God and I had a talk about being rich on Hanson’s Point.

Last weekend my friend Tyson and I made our way to the Red River Gorge for our first camping trip of the year. I shared a little piece of that story last week in my post about Randomness. The trip was excellent, which has motivated us to spend the week thinking about how to get more camping and hiking in this year.

There was one experience I had that stands out above all the others. I shared that moment on Instagram. I was sitting on Hanson’s point taking in the view. In the moment, I was inspired to get out my Crossroads app and read the daily scripture.

For the majory of life, turning to God and scripture was a place of refuge when thinking through difficult decisions. That changed fairly significantly when I was around 33 years old. Maybe some day I will better understand that change and be comfortable writing about why it happened. At the moment, I have not been able to fully process it.

Despite this fact, I made the decision last fall to attend Crossroads. I started attending with a mindset in search of answers. I have sought guidance from various philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, buddhist teachings and self-help books. The realization was that I also wanted to find others who were willing to be open minded and in the process of seeking answers to life’s bigger questions. Crossroads has offered a non-judgmental place to do this.

That is a long story to explain why I had the Crossroads app on my phone. The view from Hanson’s point inspired me to read the scripture of the day. The reading was Proverbs 13.

The words that really stood out to me were from verses 7 and 8.

“One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.

8 A person’s riches may ransom their life,
but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.”

This message really grinds at my soul in a couple different ways. If you have read my writings over the past couple years, it may not be surprising that it relates to work and dating.

In the startup world, there is a somewhat unhealty relationship with “funds raised”. While I am not exposed to a lot of startup communities around the US, I have a fairly high exposure to the one in Lexington, Kentucky.

The topic of how to start a business and raising money was also a topic that Thomas and I aligned on in our early days, which ultimately made me comfortable partnering with him.

The position that we have taken is that raising money should be done in very specific situations. The act of ‘closing a round’ should not been seen as a successful outcome itself, but rather a tool that is being used to move forward towards a more admirable goal.

I think Gary Vee said it best when he shared a lesson from his dad that said, ‘When you borrow money, it’s the worst day of your life’.

When I see people celebrating raising funds, I am now going to think about Proverbs 13:7. Celebrating this event, in my mind, is a sign of someone who has nothing, yet pretends to be rich. This may not always be the case, as there are legitimate times for raising capital. However, I rarely have conversations with founders in that position.

In terms of dating, I will simply acknowledge that the desire to put out a perception of having more wealth than exists is incredibly high. The ease to access capital for consumer purchases is a little unnerving for me at times. This access has been tempting in several situations the past two years, as I’ve worked to become ‘fully free’.

My personal definition of being free is:

  • zero financial obligations to anyone else
  • ability to work on projects that I’m excited to work on (always thinking about impact and legacy)
  • have control over my time (no requirements of a 9 to 5)

I believe I am 80% of the way to this goal. I am still working to get to where I can be very choosy on the projects I decide to work on. I know deep in my gut, that if I succumbed to the desires to access cheap money and “pretend to be rich”, I’d push this progress down to nearly zero.

As verse 8 says:

“A person’s riches may ransom their life”.

My current interpretation of the verse is that if riches is what you value, then there are many things in life you say you value, but will end up forfeiting in favor of those “riches”. I am probably taking that verse completely out of context?

This is where the lyrics from the song Suit and Jacket from Judah and the Lion comes in:

“Cause everybody I know, everybody I know Is growing old,
is growing old too quickly
And I don’t wanna go
So how am I supposed to slow it down so I can figure out who I am?
And I ain’t trading my dreams for no 401k
And I ain’t giving this fire for a cold, cold heart
So don’t say I’m getting colder
Cause I’ll say it when I do”

As I turn 40 this year, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the expectations I have had for my life. I expect a lot out of myself. When I moved to Kentucky, at 23 years old, I had ideas of what 30, 35 and 40 would look like.

The two lines from the song that I hear myself thinking about daily are:

“So how am I supposed to slow it down so I can figure out who I am?
And I ain’t trading my dreams for no 401k “

If my definition of having freedom is having the ability to pursue projects and work that I want to be a part of my legacy and that creates impact, then I can look back on the past 17 years with a great sense of accomplishment. I have been fortunate to have had different opportunities to direct energy into my personal mission statements. This has been true in different settings with various co-workers, multiple business partners and individually.

However, it comes at the “expesnse” of not having 401ks, pensions, guaranteed paychecks or at times health insurance. The instability of this lifestyle is one that any entreprenuer understands, but many people find undesirable or even foolish.

The ending:

There is no doubt I spend my days chasing “success”. That success is in terms of personal impact, but also financial gain.

The world in which we live makes money a clear way of keeping score, making it difficult to not be tied to it in some way.

This entire post can be distilled down into this question, which I ask myself some version of often:

“How can I be successful and create impact, all the while remain free from getting caught up in easy attempts at appearing ‘rich’?”

When I cross check that desire with the expectations I had for myself, I get discouraged.

A friend told me this week,

“If you are going to trust God for the process, then you also have to trust him on the outcome.”

To be completely real, I am not at a place I trust God with the process. I am definitely not ready to trust him for the outcomes.

What I do know is that we started a conversation on Hanson’ Point last Saturday. He apparently had a lot to say. At the moment, I am trying to be a good listener. We will see where things go from here.

Advertisements

Lessons about routine and randomness, that I learned this weekend.

Friday night, the start.

We had a plan. Each of us had expectations for the camping trip. It was not a detailed plan. It included a trail that had been utilized on a previous camping trip. The path was less of a concern than the final setup at the destination. Then we turned left off of the highway to drive down Tunnel Ridge Road, when the plan ended. The road was closed. We improvised and went to Koomer Ridge Campground and headed out on the trails from there. We soon found ourselves without daylight. I was missing my headlamp. There were no camping locations to be found.

Saturday night, the start.

There were loose plans. The main goals being time spent hanging out, eating and drinking. The first two spots were pre-determined, but even the best constructed plans can be derailed with rain and lost keys.

How to embrace randomness.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating the value and benefit of embracing randomness over the past eighteen months. The main catalyst for this rumination is that I randomly met Thomas Cothran at Awesome Inc in August of 2016. At the time, he was a fellow student who became the exemplar of what being a student really meant. Since that time we have been working hard to accomplish fun and interesting things together. The short list of challenges we are taking on include:

  • Building a software consultancy business, focused on healthcare and law (Not simple markets to penetrate with innovation.)
  • Build a sports technology consultancy.
  • Partner with other like minded individuals to spin out products focused on the law, healthcare and sports industries.
  • Mentor startup founders who need product and technical advising.

All of these efforts are very focused. The time, money and energy we put into each of these four areas are done with efficiency, productivity and impact on the top of our mind. We have spent a fair amount of cognitive power over these eighteen months establishing, refining and iterating on the processes we use to do our work.

The reason I am highlighting the efforts we put forth is to help explain the value that pure randomness has upon the outcomes we have observed. I would argue that even with the rigorous approach we have to our work, a good portion of our success can be attributed to luck. If the word “luck” is hard for people to accept, then I’d suggest, “random chance”.

Are we all fooled by randomness.

I will circle back to the intersection of random chance and effort in a moment. First, let me acknowledge Nassim Taleb’s book “Fooled by Randomness”. I started listening to this book, for the third time, as I drove up I75 this afternoon. This book has always impressed on me the value of consistently evaluating your outcomes and being critical of your assessments. This is especially true if you start to attribute successes with specific actions.

It is easy to look back and find something to attribute your success to. The hours you spent doing sales calls. The years you spent in college developing an expertise. The networks you have made throughout your career. The decisions you made in your product specifications. If you are like me and tend to overly analyze the details, you are likely to also (like me) tie all the outcomes to those efforts.

This is when we become fooled by randomness. Or, I will simply say, this is where I am fooled by randomness.

As I have become more comfortable knowing that my actions are not as powerful as I thought they were and luck is just as responsible for my successes, I have become more accepting that I can not control the outcome of everything. This is a lesson that I wished I learned twenty years ago.

Armed with this mindset, I have the ability to embrace random events with a sense of excitement and adventure. These same events would have caused me great anxiety and frustration in the past.

Why routine is critical for me to happily accept randomness.

The words routine and randomness seem paradoxical. However, I find having well defined routines is essential for my ability to accept random chance with an open mind. Here’s a simple explanation why:

I need the basic structures of my life to be maintained with the least amount of congnitive load. This mental efficiency provides the space necessary for creativity, along with the extra mental and emotional costs associated with following random paths.

When I fail to cover the basics via routines, I spend too much brain power just getting through the day. The basics become exhausting, which means that randomness generates:

  • increased stress
  • tendency towards anger
  • decreased happiness
  • lack of empathy
  • prevalence of depressive moods
  • high anxiety
  •  …

What are the basics I have offloaded to routine

To provide a clear explanation of what I mean by this, here is a list. These have all been an evolving practice since around 2009. Some of these are a philosphical approach to life, others are environmental choices I have worked to establish.

  • The place I leave my running shoes.
  • Having a room dedicated to yoga, stretching and meditation.
  • What I eat for breakfast, every single day.
  • Where I place my keys, wallet and sun glasses when I walk in the door.
  • What day of the week I do laundry.
  • When I answer email during the week.
  • My choice for type and location of housing.
  • Decision to not use debt as a financial instrument for anything. (clears up decisions around monetary routines )
  • What phone numbers I answer (short answer: none as a general rule)
  • What routes I run for daily runs.
  • The brand of toothpaste I purchase.

This is a short list of items, as there are many routines that I have established that are subconscious operations today. I believe the list helps clarify the concept.

Why work hard, if randomness is so important.

The best answer I have for this is the Stoic philospher Seneca’s quote:

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

While it’s not a great analogy, I equate being efficient and productive to buying a lottery ticket. The effort you put out is your currency to enter the Powerball. With that effort, you still are subject to the randomness of the balls, but without it, you are simply watching the world pass you by.

Friday Night, the end.

It was dark and we were both somewhat concerned about finding a place to camp for the night. (Even if we were not vocal about those concerns.) We had hit the trail we were looking for, hoping it was a better option. At the moment, it was not producing anything of use. Then we heard some small voices coming from behind. I turned to see a couple headlamps and a dog with a light coming towards us.

Those hikers were able to lead the way to a new trail, a new camping location and one of the best views in the Red River Gorge I had yet to see. Was it luck? I would say it was more than luck that night.

Saturday Night, then end.

When randomness strikes and it leads to a positive outcome, it can be simple to be easy-going. What happens when situations arise that are not fun? Like losing your car keys?

I know with a mindset that didn’t accept randomness. The one that had to control everything. The one that needed plans to work out. That person would have folded under the stress and become a negative and angry person.

In moments such as this, the number of starts and stops are so frequent that it doesn’t feel like randomness alone. It felt like a tilt-a-whirl at the county fair. There is hope, then you are jerked back from where you came. There is excitement, that is stolen. In the end, I was able to evaluate how I carried myself throughout it all. I hope it was with grace and kindness? I was also able to spend more time with someone, who I wanted to get to know better. This random event allowed me to see how she responded to a much more difficult reality than I faced. While not an idealistic situation, it provided better insight than had the night went exactly as planned.

The lesson in a couple sentences

Life can be difficult if you need complete control and for everything to go according to plan. Therefore, develop routines to put the basics on autopilot and remain open to the random blessings you will find along the way.

Express gratitude and uncover your happiness.

Check my Happier and Healthier You program

When I look at the news, check my social media accounts or have passing conversations with strangers, I am often left with feelings of anger, fear and hopelessness. The reason for this response is that so much conversation is about how our world, country, state or city is a terrible place to live.

I have had this discussion several times in the past year, but truly believe that we live in the greatest time to be alive. In five hundred years, I am confident that school children will learn about how primitive we were in some ways, such as how we struggled to treat people with equal kindness. However, I also believe they will identify this period on a timeline as a point where the human race made exponential changes, for the better. We live in an amazing and extraordinary time. I think about this each day, wondering what part I can be in leveraging these changes to support and empower others.

You do not have to share this perspective of mine. In some of the discussions I have had, I realize that I am likely in the minority by holding this perception. I definitely have friends that believe we are in a dramatic decline and live in the worst time to be alive. Like I said, these conversations make me sad. When you have that perspective it can be really difficult to find happiness.

I just shared my macro observation about our current status and place in history. Where I personally struggle is finding the joy and happiness in the day to day realities that we all face. These things include: work tasks, daily chores, regular upkeep of a house and all the other daily requirements we have. It can be easy to fall into a trap where these things become just items to get done. When any of those items start to create problems in my day, I can lose perspective quickly.

The strategy that I have worked on to find more happiness, is a daily expression of gratitude. When you first start to express gratitude on a daily basis, it is easy to find things you are thankful for. Then at some point, after you’ve been thankful for your family for the sixth day in a row, you realize that it might be useful to identify other things that are a blessing in your life.

You begin to notice smaller things in life, that often go unnoticed, yet are blessings and bring you happiness.

I have an example of a blessing the past several weeks that fits this scenario. I have been in Custer, South Dakota the past couple weeks, for the Sundance to Spearfish and Crazy Horse Marathons. When I first arrived, without wifi access readily available, I began searching for a solution. There were only a couple options. One of those options was Calamity Jane Winery and Coffee Shop. I have used their wifi and consumed their house coffee since discovering the shop.

A person could easily overlook the blessing that this has been. However, Custer is primarily a tourist driven town and many shops are starting to close. Some of those shops have been put up for sale. Therefore, I am extremely thankful that Jim (the shop’s owner) has chosen to stay open. The second thing that I am thankful for, is the hospitality that Jim and his wife has shown. While it would be a big enough blessing to have access to the wifi and coffee, they have made me feel welcomed to their small town. They were genuinely interested in the things I was up to, why I was around town for six weeks and shared suggestions for things to do. This lead a decision to attend the Buffalo Roundup, one of the best experiences of my trip.

The point in sharing this story is to recognize that it would be easy to view Calamity Jane Winery as just another coffee shop. It has been more than that, it has been a blessing. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the Happier and Healthier You program has been written while sitting in their shop.

When you develop a habit of expressing gratitude over the smaller things, it makes uncovering your happiness much simpler. When you find satisfaction in the tasks and experiences you encounter everyday, it is difficult to live with fear, hate and hopelessness.

Change your setting to change your habits: it can be as simple as going around the block

There was a period of several years that I lived in a townhouse in the south side of Lexington, Kentucky. In the mornings, I had to wake up and get to the training studio to see clients through the early hours. As I rushed to get ready and be on time, I would find myself driving down Hartland Parkway, taking a right turn onto Tates Creek Road and follow that all the way into Chevy Chase. I would then navigate my way to the studio, heading down Ashland Avenue. One of the things that was a constant irritation was sitting at the Tates Creek and Man ‘O War stoplight. It seemed to last forever and I almost always had to wait for it. However, despite the irritation, I took that route day after day. At some point they put in a Starbucks in Chevy Chase on Ashland Avenue, which also became part of the regular routine.

As I look back on that behavior, I am a little amused and confused at the same time. If I had just evaluated that behavior and asked myself, “are there any other options”. I could have easily found that there is a route that would have allowed me to enter the Man ‘O War and Tates Creek intersection off Man ‘O War, giving me a right turn. Due to the early time of day, I would not had to wait long at that intersection, even at a red light.

The question that I have asked myself many times since I realized this behavior, is “Why did I not make this observation?”

The answer is that it’s a common part of human behavior, for many people, not just myself. We develop routines to help limit the amount of decisions we make each day. These routines limit the cognitive load we encounter, allowing our decision making to be dedicated to more critical analysis. Imagine a day where you had to consciously consider every decision you made. It sounds exhausting.

When you look at the routines and patterns that exist in your life, how many of them are automatic? Your morning routine in the bathroom. Your first 5 minutes after you get home from work. The way you tie your shoes. The way you park the car in the driveway. How many of these regular activities, do you have to spend mental energy on?

There is value in having these patterns. As noted, it allows us to focus our attention on more critical decision making. However, these patterns can also create problems for us, when we are trying to live happier and healthier lives. For example, my happiness was less than it could have been, simply because my route to work was on autopilot. What about the Starbucks coffee? What happens if that coffee is loaded with sugar and fat? How often do we turn on the television at night and can not find anything enjoyable to watch, yet we continue to search for hours out of habit?

When you understand that these routines can be positive or negative, it becomes important to review and analyze the patterns overtime. Have you developed helpful patterns or harmful behaviors? The follow up question, once you understand what your routines are, is how can you change them? This entire behavior change program is about establishing routines, by starting and growing positive behaviors. That being said, there is one strategy that I have found very beneficial over the years to break me of these routines and providing enough space to evaluate what those behaviors are.

That strategy is to change your setting and environment.

Think about the last time you were on vacation, what did it feel like when you woke up in a new room and had to get ready in a different bathroom. It was pretty strange, correct? At the moment I am in a pretty blessed position to have been in the Black Hills of South Dakota for 5 weeks. In the time here, I have had the following priorities: prepare for brother’s wedding, write, run, work on programming jobs and finding new work. What is interesting about having this opportunity is that many of the daily activities I have while at home, are no longer necessary. It has provided the space necessary to look at what some of those activities are and question if they are truly critical. When I return home, I can decide if I will keep them, eliminate them or replace them.

The reality is that I have had an opportunity like this previously, which upon returning home, I quickly fell back into my standard routine. That observation highlights the power of settings and environment. The routines and behaviors have a way of returning when we put ourselves back into the original setting. While you may not have the opportunity to remove yourself from your day to day environment for several weeks, I would encourage you to be observant of your routines the next time you have a vacation. Even if that vacation is being gone for a day.

Here are some other actions you might consider to take advantage of the power your environment has on our behavior:

  • Move the living room furniture around, so your seating and television are in different locations.
  • Take a different route to work everyday.
  • Reorganize your kitchen cabinets, especially the pantry.
  • Reorganize your refrigerator.
  • Change the decorations in your office or cubicle at work.
  • Change the air freshener scent in your car.
  • Move your bathroom items to a different bathroom and use it for your morning routine.
  • Rearrange the bedroom furniture.
  • Remove anything from the bedroom that doesn’t have to do with sleeping, dressing or sex.
  • Eliminate any distractions, primarily televisions, from the dining room.

The value of routines in our lives can not be understated. There are many habits we develop that are carried out without any thought on a daily basis. The environment that we live in reinforces many of those behaviors, as our minds work to limit the amount of decisions it has to make each day. Changing your setting not only provides an opportunity for you to evaluate those behaviors, it puts you in a position to be more successful as you develop routines that lead to greater happiness and health.

Check out my free behavior change program:  Happier and Healthier You

Having a vision for the future: What is your stretch goal?

When I work with individuals, we always start with the small habits that can be easily implemented. I was not an easy convert to this process when I first learned of starting with a “tiny habit” through BJ Fogg’s research. In my mind, it seemed like the tiny habit would be too small and uninspired to keep someone motivated. One of the standard examples used when describing the tiny habit process, is that a person should develop the habit of flossing by flossing just one tooth. That practice will then develop into a habit where you are flossing all your teeth daily. The skepticism I had was that a person would often choose to not practice the simple habit, such as flossing the single tooth, because it alone has no value.

The research continues to show that starting small is the best way to develop new and healthy behaviors. I have enough experience at this point that I am convinced that if you truly desire to have long lasting change, this is the approach you should take. This is the entire reason for the instructions in the article, “Knowing is not doing”.

This fact does not mean that there is no value in understanding what the final outcome looks like. This end goal is defined differently in different situations. In the book, “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg, he calls it your stretch goal. When I talk to individuals, I like to use the term ‘vision’. I like using that term because it gives me a feeling of inspiration. This is also the outcome that many people have in mind when they start a new program to become happier and healthier.

One lesson I took away from Duhigg’s book is that when you set your stretch goal, you should define something that seems a little unrealistic today. This advice is a little nuanced because there is a fine line between something that is unrealistic today and something that is completely impossible. The reward that comes with setting stretch goals that feel slightly out of reach, is that when you successfully implement the daily habits and practices, they will gradually make what once seemed unrealistic a very real possibility.

Here are some examples of stretch goals related to being happier and healthier, along with one daily habit that could be the first step to making the vision come true:

Stretch goal:  To be 50 pounds lighter.
Daily habit: Put on walking shoes and walk around the block.

Stretch goal: To manage work stress better.
Daily habit: Set a pomodoro timer and walk for 1 minute each cycle.

Stretch goal: To run a 5k with family at Thanksgiving.
Daily habit: Put on running clothes, run to end of block.

Stretch goal: To get out of chair without knee pain or support.
Daily habit: Set alarm on phone, do 5 body squats to comfortable depth each time it goes off.

Stretch goal: To have less frustration and more positive mindset.
Daily habit: Set alarm for 3pm each day, when alarm goes off acknowledge 1 thing you are grateful for that day.

When you are working hard to develop a new lifestyle, it is important to be committed to the daily process. However, to remain inspired and achieve outcomes that seem unrealistic today, it is valuable to have a vision for what the future looks like.

What is your story? Sabotaging thoughts and 2 strategies to overcome them.

We all have stories we tell ourselves. The internal dialogue we use to narrate our lives. Those stories have a strong impact on how we view the world and ourselves. The narratives create characters and setting in our minds, which we insert our identities and navigate the best we can. When you are trying to become healthier and happier, it is important that you do not let those stories become a barrier to uncovering that person.

There were many years that the internal narrative I possessed was one where I played the underdog and had to overcome many obstacles. Those obstacles included things like: lack of finances, lack of support, a biased system and an inability to be loved. The truth was that having this ‘come from behind’ story was positive in some ways. When I was full of energy and motivation, I would create the successful Hollywood narrative, where I’d rise above all the challenges placed in front of me. In those months and years, I accomplished many things and had many successes. It was this storyline that allowed me to finish college, go to graduate school and most importantly, become an endurance athlete. When it comes to performing in athletics, I have always raced from behind. The idea of being a front runner is not the story I allowed myself to consider.

The other side to this story is that when I was not as energetic and motivated, I often became sad with feelings of helplessness and loneliness. A very specific time period I remember this becoming a problem was soon after the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009. I have not went back and unpacked all of the narratives that I picked up during that time, however, when you look at the following years of 2010 to 2013 (when the storyline started to change), you can see some of the impact and consequences of those narratives.

The greatest lessons that I’ve learned from those periods of my life include:

— You have to protect who has influence over your narrative. I personally made a decision in 2012 to remove all news on television and radio from my life.

— You need to have at least one or two people who can help you create a positive narrative. I am lucky to have a few close friends that I can lean into for this.

— You need establish a habit of observation, so you can become aware of what your current narrative is. This has become a nearly constant habit for me, but initially it required a formal and scheduled action.

When you know you have a negative narrative, what can you do about it? That is one of the highest quality questions you can ask yourself. As I just shared, that question means that you have to become aware that this narrative exists. When I talk to many people, it is evident they don’t realize that the stories they are telling themselves and others each day are not supporting the life they have identified as ideal. So, what can you do to manage the storylines?

To answer that, I would like to share a personal example from running marathons.

On ideal race days, when I am running a marathon, the narrative trends from very positive to slightly negative. The slightly negative thoughts are usually when I begin obsessing about my current pace or the constant observation of the aches and pains that are present. When race day goes wrong, the story trends from positive to complete self doubt. The self doubt, in these moments, becomes so powerful that it has real impact on my physical performance. These narrative also rob me of any happiness that I might be able to find.

The value in knowing these sabotaging thoughts are going to be a part of the day, is that you can prepare and practice managing those negative thoughts. Here are two strategies that I have effectively used over the years when I race. It took me many years to realize that these same strategies can be effective when trying to manage the negative storylines in my day to day life.

Two strategies to manage negative thinking: 

1. Have a mantra to fall back on.

One of the most powerful mantras I developed for racing was during 2002 through 2003. It became so powerful because I practiced using daily. The mantra was very simple:

“I am strong. My body has done the training.”

I have had other mantras throughout the years, but I recall this one getting me through some pretty dark moments. It was also a year that I set multiple personal bests, including setting my marathon PR, which still stands today.

The value of having a mantra is when it becomes automatic. When prepared, at the first awareness of a negative internal dialogue, I return to the mantra until the dialogue has changed. Here are some examples of mantras that might be empowering:

  • I am a healthy person. I appreciate my body.
  • I am strong enough to handle today. I have everything I need.
  • In this moment, I am perfect. The future will take care of itself.
  • I am happy today. Yesterday is over.

The key is to use a mantra that has personal meaning and value for you. For many people I know, this means leaning into a religious belief. The only suggestion I would make is that you don’t use someone else’s mantra because it worked for them. Take the time and go through the process of uncovering something of meaning for yourself. It is ok if what you uncover is only useful for a short period of time. As I noted, my mantra for athletics has changed many times over the years.

2. Disassociate from the negative and move into the positive.

Another effective strategy that I have used, is to remove myself from the negative thoughts, replacing the experience with something positive. In this case, I like to use a visualization practice. I find the happy retreat, then I begin to create that setting as completely as I can. I use all my senses. If my retreat is on a trail, outside a cabin in the mountains (which it often is), then what are the sounds that I would hear? What does the mountain air smell like? How does that air feel when I breathe deeply? In a race, I work through this process, over and over until the imagery becomes as vivid and real as my mind can make it.

This past weekend, I ran the Sundance to Spearfish Marathon. It takes you through Spearfish Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places you could ever run a marathon. Somewhere around mile 16 I lost track of what mile I was running as I was absorbed by the scenery. I made a conscious decision to never look at my watch again, until the finish line. It was easy to disassociate from the reality of the race. I didn’t worry about the lack of long runs in my training. I wasn’t too concerned about little aches and pains.

However, there did come a point where I started to feel a little tired. The fatigue wasn’t worrisome, but I began to notice my legs were getting tired and I wasn’t able to distract myself by simply taking in the scenery. It was also about that point when I saw one of the small flagged mile markers. It said I was at mile 23. To combat this, I made the decision to find something else to focus on. Despite being in a perfect setting, I had to find a new scene to distract my mind from the reality of the race. As you can see from the data taken from my watch, it was highly effective.

IMG_3571

In your day to day life, you can not always fall into day dreams to avoid your stress and negative thoughts. However, I challenge you to create one visualization and work with it. Once you have practiced it, you will find that falling into the imagery, even for a brief few seconds or minutes, will enable to you tackle the sabotaging thoughts that creep into your storyline throughout the day.

The narrative that we tell ourselves and share with others can have a powerful impact on our lives. When those narratives consistently trend to negative storylines, it can be difficult to find health and happiness. Two effective strategies for overcoming those narratives are to find a personal mantra and to lean into positive visualizations. To use these tools in your journey towards health, practice often and make them a default response in those moments of need.

It is a marathon: lessons about behavior change taken from the first three miles.

It is marathon week, so I figured we could use the overused sports analogy to discuss changing our behaviors. Everyone has heard the saying,

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

It has been used in everything from motivational posters and financial planning commercials to company culture documents. The lesson to individuals is that it is wise to manage your effort overtime, make logical choices to get to the next step, opposed to trying to accomplish everything in a single day.

The problem that I have with this advice is that at every marathon I have ever done, during the first few miles, the participants of the marathon forget it themselves. If there was ever someone that should understand this principle, it would probably be the marathon runner on race day. I still remember doing a marathon with a bunch of first time marathoners. We had trained for several months and were prepared to have a great day. I taught the value of having self awareness and pacing early in the race. I warned of the desire to do something you had not prepared for due to the crowd of runners. Despite that coaching, after the race started and we hit the 0.5 mile mark, one of the runners looked at her Garmin watch and saw that her average pace was slower than she anticipated. She decided to run faster and was already anxious about her finishing time.

I yelled some words of wisdom as she ran ahead. The good news is that she crossed the finish line, however the second half of the race was more difficult than it needed to be.

Why does this happen so often? What lessons can we take away from this observation and apply to our desire to change our behavior? I have a few key reasons that this mistake is so commonplace:

1. Lack of self awareness:

When you show up to the start of a marathon, in an ideal situation, you will be in the best shape of your life. Your fitness is at its peak. When you combine peak fitness with the proper pre race recovery, you set yourself up for new and unusual feelings at the start of the race. What feels like easy running, might have been a steady effort run just a couple weeks ago. You can be running at a tempo pace, but convince yourself that you are really holding yourself back. I see runners make the mistake, thinking they are running easy, but discover 13, 15 or 20 miles later that they were just unaware of what to expect in those first few miles.

When you are trying to change your behavior, it is critical that you maintain a high level of self awareness. The ability to fall back into your previously established habits is easy. Where I see this most often, is early on when you are having success with a new behavior. You have established a routine to follow that allows you be successful, then you enter an environment that breaks that routine. It may be a family vacation. It could be a Thursday night happy hour with co-workers or dinner out with friends. In these situations, extreme self-awareness is important. Understand what decisions you are making and why you are making them.

2. Have objective measures.

The discussion so far has been about the inability to maintain good judgement using subjective observations. This is why it is important to define some objective measurements that allow you to monitor progress and identify success. In the marathon, this means knowing what pace is acceptable and what is just fantasy due to early race happiness. In your behavior change project, it allows you to be accountable.

When you are trying to implement a new behavior, let’s say it is adding an exercise routine, our memory of what we did and what actually happened can be misaligned. People will commonly tell me that they were successful adding exercise to their week. Then when we review what they actually did, they may have completed the routine 1 or 2 times. That may be fine if the goal was to include exercise 1 or 2 times, but more than likely the misalignment is a function of the effort it took to complete those sessions. The effort was high, which makes the recall of what actually occurred to be overstated. Whatever the goal is, make sure there’s a way to measure and track your progress.

3. Take on one challenge at a time.

Early in the marathon, it is tempting to start thinking about ‘finish times’. Most of us show up to the race with some expectation of how we want the day to finish. However, when you are running miles 2 or 3, your finish time should be the last thought in your mind. It is important to run the mile you are running. It takes discipline of thought, but successful marathoners are good at this.

As you begin a behavior change project that leads to a happier and healthier life, it is easy to think of all the habits you need to change. You may need to eat differently, exercise more, manage your stress, along with many other lifestyle changes. The desire to change all of them at once can be tempting. But, it is an approach that often leads to failure after several days or weeks. If the goal is to create a happier and healthier lifestyle, then approach it with the knowledge that it can take a lifetime to create those behaviors. When you gain this perspective, understand that you will be most successful when you work on one habit at a time. Focus on something manageable and immediate, then reassess and take on the next behavior.

The saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is an overused analogy. It is used so often that I wonder if it has any value in our every day conversations. However, as I think about all the mistakes marathon runners make during those first few miles, I see the value keeping that mantra alive. As you work through your behavior change program, maintaining the perspective that you have a lifetime to develop your ideal lifestyle, will reward you will success, happiness and health.