Are You In The Mood?

The bed was warm. She cozied closer.

“Are you in the mood?”

I looked at her, my eyes wide in disbelief.

“What are you, on crack?” I asked.  “Of course, I’m NOT in the mood.”

Who asks questions like that? It was cold outside, 18 degrees as I recall. And dark. Who wants to run in the cold and dark?

She was joking, of course. It’s not a question we ask… or entertain about our running. At least not often.

Because, for pursuits of any import, mood is irrelevant.

I’m rarely in the mood to go to the gym. I’m never in the mood to count my calories or sort my supplements. I’m only occasionally in the mood to run. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write. And sometimes not. I love to photograph. But I’m never in the mood to edit. I’m passionate about speaking. But the preparation is tedious.

Rory Vaden writes, “Simply stated, there are only two types of activities: things we feel like doing and things we don’t. And if we can learn to make ourselves do the things we don’t want to do, then we have literally created the power to create any result in our lives.”

Successful people do whatever they need to do to achieve their goals, regardless of how they “feel.”

“Successful people are successful because they form the habits of doing those things that failures don’t like to do,” said Albert Gray.

Form the habits of success. Dial in the gym, the run, the weekly planning, the healthy meals. Schedule and commit the time to write, to paint, to practice the instrument. Do what’s really important. Do it every day. Don’t think about it. Don’t analyze it. Don’t wonder about it. Don’t worry about it. Don’t re-consider it. Do it. Just do it. No matter what.

When was the last time you asked yourself whether you were “in the mood” to brush your teeth? What a ridiculous question to ask, you say. Make your habits of success like that.

The things that look effortless, the performances that are flawless, the achievements that astound (all those things you’re jealous of): they’re borne of countless hours of practice and preparation. Of doing. And doing again. And had nothing to do with mood.

So if the new business venture is on your list, or the MBA, or the 5k in the spring, now is the time to start.

I don’t care if you’re in the mood, or not.

 

 

Life Is Not A Marathon

It’s an Ultra!

It’s amazing how fast significant events can disappear into the rear-view mirror of our lives. It was nearly a month ago already that we ran the Vermont 50. Yet despite the passage of time, I keep realizing how many lessons I learned in the hills around Ascutney.

I used to think that life was like a marathon. I don’t think so anymore. Now I think it’s more like an ultra. Here’s why:

1. The need to take better care of ourselves.

There is no question that marathon training is difficult.  And 26.2 miles is a long way to run.  But it’s possible to run a marathon, get a bit dehydrated, allow yourself to get nutritionally depleted, and still walk away relatively unscathed.

Not so with an ultra.  Over 50 or 100 miles, it is critical to attend meticulously to the needs of your body.  You can’t afford to get dehydrated.  It’s essential to continually monitor your electrolytes. You need constant fuel to go the distance. 

How easy it is to ignore our bodies in our lives. When I’m out speaking to groups on the message of Journeys, when I urge folks to be active participants in their lives, the familiar refrain I hear is: I’m too old, too overweight, too out of shape.

It is axiomatic that without our health we have nothing. And yet how cavalier we are with the care of the  vessels that enable us to make manifest the very essence of who we are in the world.

Small tweaks in diet and exercise can transform how we feel about ourselves; and can transform our lives. At our ideal weights, we can sometimes feel like we can fly.

The death of Steve Jobs is a stark reminder that all of the fame and fortune and success and notoriaty on the planet cannot save us from consequences of ill health.

We need to care for our bodies well if we’re going to go the distance.

2. It’s about endurance not speed.

I remember being preoccupied in my marathon training about time.  Would I finish sub-4? Would I have a “qualifying” time? Would I beat Ann?  How fast could I be?

In an ultra, there is a lot more plodding. And for me, running 50 miles was not about the amount of time it took me; it was about being able to go the distance. Sure there was a time limit. But it mattered much less to me how fast I ran it than being able to cross the finish line.

We are constantly challenged by the need for speed in our lives with the constant barrage of emails and voicemails and status updates. Yet what really matters is our ability to persist.

Those of you who read me frequently know that I am a big fan of Darren Hardy’s metaphor of the hand pump, one of those old metal things you see at a campground. He says that when we engage in a big life project – at work, in school or in our creative lives – we need to make slow, steady, constant efforts toward our goal. As we continue “to pump the handle,” at first we see just a slow trickle of results for all our work. (If we stop, we need to start again.) But if we continue to pump steadily, eventually a huge torrent flows.

Jack Canfield says that even the mightiest tree in the forest can be felled with just five whacks of the axe each day, so long as we don’t give up.

Small consistent steps over time lead to magnificent results.

Persistence is the key.

3. We get to stop and re-group.

When I first started my distance training, I freaked out when Ann suggested that we stop and hydrate and have a snack. Stop?  How can we stop? We’ve gotta run a race! We can’t stop! We’ll fall behind! Our muscles will seize up. All will be lost!

Well, in running ultra distances, there’s a lot of stopping.

We need to be a lot better about this in our lives. And I am guilty as charged! They say that we teach what we most need to know and this is a lesson that I need to constantly remind myself to follow.

We seem to think that busy means that we are productive. And this is not necessarily so. In fact, last week I wrote: busy is bad.

Busy will burn us out. And yet the world drives us forward. Our egos drive us forward.

How essential it is to stop. To reflect. To rest. To recreate. To think about where we’ve been; to consider where we’re going. To connect again with those we love; to connect with our essential selves; to connect with the ground; and with the Ground of All Being.

If we’re going to go the distance, we gotta to stop and regroup. Often.

4. We can suffer for a long time and still be ok.

Before I met Ann, I hadn’t run more than 8 or 10 miles. When I went out beyond 10 for the first time, I thought I was going to die.

As I extended the distances out, though, I discovered that the entire range of physical and mental feelings ebbs and flows; that there is a constant state of flux. I found that I could run 15 miles like the wind, 10 miles as if my legs were bound by piano wire; and another 5 as if I were a flowing river. All on the same run!  And I discovered too that even if I were miserable for 20 miles, it could all change in an instant – and it would be ok.

In every day of our lives, we go through the range of emotions. Some affirmation from a co-worker will lift us up; the all-too-busy boss becomes a sure sign that we will lose our job; the ungrateful teenager enrages us; a smile from a passer-by makes our heart sing; our exhausted spouse hurls us into a lonely despair. Over and over again.

And we will be ok.

A relationship unwinds. A loved one dies.  We have no idea whether the house will ever sell. Or whether our kid will get into school. Or whether there will ever be work again.

And we will be ok.

It is so easy to lose faith in ourselves; in our abilities; in our resiliance.

We shouldn’t. We can prevail. We will.

5. It’s a banquet, a really nice banquet.

On a short run, you start and you finish. In marathons, there are places to fill your water bottles every now and then. And perhaps pick up a package of Gu.

When I first started thinking about ultras, I was told that they were like running buffets or banquets. And they are!

Every 5 or 6 miles or so in an ultra, there are long tables of goodies: sandwiches and bananas and cookies and crackers and fruits and nuts and candies and gummies and all sorts of other fun stuff.

Life is like that: it’s a banquet.  And we forget. We forget how good it is. We forget to stop along the way and peruse the table and fill our pockets and satisfy our hunger and our thirst. We hurtle forward, missing the majesty that lays before our eyes.

We miss the sunrises and the sunsets and the northern lights and the shooting stars. We miss our lover. We miss the child who wants to connect; the parent who wants to be remembered; the co-worker who needs a hug. We miss the garden and the fall colors and the fine wine and the bountiful harvest. And one day becomes the next.

And before you know it, the ultra is done.

Linger at the banquet. It’s ours to enjoy.

Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters Click here to get your signed copy now!

 

 

The Secret Behind The Secret

Whatever you can do or dream, begin it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Missing Secret

I have a secret. It’s the secret behind The Secret. It’s the secret to all success. Irene whispered it to me on a rainy hillside. Do you want to hear it?

You know The Secret: that Law of Attraction stuff. What you think about expands. What you focus on materializes. What you visualize, you attract into your life.

I’m a big fan of the Law of Attraction. I use it all the time. But I think the purveyors of The Secret leave out a major component of the formula and do a huge disservice to those well-intentioned folks who can’t understand why their lives don’t change, even with all the good that they imagine will unfold.

Those folks say the Law of Attraction doesn’t work. They visualize and visualize and nothing comes to pass.

It’s because they don’t know the secret behind The Secret.

I do. I know the real secret. And I will tell it to you.

Visualization Is Not Enough

Visualization is important. But something more is required.

It’s called action. Action is the secret behind The Secret.

We cannot hit a target we cannot see.  So envisioning what we want to have, where we want to go, who we want to be, are essential components of success. We need a clear picture of our goals if we are going to have any prospect whatsoever of attaining them.

But visualizing is not enough.

Once we know what we want, we need to move.  We need to take action. Tony Robbins would say, “massive action.”

I was reminded of this a few days ago as we completed our first ultra-marathon in tropical storm Irene. For months, we’d been visualizing the day we would cross the finish line. But as important – perhaps more important – we’d been getting out the door. Running. Following a specific plan of action. Incremental steps. Day in and day out.

Irene – they called her Irene – pummeled the hillside on the day of our race with wind and torrential rain.  She taunted us. We laughed and ran across the meadow.

We had trained in wind. We had trained in rain.

It didn’t matter.

The finish line was firmly planted in our minds. But we were there, together with Irene, because we had done the work.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”

Surely there are times for planning. But it is so easy for all of us to get lost in the planning and never start out.

Start out. Even if you can’t see the whole way. Take the first step. And then the next. You’ll be amazed at the progress you will make.

Emerson said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” It most certainly does. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Life Is An Action Sport

Life is an action sport. Participation is required.

The title of our ultra-marathon training guide is: Relentless Forward Progress.

It’s about life.

It’s the real secret.

Yup, The Gods, They’re Crazy

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky.

— Deep Purple

The explosion shattered the stillness and nearly knocked me off my feet.

Here’s what I had been worrying about as I ran along the road in the pre-dawn light:

  • the exhaust system on my son’s car
  • my hip flexors
  • the cat
  • whether I had returned all my calls
  • my office building
  • whether the restaurant would be crowded

Then the fire ball shot from the sky; the sound like the blast of a nuclear bomb. A mere 30 feet closer and the outcome… not good.

I had to stop. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t breath.

Who would have expected an electrical transformer to blow up at that moment? Right there, right then.

But isn’t that what “they” always say?

“Who would have expected it? What a shock! Wrong place, wrong time. They were such a nice couple.”

My mind drifted back to the beautiful traverse beneath the summit of Illinza Norte. A brilliant crystal clear day; a gentle acclimatization in the Ecuadorian Andes. And then the sudden rockfall, the size of a semi-trailer, a mere 50 yards from where we stood.

Didn’t see that coming.

And then my mind carried me further to the back seat of a crushed Honda Civic on a warm sparking Sunday afternoon in February, the acrid smells of battery acid, anti-freeze and air bag powder permeating the air. I held the limp body of my friend Chris as his life ebbed away. Who would have expected the oncoming car to cross into his lane?

Who would have expected it?

That’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s the things we least expect that get us.

We like to live with the illusion of control. With the fantasy that as long as we obsess about things, worry about people and problems, believe we can manipulate situations and outcomes, we think we will be ok, that those we care about will be safe, that everything will work out just fine.

We do this with our kids, our partners, our businesses, our entire lives.

And it’s not true.

It’s the stuff we can’t imagine that comes to bite us; the stuff we don’t expect, the stuff we can’t even begin to conceive of. (Because to conceive of it would make life untenable?)

The challenge for us: Stop the hand wringing.  Stop the kvetching. Know this truth: Worry is a waste.

Let it go. Be here now.

Yes, the gods, they may well be crazy.  But they seem to know an incontrovertible fact: We humans seem to need an explosion now and then to jolt us out of our pettiness, our small mindedness, our narcissistic self-absorption; to wake us up and remind us:

  • time is short
  • treasure what we have
  • cherish those we love
  • celebrate what is
  • find the joy

Suffering and loss are never far away. Indeed, they will come come and find us however much in control we imagine ourselves to be.

The lesson, just this: Live deeply, fully, in this moment. Here. Now.

Get Out Of Jail Free

If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realizing that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page.

— Mark Houlahan

Liz sat across the table from Ann.  “I could never do that,” Liz said.

Ann had been describing our marathon training. Granted there may be a legitimate argument that our program is somewhat extreme. But the “I could never do that” response is such a bugger for me.

Yet all of us do it. All of us have been guilty at one time or another of saying, “I could never do that.”

We enjoyed the summer flick Rise of the Planet of the Apes recently. In it, Caesar, the ape who becomes the leader of his tribe, learns how to fashion a key, open his cage and free himself from captivity.

It reminded me of the true story of one of the ways that monkeys are captured in the wild: hunters cut a small hole in a coconut, and fix the coconut to the ground with a length of chain. The hole is just big enough for the monkey to slide its hand into. But when it grabs hold of the tender meat inside the coconut and closes its fist, it can’t pull its hand out of the hole. It’s stuck on the horns of a dilemma: hold on tight to the juicy meat; or open its hand and escape to freedom.

You know what happens. Despite holding the key to freedom, the monkey stays stuck. Caught.

Just like us.

Brian Tracy, author of Create Your Own Future, writes, “Your greatest limits are not external. They are internal, within your thinking. They are contained in your personal self-limiting beliefs. These are beliefs that act as brakes on your potential. These are beliefs that cause you to sell yourself short, and to settle for far less than you are truly capable of.”

What we are capable of is: Anything.

Our brains don’t distinguish between internal visions and external reality. “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it,” said William Arthur Ward.   “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them,” Disney echoed.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves,” Thomas Edison said.

Think, for just a moment, of only a few of the things that have been “imagined” into being: the automobile, the light bulb, the television, the personal computer, space travel, the Internet, the iPod, and Facebook.

Yet our limiting beliefs continue to dog us, haunt us, infect us. They hold us captive. In cages of our own. (And as guests in others’ cages too.)

We are the jailer and the jail.

And we hold the key.

All we need to do is open to possibility. And the expansiveness of the Universe is ours.

With open hands and and an open heart, anything is possible.

Each day, we are given the gift of a new page. Each day, we get the chance to let loose our grasp again of all that holds us captive. Each day, we have an opportunity to create anew the masterpieces of our lives.

Or we can choose to hold on tight to the coconut.

It’s up to us.

Put all excuses aside and remember this: you are capable.

— Zig Zigler

Map Quest

If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

Jim Rohn

It All Starts With A Map

We looked at the map. We studied the topo.  We were pretty psyched.

Our plan was to run twelve miles along the ridge line. It would be our first trail-run in the training program for our ultra marathon.

We started in the pre-dawn light. For awhile, the route followed a level, well-traveled path.  Then the trail cut uphill steeply and disappeared into the brush. Several times we needed to turn around to get back on route. Several times we needed to stop to figure out which way to go. The trail was marked with blue blazes – but not very well.

Along the way, we got lost. It was hot and buggy. We fell. We got up again.

And when we were finished, we were well pleased with our success.

We started with a map.

Most of us do when we’re planning a hike in the woods. Or a road trip.

But it’s astounding how few of us use a map for the rest of our lives.

Of course, we start out with good intentions, and a general idea of the direction: stay in school, get good grades, find a job, get married, settle down, work hard, make money. Then you’ll be happy. You’ll get “there,” wherever “there” is supposed to be.

The problem is: the path peters out. It gets hot and buggy. There aren’t enough blazes. We lose our way. We can’t even begin to remember where “there” might be.

And without a map, we’re screwed.

We Actually Get To Make The Map

But here’s the good news: We are the cartographers! We get to draw the map! We get to plot the course!

We are the architects of our lives.

Sure shit happens. Bad things do happen to good people. We do get off course. We do lose our way. There is sickness and suffering and death.  But as Victor Frankl wrote in his magnificent masterpiece, Man’s Search For Meaning,  even in the worst of circumstances, we get to choose.

And it is our responsibility to choose.

It is our responsibility to be active participants in the gift of our lives, to be drivers and not passengers. What a privilege it is to be able to step up and chart out our own course; to choose our own way.

We can drift along, let things happen, see how things turn out. Many folks do. But usually those are the folks we hear complaining about how horrible the economy is, how unfair the pay is, how mean the boss is, how they’re getting screwed at every turn.

The alternative is to draw the map.

So Chart The Course

  • What are your dreams?
  • What is the life you want?
  • Who would be your ideal partner?
  • How do you envision your health?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • What do you want your net worth to be?
  • What kind of work would rock your world?

Write it down. Map it out. And start out.

Make it happen.

Sometimes, we’ll go back to the drawing board.

And yes, we’ll still get lost and fall down and get hurt.

But we’ll have a map.



The Recreation Department

I objected to it. I railed against it. I didn’t want to do it.

It seemed wasteful. Lazy. Uninspired. Counterproductive.

Take a rest day. Who does that?

Turns out, a lot of (smart) folks do. I’ve joined the bandwagon.

Happily.

The rest day is not a foreign concept to me.  It’s always been part of the rhythm in high-altitude mountaineering. There, long ago, I learned to relish those much needed breaks in the action.

Carry a load up high and return to camp. Move the camp up. Take a rest.

Every three or four days, a rest. Read, write, sleep, talk. Be.

In mountaineering, I could understand the rationale: the altitude. Physiologically, the body can only move up a mountain at a specified rate. Stopping, resting is necessary in order to acclimatize. Stopping has some utility!

But when we started our training for the ultra marathon, the rest days seemed wasteful. And counter-intuitive. How would we be able to push up the mileage significantly if every two or three days we weren’t moving?

Turns out the rest is an integral part of the training.

It’s when the frame recovers. And the muscles heal. And the emotions regroup. We mend.

It’s where the quantum leaps occur.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this during these long lazy days of summer. Those of us “A” types have such a propensity to drive ahead come hell or high water. Even our “vacations” are epics.

Sometimes it’s good just kick back, relax and just be.

Excellence demands that we take one whole day off each week for peak performance, leadership expert Robin Sharma suggests.

There is precedent in this for those who observe a sabbath. But rare is the observer who really stops.

Yet it is in this stopping that the quantum leaps occur in our lives.  It’s then that our spirits rest and our creative souls renew and our resilience is restored. We mend.

It’s a very difficult principal to teach, especially in business. Time is money; and money is time; and all of that. Conventional wisdom has always suggested that the more hours we put in, the harder we work, the more we will produce and the higher our profit will be.

But just the opposite is really true.  When we take the time to renew ourselves, we are more productive, more imaginative, more creative, more flexible. Our vision of what is possible expands.

Often working not at all is the best work we can do.

Our creative work – the work of our hearts, the work of our souls – requires sacred space in which to grow. Without activity or motion. A place of groundedness, of stillness, of stopping.

It is one of life’s great paradoxes: that in the stopping we can start anew.

Holy leisure, the Carmelite mystic William McNamara calls it. The time to recreate.

To re-create.

The opportunity to re-create is always ours.

All we need to do is stop.

Can we do it? Will you try?

Photo © Robert Pollack