

Over time, I have added other questions that have benefitted me. Currently, in addition to my Three Good Things practice. Here are the others I use:

  • What do I want for and from myself tomorrow? This helps me to begin to set an intention for the next day. When I think about how I want the day to look, I can approach it consciously, making decisions that support my intention.
  • Do I have any regrets about my choices today? As I wrote in this post, my theme for 2019 is “No Regrets.” By checking in with myself each night, I take an honest look at the choices I made during the day and assess whether they were aligned with my values, goals and priorities. This idea of living to avoid regrets has become so compelling that I have recently refocused my coaching practice to help people who have become aware of how quickly time passes develop the energy, mindset and well-being to accomplish what they want to accomplish and live with no regrets. I strive to do this in my daily life, as well.
  • How will I live with no regrets tomorrow? This is when I decide if and how I need to adjust my choices the next day. It is also when I consider my responsibilities for the day and plan proactively to remain in alignment with values, goals and priorities.

Within the last couple months, I have added to my nightly journaling practice with the “Three Question Journal,” developed by Angeles Arrien. This practice has been used with medical students to help them recognize meaning in their work. I find that it can help me identify and acknowledge meaning in my life, too. Rather than overlooking or taking for granted events that have taken place during the day, I acknowledge the meaning they help create in my life. Here are the three questions:

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What touched my heart today?
  3. What inspired me today?

The key with these questions is to write the first thing that comes to mind and to briefly reflect on it. One of the profound insights that I obtained in reading Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, is her assertion that “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” I realized, upon reading this, that the mundane things that are part of my daily life, like work and family, while being significant contributors to stress in my life, are also significant contributors to meaning in my life. Recognizing this was truly life changing for me. This three-question practice reinforces this recognition.

My nightly journaling does not take all that long, but it is time well spent. It enables me to finish the day feeling centered, having integrated my daily activities and my thoughts and feelings about them. I finish by reading until I am ready to go to sleep and then choosing a quote from my collection for reflection, as I go to sleep.

My nightly journaling practice is one component of my non-negotiable self-care practices. Other things, like my morning mindfulness practice, exercise, plant-based nourishment and my various check-ins throughout the day round out my practice. Any of these is important alone, but together they support each other and add a greater sense of meaning and contentment to my life.

I encourage you to begin a nightly journaling practice, if you don’t already have one. You may want to use some or all of the questions I include. While there are times that I simply free-write in my journal, these questions are always part of my nightly practice. If you are starting with just one part of what I do, I recommend starting with “Three Good Things,” since this has been shown scientifically to enhance happiness in people who did it. Anecdotally, I can attest to its effectiveness. Once you have that practice in place, trust your instincts to add others—either from the ones that are meaningful to me or some that you adapt.

I have tried and abandoned some strategies because they didn’t serve me as well as these do. Several months ago, I subbed, “Was I better today than yesterday?” for “What do I want for and from myself tomorrow?” I missed the latter question, so I added it back and included my “no regrets” questions. This feels like a better fit.

I find that the structure of the questions and the soothing ritual they provide increase the centeredness I feel from the journaling. The practice helps put everything in its place for the day.  I hope you will give structured nightly journaling a try and let me know how it affects your life.

Right Time. Right Questions

“You mustn’t wait until the perfect conditions to begin a task. Rather tackle it boldly until the conditions become perfect.” Tony Fahkry

There are some ideas that reappear repeatedly throughout life, in various contexts. For me, one of those has been the idea of not waiting until the perfect time to start something new, take on a challenge, etc. Different thinkers have expressed this in assorted ways and to varied audiences, but the gist of the message is the same: “It will never be the perfect time. Conditions will never be exactly right. There are always reasons NOT to do/try/risk something.” So, we just have to jump in and move forward anyway. Most writers follow up this advice with the hopeful message that, by jumping right in, we will create the perfect conditions once we get started. We will find the support, help, guidance and resources that we need.

On some level, I know this advice is true—at least the part about there being no perfect time or situation.

But, I do believe that some times or situations are better than others. I also think there can be a wrong time.

So, that is where it gets complicated for me. How do I know when it is the best time or least wrong time?

And, I am not so good at believing that everything I need will appear once I jump in. As much as I want to believe this deeply, I am not fully there yet.

How do I know if this is weakness or wisdom?

I guess this is where Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice comes into play:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

My worry is that it would be all too easy, though, to “live the questions” until the moment of possibility has passed.

There is a quote in my volumes of collected quotes that, maddeningly, I have not been able to locate recently. I think it is from the Buddha, and its recommendation is frequently part of my mindfulness practice. It says to sit with two questions daily: 1. “Who am I?” 2. “What do I want?”

I really try to believe that asking myself these questions regularly will help me to know when it is the right time to move forward with my coaching practice more assertively and to know exactly what that means. That is a big, pressing question for me right now.

Like my last post, this one has sat untouched and unfinished for nearly a month, as life has been occupied by other activities. In the interim, additional questions have arisen.

On June 4, I turned 49. That event presented me with the questions, “Where do I want to be when I am 50? How do I get there? What needs to change?”

I began pondering those questions right as I was preparing to leave on vacation. From June 8 to June 16, I was Biking Across Kansas. I thought I might find the answers to the questions around my last year in my 40s as I was working in the wind, heat and hills to make my way across the state. However, I found that what I needed most was to allow myself to just empty my mind of those questions and of so many worries that I realized had been weighing me down more heavily than I had known.

Instead of finding the answer to where I wanted to be when I turn 50, I found a new question. “What do I want to take back to real life from BAK?”

I was able to find some answers to that one. I want to release some of the pressure I have been placing on myself. I want to try to focus on the basics—the things that really matter—and let go of the rest, as much as possible. I want to take back the courage and the energy I feel on BAK. Although I was working very hard and riding my bike for several hours a day, I noticed that I was much less tired than usual. Allowing myself to let go of the typical worries that occupy my mind was energizing.

I am trying, with varying degrees of success, to implement the BAK lessons into my post-BAK life, while I am back to trying to answer where I want to be when I am 50 and how to get there. Gretchen Rubin recently asked in a Facebook Live presentation, “If you got one thing accomplished this summer, what would you want it to be?” While I was on my bike on Sunday, I thought about this. Initially, I thought about what one thing I would want to accomplish in each of five areas of my life: health, finances, relationships, career and spirituality. Walking on campus on Monday, I narrowed this to THE one thing that is more important to me to accomplish this summer than any of the others. That clarity feels good. It helps me to know where my priorities are and how to make decisions that support those.

I do believe that I have a better idea of where I want to be when I am 50 and how to get there, although I am still refining those answers. In the spirit of BAK, I am trying to focus on what matters most and to release pressure while figuring out how to take the next steps with my coaching practice and in life. This is a delicate balance—making progress toward where I want to be, without making the journey miserable because of so much pressure.

I guess it is like a bike ride in difficult conditions. I know I must continue making forward progress, turning the pedals and covering ground, to get out of the heat/wind/rain, but I want to avoid blowing up in the process. So, I back off my speed and intensity when necessary. And, I make sure I have what I need—water, electrolytes, gel, a cold towel for my neck.

I will continue to flesh out my ideas around where I want to be when I am 50 and put in process a strategy to get there, but I will also remember that part of living and aging with power and purpose is living in joy and gratitude right now. I will “live the questions,” while checking in with myself to avoid getting stalled. In that way, hopefully, I will live my way into the answers and recognize the “right time” when it presents itself.