This past weekend, my husband and I were discussing how ubiquitous complaining has become. I suddenly realized how often I complain to my journal. Frequently unconsciously. My husband whipped out one of his gems. “The quality of the language we use dictates the quality of the communication we have with ourselves and others.” I vowed to improve communication by trying to stop — or reduce — my complaining. Easier said than done.
What Is Complaining?
In simplest terms, complaining is a way to express pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment. Sometimes I complain in my journal to process something that is not going well. That way nobody ever has to hear it. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, complaining — in any form — is awful for our health. He says that the more we complain, the more negative we become.
Complaining can result from a comparison (oops!). I often hear people say they don’t have enough (time, money, fame, beauty, etc.) or too much (weight, work, pain, stress, people relying on them, etc.) If you’ve been following my blog over the past month, you may recall what Dan Sullivan says about comparison (in The Gap and The Gain). It’s a sure way to get stuck in the GAP.
“Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely,” Bradberry points out. “Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.”
Once we start a complaining habit, it becomes harder to change. I’ve taken it on as my next challenge. (As if I don’t have enough to work on already. Oops, see that? Another complaint. Dagnabbit!)
Stop Complaining to Improve Communication
Now that we know how awful complaining is for our health and relationships, how can we become more positive? Below are some suggestions. The original list comes from psychologists Scott Bea and Susan Albers at Health Essentials.
Six Strategies to Reduce Complaining
Choose the right audience — Most of the world couldn’t care less. (Or worse, they may get so annoyed that they start avoiding you). Look for one appropriate person — a close friend or colleague, clergy or social worker — to help you brainstorm options for change
Clarifyintent — Ask yourself if this issue really matters that much to you. If so, write about it in private with the goal of finding a solution
Complaint sandwich — Just like we use in my writing groups when delivering critiques, say something positive, voice your critique/complaint, and end with another positive.
Gamify — Increase your awareness of when you’re complaining by remaining playful. Try saying aloud, “Oops, there I go again, better change my strategy.” Keep it lighthearted rather than self-critical or judgmental.
Gratitude — Whenever you become aware of your need to complain, stop. Think about what’s good about the current situation. This will allow you to return to the GAIN rather than the GAP.
Time limit — ANY complaining causes “neurons that fire together, wire together,” suggests Bradberry. If you can CATCH yourself, limit your complaining time to, under a minute. Then switch to a more productive problem-solving mode.
Benefits of Kicking the Habit
The faster you jump out of the complaining habit, the better. Like any habit, it can be changed. It is a skill you can develop. Like any skill, it requires a beginner’s mindset, awareness, and practice.
Think of people you spend most of your time with. Do any of them complain all the time? Can you limit how much time you spend with them? Try surrounding yourself with positive people. Observe what they do. The more you can train your brain to focus on the positives, rather than the negatives, the more joy you will find.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any aha moments around complaining? Have you tried any useful strategies to increase your awareness? Share them in the comments section.
On Father’s Day my husband, daughter, and I went on three different outings: disc golf, pickleball, and birding. All three are mild physical activities, done outside, and requiring different skillsets. They also provided me with a wonderful insight into how important it is to maintain a beginner’s mindset for optimal fun.
Disc Golf Reminded Me of the Beginner’s Mindset
We started with a “practice hole” at North Park, since our daughter had never played before. I wasn’t sure how my wrist would do. My first throw went perpendicular to the intended direction. I have zero control. I’ll have to throw leftie. Unfortunately, I pitched the next disc into the street. Mortified, I considered walking the tiny course as a spectator. Not once did I think, With my injured wrist, it’s like I am a complete novice. Better change strategies.
Meanwhile, my husband (who played a lot of golf and disc golf in the past) hit the chain basket in par 3. Mine took twelve. I used to be able to throw way harder and farther. Why bother? I can’t win; I can’t even compete. My wonky throwing will only slow us down.
Comparison Squashes Fun
Uh oh. You can see where this is headed. To quote Lost in Space, season 1 episode 10, “Danger, Will Robinson!” I fell prey to comparing, competing, and creating faulty expectations. When would a novice — injured at that — ever beat someone skilled? I was asking all the wrong questions. I’d fully succumbed to GAP thinking. (If this is new to you, please see previous posts about Dan Sullivan’s book, the Gap and the Gain.)
As my daughter linked her arm through mine and we returned to start the first hole “for real,” I quickly constructed a new narrative with different goals: be outside, share a new experience with my family, practice throwing straight, and improve from the previous hole.
For the next few holes, as my husband continued with par 3’s, I focused on my own efforts. When my score dropped from 12 to 8 and then 7, and I straightened out the disc’s flight path, I smiled. I was learning. I was improving. This was fun. When we left, I wanted to keep playing. We’d arrived in the Gain.
Pickleball and Lack of a Beginner’s Mindset
Second, we tried pickleball, something none of us had played before. I’d never even heard of it until a hiking buddy (CW!) and writing partner (AC!) both mentioned playing. My racquet experiences extended to squash, ping pong, badminton, and tennis, but the whiffle balls don’t bounce much and take some getting used to. We watched a two-minute video on the basics and set out to play with our brand-new equipment.
As with disc golf, I tried using both hands. This time, I could hit with the right, but each contact sent a zing up my wrist. Good rehab, I convinced myself. My husband played on one side, and my daughter and I teamed up on the other. Our only goal was to try it out, kind of like we hit the badminton birdie in our backyard with no net.
Competition Reduces the Joy
After we’d volleyed for a few minutes, laughing about the short racquets and balls that don’t bounce, a kind stranger approached and offered to teach us the rules. A fourth! Why not? Unfortunately, this meant fewer opportunities for each of us to hit, and that darn competition thing returned. My daughter got frustrated and left, while my husband and I stayed a few more minutes, hoping to pick up a few useful tips. “Dinking” turned competitive; fun morphed into work.
When we finally located our daughter hanging out by a stream, she said she’d be happy to try disc golf again, but not pickleball. At least not if we’re going to repeat what had just happened. The lesson, at least in our family: competing before you have mastered basic competencies reduces the joy.
Birding and Chasing a Rarity
Our final adventure of the day was to Marymoor Park in Redmond to try to spot a rare species, the blue grosbeak, which had only been seen north of Oregon three times in Ebird.org‘s recorded history. Birding is a solitary endeavour — you generally don’t want scores of people disturbing the birds you want to see — yet when there are rarities in the area, it can become quite a social event.
My husband is a Master Birder through Seattle Audubon. He also has countless hours of practice with a 500mm lens, taking photos of birds in flight. Here, I knew from the outset what my expectations were: Spot the blue grosbeak. Secondary? Get a photo. Hard enough since birds are wild and unpredictable.
I also knew there would be dozens of other birders with far more experience looking for the same bird. In this case, it would help me to get a glimpse. I simply went along for the ride to absorb whatever knowledge everyone else shared. The result? I enjoy birding with people who know a lot more than I do. While I can maintain a beginner’s mindset, I can also help teach any others who know less about it than I do. Win-win.
The Take-away Lessons
Today’s ramblings reminded me of four key points:
For optimal fun, whimsy and play, maintain a beginner’s mindset
Establish realistic expectations, as that leads to staying in the Gain
Compete only with yourself, while you establish basic competencies, or risk squelching your joy
Learning can be challenging. For optimal learning, cultivate a beginner’s mindset
If there is something you have wanted to try, explore it with a playful, childlike, and curious mindset. Find someone who can guide you in a gentle, non-competitive way. Give yourself permission to be a complete novice, without judgment or embarrassment. Share your experience in the blog comments. And as we approach Blog posts 45-50, if you have topics you would love to have me explore, please suggest them.
Last week I shared a blog post about getting massive leverage on ourselves. Below, I share a journaling technique that helped me get through the first week of breaking an old habit. The exercise may seem esoteric or woo-woo, but it has helped me tap into wisdom I never knew I had. It has made for a few memorable journal entries over the past decade. It can help you reign in your inner critic and understand how that voice in your head is trying to help.
Inviting Your Inner Critic
You don’t need to be a writer to take advantage of this technique. Every person is creative. (I was even secretary for three years for a writer’s group in Edmonds with that name, EPIC Group Writers.) If you already are a writer or have toyed with keeping a journal at any point, you may take to this naturally.
All you need are some colored markers, pencils, or ink pens, and some paper, bound in a journal or loose is up to you. You may find it more fun to do this by hand rather than on a computer, and the paper can be lined or unlined if you want to doodle, draw, or even scrapbook.
Find a comfortable place where you can relax and get curious, preferably someplace you won’t be disturbed for at least ten or fifteen minutes. That could be in your parked car, on a bench in a green space, on a trail in the mountains, on a towel on a beach, or curled up in your bedroom. Someplace comfortable, soothing, familiar.
Finally, have some issue in mind that has you conflicted. In my case, on day eight of “Operation Stifle Sweet-tooth”, my inner critic spoke up, demanding chocolate. The very day I was scheduled to visit Annette Lake with a friend. I’d signed a contract with myself that if I had any chocolate at any point before my hike, I would have to cancel with my hiking partner. What could I do?
Meet Gooky, My Inner Critic
Many years ago, I playfully named my inner critic “Gooky”, a cross between “gremlin” and “cookie.” She’s a little green gremlin that perches on my left shoulder and, as close as I can tell, she’s me at age six — a whiner who wants sweets all the time, who wants to skip exercise and read all day, and who loves to laugh but can’t tell a joke to save her life — blended with the harshest critic imaginable.
You know the type. We all have one. Gooky insists that I will never amount to much as a writer, that everything I put out into the world is garbage, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that being sugar-free and gluten-free is totally boring, painful, and stupid.
Have you named yours yet? Try it. Befriend them. It’s a hoot.
Instead of giving in, I pulled out a writing technique I used about a decade ago when I suffered from plantar fasciitis. Right after our previous dog, Emily, died, I dialogued with five body parts clamoring for attention. A veritable cacophony.
This time was much simpler, just me and Gooky. Gooky’s words usually get green ink. My calm, in-control, adult self gets purple.
While I won’t include the entire exchange, a portion is below. The key to using this technique is to listen closely and try to understand the other voice, almost like you’re facing them in the opposite chair.
The Dialogue Begins
ME: Okay, Gooky, I hear that you’re asking for chocolate before today’s hike. We talked about this. Remember the pact we made, that if we went for a whole week, we’d get to hike with our friend today?
G: Yup. We did it. Bring chocolate.
ME: But then I have to show that awful picture on my blog, because the entire commitment was until July 31.
This comment Gooky made through my pen had me puzzled. What on earth do a biometric device and chocolate have in common, and why did my inner critic want data about the hike? So, I asked.
ME: What, exactly, do you want?
Again, I remained clueless. I didn’t know where these thoughts were coming from. I asked again.
ME: I don’t understand. Can you explain more?
G: Proof that we’re still awesome. I need a reward.
Aha. My six-year-old self equated eating chocolate with awesome fun and worry-free times, and she equated the Whoop with our many hikes the past two years where we went farther, faster, higher. She saw chocolate and positive biometric feedback as rewards for hard work. Suddenly, I realized what this was about. It was NOT about the chocolate. It never was.
Ending an Exchange
ME: (gently) We are awesome. We don’t need proof. Isn’t hiking with a friend reward enough?
G: You always share too much.
ME: Only with people I trust, who won’t betray my confidence. And with you. You’re a part of me. You’ve been a big help in the past. But I need to let go of some of the habits that don’t help us anymore, so we can move on to the next level. But I know you’re always there when I need you. Okay?
By her silence, I knew I had appeased the critic. I proceeded to the car — without chocolate — and had a wonderful time with my hiking buddy. As Gooky’s “reward” I took mixed nuts with a few dates and some string cheese so she wouldn’t get hungry in the car. She has been silent since Tuesday.
I certainly don’t suggest sharing your dialogues with the world as I am doing. I am not schizophrenic but yes, I do hear a voice in my head. My dialogue was a perfect illustration of how this technique works and what one might learn using it. Consider checking back in with yours periodically to see what insights you gain.
If you prefer talking out loud to writing, place a chair in front of you and physically switch seats back and forth as you dialogue with your inner critic. Some actors and writers use this exercise to “get into a role.” Do whatever allows you to tap into the most authentic you.
But most importantly, have fun with it. Befriend it. Understand it. Your inner critic is trying its very best to protect you with the tools at its disposal. The more you can listen, the more you can move forward with everyone on board instead of at odds.
Earlier this week, a critique partner said I should share a post describing what helped me change some of my bad habits. Aware that being so publicly vulnerable would be stressful and cathartic at the same time, I accepted her suggestion (thanks, CC). Are you ready to make some sort of huge change? Then read on to learn how to get massive leverage on yourself.
Are You Ready to Change?
In order to change any habit and make it stick, you need to meet the following criteria:
Be RAW – Ready, Able, and Willing — to change
Know what behavior you want to get rid of and what to replace it with
Have a supportive community
Make it so keeping the old habit becomes more painful than building a new one
Massive Leverage Tip 1: RAW — Ready, Able, Willing
I borrowed a phrase from Precision Nutrition and tweaked their order to make it easier to remember (remember KISAGE? I adore acronyms!) Change is uncomfortable. It requires mindfulness, instead of being on auto-pilot, and it involves paying attention to what you are doing. Are you READY, ABLE, and WILLING (RAW) to change? If you are not open to experiencing discomfort, you aren’t ready. If you don’t have support, you will not be able to get through the discomfort. And if you are not in the right mindset, or if you are too attached to the bad habit, you will not be willing to let go.
To share an example of how this worked for me, seven years ago we brought our pup Ajax home. A few days later, I got badly congested and went through several boxes of tissues. We tried using air purifiers, dusting, vacuuming, and brushing the dog, with little success. I didn’t want to depend on allergy medicine for the next fifteen years, so through trial and error, I finally learned that his dander had overwhelmed my immune system.
We would either have to find him another home or I’d have to eliminate another trigger: gluten. I loved our new dog so much that I was READY, ABLE, and WILLING to do anything to keep him. I have been gluten-free and sniffle-free ever since. He is one of the brightest lights in my life and I would make the same decision again in a second.
Tip 2: Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits
I learned from experience that any habit you remove gets filled with another. Unless you are mindful of what you want to replace it with, you may end up with more bad habits that can become even worse than the original.
Sometimes bad habits develop as coping mechanisms until we develop new skills. As a shy kid, I used to bite my nails. When I decided I was sick of my mangled fingernails, I replaced nail-biting with gum chewing. That led to expensive dental repairs. I switched to diet beverages, partly to avoid extra calories but mostly because I hated the taste of plain water. When I realized how much of our recycling bin was taken up by plastic, aluminum, and glass beverage containers, I got really disgusted with my negative contribution to the environment.
Something had to change.
Freedom from Artificial Sweeteners
I tried a dozen times to stop my beverage habit. When lesions that needed surgery appeared on my skin, I visited a naturopathic doctor who asked about my artificial sweeteners habit. Diet Coke. Diet Peach Snapple. Pretty much diet anything. She said, “A little bit of rat poison is still rat poison.” In my mind, I linked fake sweeteners to skin cancer and worse, which became the massive leverage I needed.
The moment I walked out of her office, I poured the stash of diet peach Snapple I had in the car right down the drain. I have been free from artificial sweeteners for over a decade. The point is this: identifying a habit you want to change is a start. However, you must replace it with a good habit. Otherwise, you may just be trading one bad habit for another.
Massive Leverage Tip 3: Have a Supportive Community
Enlist the help of a family member, a mentor, a medical professional, or a close friend – or maybe all of the above — to make lasting change. This might take the form of an accountability partner. Such a person knows what you want to do, checks in with you frequently to cheer you on, acts as a sounding board if you struggle, and supports you in hard times. Find a hiking buddy (thanks for the suggestion, TO!), writing partner (thanks for our walk-and-talks, JG!) or mentor (hurrah, EHT!) so you have people in your circle who are vested in your success. By sharing what you are trying to do, you commit beyond yourself. That commitment is much harder to break.
Freedom from Sugar
In July of 2019, I gave up sugar and maintained “sugar sobriety” for over two years. Of every bad habit I have had to let go of, giving up sugar — a substance that is ubiquitous, and more addictive than cocaine — was the hardest. I never could have done it without the help from a supportive husband, a nutrition advisor, my naturopath, and several key hiking partners. Find your support system and make public your intentions.
Tip 4: Make Old Habits More Painful Than New Ones
Following the wrist accident in February, nearly every coping strategy I had–hiking, volunteering at the zoo, writing, typing, and exercising — temporarily disappeared. The stress of making my way through my busiest season of work without use of my right hand overwhelmed me.
Not in all of my bad habits, but in the most recent one I gave up in July of 2019 — specifically, chocolate. And not to the level it was before — never anything sweeter than 72% dark — but enough that I knew the signs. I was heading for trouble. A few days ago, the growing pile of evidence snapped me out of auto-pilot. I took a picture (my “ransom note”) and used the Massive Leverage approach outlined below, adapted from steps Tony Robbins brought to my attention years ago.
What to Do If You Relapse
If you find that nothing else works, you may need Massive Leverage. Here’s what I did to ensure that having chocolate would be far more painful than making sugar-free choices (my replacement: frozen fruit).
Created a story in my mind that continuing on the current path would ruin everything
Promised to cancel something important to me if I broke my commitment within one week
Committed to sharing humiliating proof (my “ransom note” picture) with my blog readers if I broke my commitment before July 31; by that time the habit will have taken root and I would be free of the habit
Wrote, signed, and dated a formal contract in my journal
Shared that I had relapsed and asked for help and forgiveness from the two people closest to me
Acknowledged to myself that I had done the best I could, but I no longer needed the maladaptive tools
Today is day four. I know I can do it this time. After all, I have done it before. We are human. We do the best we can with the tools available to us. And we can remain stuck, or we can take massive steps to break bad habits. If you have had experience overcoming bad habits, please share your story or your tips in the blog comments so we can all learn and support one another.
Many of my previous forty blog posts have delved into identifying habits or behaviors that keep us stuck and prevent us from moving forward. While many of my Body Results clients have specific outdoor goals they are pursuing, some ask me specific nutrition questions such as, “What should I eat?” or “Can you design a diet plan for me?” The answers are as diverse as the people asking them. My first suggestion is to focus on your eating habits. In other words, first focus on how to eat, not what to eat.
The Eating Habits
Before learning about the habits, please pick only ONE to play with over the next week to ten days. Trying to do them all at once will dilute your efforts and set you up for frustration and failure. I have been coaching nutrition change for about seven years now and I am still working on mastering the habits. But awareness is half the battle. Pat yourself on the back for wanting to change and then find someone who can help point out when you are making the change and when you have slipped into previous habits.
The following practices are suggestions to try before you ever take a bite.
Listen to your body’s signals for hunger. Legitimate hunger may cue you by rumbling or gurgling in your stomach. If you feel lightheaded, you may be low in blood sugar. A touch of a headache could mean either dehydration or a need for nourishment. Pay attention to your body’s cues. It is very smart. By learning what your unique physical hunger signals are, you can start to distinguish them from emotional cues.
Avoid multi-tasking at mealtime. Your goal when you eat should be to enjoy, savor, and taste your food. That is difficult to do if you are numbing yourself in front of the television, reading, scrolling through messages or cat videos on your phone, feeding the kids, driving, etc. If you are doing anything else, put off eating until you can focus on just eating.
As You Prepare a Meal
As you get ready to have a snack or meal, consider the following habits.
Make it a meal. Set the table with a bowl or plate, fork or spoon, placemat, and a napkin (even if it’s paper rather than cloth) in full view of whoever is in your household. NOT in the car. NOT standing in front of the open refrigerator. And definitely NOT hiding in a closet or bathroom or in the basement at oh-dark-thirty after everyone has gone to sleep.
Help your body rest and digest. As you get ready to sit down meal, take a deep breath, hold for a second, sip in a little more air, then slowly release to a count of eight. Do that “sipping breath” three times before you ever take a bite. Doing so creates open-regulation for the vagal nerve so that your body is in a “rest-and-digest” state rather than “fight-or-flight.” Even the most nutritious of meals will do absolutely no good if you are eating it in the car, dashing between appointments, with three screaming kids in the back seat. Nobody can digest a meal like that!
Slow Down During a Meal
Once you are legitimately hungry, focused, sitting at the table, and calm, you are ready to actually eat.
Chew thoroughly. This practice does not apply if you are consuming Gu packs at altitude on the mountain (Gu is designed for consumption when you do NOT feel up for chewing) or if you have some physical problem like dental work or a jaw wired shut, or if you have to be on a liquid diet. Otherwise, to start the digestive process, we need to chew our food well. The next bite you take, try chewing forty times before you swallow. Then think about what that experience was like. You can bet it will slow you down!
Set your spoon or fork down between bites. This is another great strategy for slowing down and allowing your body and mouth to enjoy your meal. This also gives you time to have a conversation with someone at your table instead of constantly shoveling food into your mouth.
Eat with your non-dominant hand. Since breaking my wrist in February I have had a lot of experience with this one. Now that I am trying to eat with my right hand again, I sometimes have trouble cutting with a knife and cannot fully supinate (turn the palm up) which makes using a fork tricky. But it is improving.
Keep Your Table a Guilt-free Zone
ENJOY and SAVOR your food without guilt or shame. If you really want that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, have it. Just be sure to grab a chair, sit down with a bowl, placemat, spoon, and napkin. Light a candle. If there are any cookie dough chunks, chew them forty times. Set the spoon down between bites. Guilt has no place at the dining table and will only add to your stress.
Eating Habits After a Meal
Hydrate between meals rather than during. In order to properly digest your food, experiment with liquid consumption outside of mealtime. Digestive enzymes help you digest your food properly; water dilutes these enzymes and might cause sub-optimal utilization of the nutrients you are trying to supply.
Learn to recognize your “satiation sigh.” Your body signals when you have had enough, usually at about 80% full. You will experience a deep sigh of satisfaction which means “stop.” The trouble is, the faster we eat, and the more unaware we are of what we’re eating, the less likely we will hear our body’s request to stop. Most people who multi-task around mealtime or power-eat in five minutes may not even recognize the signal, then wonder why the heck they are so full.
Leave some for later. The great thing about modern refrigeration is we can always save part of our meal. My daughter and I always order more pizza than we can eat in a single sitting, so we have leftovers for breakfast and sometimes lunch. Bonus!
Next Step: Choose Which Eating Habits to Change
Remember, these are only starting points. We are all works in progress and we have had decades to engrain our habits. Be gentle with yourself as you try to change them.
One way to choose which to focus on is by recognizing how you reacted when you first read them. If you scoffed and said, “Well that’s impossible,” you’re probably right. For now. If your reaction was, “Ooh, maybe I could try that,” put it at the top of your list. For any that seem challenging but not impossible, hold them as options for the future.
Give yourself a good week to ten days to experiment with one. If it isn’t something that works for you, try another one. Maybe you can revisit it in the future. And remember, nobody expects perfection. Remember the new year’s post on KISAGE? Keep it simple and good enough. Pick one. Gamify. Make it fun. Learn from it. And if after ten days you notice a difference in how you’re eating, try experimenting with another.
As always I love to hear what you’re learning about yourself in the comments. Feel free to share your experiences so we can all grow and learn together.
Sometimes change is foisted upon us, like illness or breaking a bone. Other times, it is part of natural evolution, like graduating from high school or college. We can resist change, ignore it, or embrace it. Whatever change you are presently facing, notice what words you use to describe your experience to others. Are you looking at change as loss? Are you excited by the possibilities? Does change scare you? All of the above? As I explore Dan Sullivan’s book, The Gap and The Gain, I am discovering how to reframe self-talk for greater gain.
Our daughter, a senior in high school, qualified to compete in javelin at Districts, the last meet of her high school career. She took three AP exams in two weeks, the last time she will have to do so. We celebrated her eighteenth birthday for an entire week and attended several awards ceremonies and final concerts. Over the next two weeks, she is preparing for prom and graduation with her closest friends. If I feel overwhelmed at all these milestones, I can only imagine what she is feeling. While she prepares for college in September, my husband and I also face a huge change: the “empty nest.”
As a birder, I know that “empty nest” refers to the time when young birds have developed enough strength in their wings and loft in their feathers to leave the nest, a process called fledging. This time of year, females teach their offspring how to survive in the world. We once watched a mama robin tend three clutches of three to four babies each, in one season. Humans, however, need many years to prepare their children to leave home or “fledge.” To me, “empty nest” conjures ending, sadness, and loss. I don’t want to spend the next few months of summer feeling sad. I realized in thinking about this blog post that I am stuck in “The GAP” thinking. Again.
Recent Tiger Outing
How can I flex my GAIN muscle and replace the “empty nest” metaphor with something happier? I reflected on my most recent hike to Tiger Mountain, which I wrote about in a blog post last fall about Tiger’s beauty despite logging. Happily, logging has ended and the warning signs have all been removed. West Tiger summits 3, 2, 1, and beyond are all accessible again, although they look much different.
On May 22, Ajax and I did a belated Mother’s Day ramble to discover for ourselves how much things have changed and to see what we could still identify.
Reframe Self-talk: Notice the Positives
I won’t lie, I miss the trees. However, I noticed a number of positives:
Fantastic views: on a beautiful clear day, you can now see Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, and the entire Puget Sound area from any of West Tiger’s summits.
Returning wildlife: birds have returned to the trees on the edge of the logging area. We saw a pair of bald eagles surveying the region and heard Anna’s hummingbirds and red-breasted nuthatches as we emerged from the forest.
Planted saplings: someone — WTA volunteers? Weyerhauser? — has already planted baby trees along the trail between Tiger 3 and Tigers 2 and 1. In the future, lovely cool forests will once again top Tiger Mountain.
Cherished solitude: on a lovely spring day when the rest of Tiger Mountain — and probably every other trail near the Puget Sound — was flooded with hikers, Ajax and I pretty much had the Preston trail to ourselves.
Broken bones, “empty nests,” and logging on Tiger all involve drastic change. In chapter five of The Gap and The Gain Sullivan defines the term “selective attention,” as focusing on what matters to us personally. To get to THE GAIN we must train ourselves to look for it. Instead of bringing attention to my daughter’s “lasts” over the next few weeks, could I reframe my own thinking to help her see them as “firsts”?
Rather than her last time with high school friends, she can celebrate her first formal dance. Instead of saying farewell to her high school, maybe she’d handle it more positively by thinking of it as her first graduation. And instead of sending her off to explore her college campus by herself to see if she can figure it out, we can make it a game this summer, bookending such excursions with ice cream and shopping. I can help her look at all the small daily gains, much like I celebrated the recent victories of making a full fist, dumping out a wheelbarrow, or slicing Swiss cheese.
Examine Your Words For Clues
The fact is, our daughter leaves for college in the fall. Things will change. Lasts signify endings and loss. Firsts signify beginnings and hope. Empty implies a hole, or something missing. Starting a new chapter breathes with life and vitality. If we celebrate the new experiences our daughter is about to have, we can face this change expecting opportunity rather than sadness. By changing the words we use to describe a situation, we change our attitude toward it. We can flex the GAIN muscle.
The next time you hear yourself using “have to” or “should,” remember that you always have choices. Whenever you dread something, stop to focus on the good that might come from it. If you are creating a story for your future, examine the specific words you use. Are they positive or negative? Can you change your story so you feel better about it? I may not have answers, but after forty blog posts, I have many tools to use to face what comes next. If you have helpful tools to share with readers, we welcome your comments below.
This week I have been toying with random thoughts about pain. I searched for the origin of the quote, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Did it come from sports? Business? Parenting? I learned it is often used to motivate military troops or reluctant exercisers facing the initial discomfort of challenging workouts. I read from others in pain how such a mantra does not help in managing pain. What does?
An occupational therapist who has worked with me to rehab my broken wrist suggested a more useful approach. When our bodies guard against pain, i.e. following an accident or injury, we need to re-educate our nervous system to tolerate pain once again. In other words, increasing our pain threshold decreases painsensitivity. By putting up with some discomfort now, we will have less overall pain in the future. I could get behind that one.
Managing Pain – Physical
I fell back on 25 years of experience as a personal trainer to translate her comment into useful advice. Take hiking, for example. If you have never hiked before, and you go out to the mountains for an eight-mile trip with too much in your pack, you will likely experience pain from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) over the next few days. You might even strain an underprepared muscle that could leave you out for the season.
But if you “sneak up” on your hiking mileage and do a little more each time, the pain won’t be as bad and will eventually disappear as you increase your tolerance. Could the same concept hold true with rehabilitation? Was I hurting myself in the long run by protecting myself from all pain?
With newfound understanding, I endured her poking and prodding at my wrist. Sessions with my myofascial release practitioner were excruciating at first, and as he got deeper into the tissue it seemed like the pain was getting worse rather than better. Finally, in a session this week, he said, “We’ve never gotten this deep because your wrist has been so sensitive.” Aha! I WAS getting more tolerant of pain. Shock training was similar; I had to work through initial discomfort for it to be better the next time. Who knew?
Managing Pain – Emotional
Can we use the same idea of progressive overload to train ourselves emotionally? Can we “get accustomed” to grief, or at least learn new coping tools, so the next time we lose something or someone it won’t feel as devastating? I tested that theory recently.
In an earlier post (November 2021) I mentioned volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo for the past eight years. For reasons I won’t discuss, I decided this week to discontinue volunteering, something I have been considering over the past six months. I thought leaving would be more difficult than it was. It turns out pondering for six months was way more painful than actually leaving which took all of two minutes in an e-mail. I felt initial sadness and then profound relief. This leads me to another great quote a client brought up recently.
Be the Buffalo
On a recent hike on Big Tree Ridge, a hiking partner told me to, “Be the buffalo.” I asked her to explain. She said that instead of racing away from storms, buffalo charge into them in order to experience less overall discomfort. Genius! Procrastinators often make their pain worse by dwelling — for hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years — on the negative possibilities instead of facing the problem head-on.
Rather than avoiding the pain of physical therapy, once I started embracing it and inviting it into my own training sessions, I made faster gains. The pain diminished. And I sped toward healing.
Never Lose Hope
Matt Haig, the author of one of my favorite contemporary novels, the Midnight Library, writes in The Comfort Book: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.” Buddhism teaches that life is all about suffering. Everyone suffers. We all experience pain. Yet some deal with it far easier than others. They have the resilience I am after.
Later in the same book, he repeats a line: “Nothing is stronger than a small hope that never gives up.” Print it. Frame it. Post it everywhere you feel discouraged and anytime you are in pain. That pain will pass.
To close this week, I offer you a symbol of your own small hope, if you wish: a black bear cub from Yellowstone, cute and cuddly when young but a force to be reckoned with as an adult. May you face today whatever pains you, so that your hope grows into an unstoppable force tomorrow.
Every so often I read a book expecting one thing but finding something completely different. Or I come across advice that I need at a specific low moment. Dan Sullivan’s book, The Gap and The Gain: High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success, delivered both. It provided a powerful paradigm shift decades overdue and inspired me to pursue the “Gainer’s mentality” rather than the “Gapper’s.”
The GAP and GAIN Defined
Mountain lovers might open Sullivan’s book expecting a discussion about peaks and valleys. Instead, it addresses what we choose to compare ourselves to: an impossible ideal that is constantly changing (GAP), or your starting point (GAIN).
“You’re in the GAP every time you measure yourself or your situation against an ideal,” (p. xxiii.) If you identify with setting a goal and then, as soon as you reach it, setting another, harder goal that will require more from you and is farther away, you may be a “Gapper.” If you pursue something for many years but never quite attain it, and you feel like your very happiness depends on reaching it, you may be in the GAP. When I started studying children’s fiction in 2014, I decided to write a novel. I have penned five over the last eight years. Happiness and bliss, right? Writing for kids should bring me joy, right?
Hmm. Not exactly.
Being in the GAP
It turns out I have probably been “in the GAP” most of my adult life. When I first had a client reach the summit of Mt. Everest, I was thrilled. Until I wanted more. I coached a woman to reach each of the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent. And wondered where to find more. When I reached twelve pullups, surely I could get to twenty-five. When I climbed Rainier, that was enough… for two days, when I decided I had to go back. Now, eight summits later, I want to reach ten. Nice round number, right? So what?
I even had goals around raising my daughter! (She is doing just fine, by the way.) Will the same thing happen when I reach my goal of fifty blog posts in fifty weeks? Or will that be enough to spark joy, happiness and bliss?
As soon as I reach a goal, I arbitrarily move my finish line. Sound familiar? I am never quite satisfied; I keep wanting more. Sullivan points out that Americans are chasing the wrong goal in our endless “pursuit of happiness.” (Thanks, Thomas Jefferson. Turns out he was in the GAP.) We are using the wrong metric. We are measuring the gap when we should be measuring the GAIN.
I help clients set realistic goals for what they want to accomplish in the mountains. Since getting to the final destination is outside our control, I try to teach them about enjoying the journey. We might run into bad weather, obstacles, illness, or injuries before we even start. But we can enjoy the training hikes, the strength we feel in the gym, the ways our bodies react to increased flexibility or better sleep and nutrition. I ask clients to track their progress so they can see where they started and how far they’ve come. I ask them to track their GAINS.
Slipping out of the GAIN
Like everyone else, I set high expectations for myself. Such as going on thirty hikes a year, something I did in both 2020 and 2021. But when I broke my wrist in February, I had to reset all this year’s expectations. I had trouble doing the simplest hiking-related tasks, such as lacing boots, fastening my dog’s harness, shouldering and loading a pack, and even driving a car.
For weeks, I wondered whether I’d ever get back to where I was in October of 2021 — I couldn’t even pick up trash anymore. I sank deeper into THE GAP, comparing myself to an ideal that no longer fit my situation. When I thought I would need surgery, I got depressed. For four days I didn’t want to do anything.
Powerful Paradigm Shift Toward Happiness
That is when I started reviewing Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book on joy. Wherever possible, I lined up people who could help me heal, repair, and rebuild my wrist. I diligently applied myself to the physical therapy exercises and little by little, I noticed changes. As soon as I could zip my coat (it was winter, after all), I smiled. Securing my dog’s favorite harness nearly made me cry. And the freedom I felt from finally doing my hair and clipping my nails was huge. Last week I returned to the mountains to hike — twice. I am BACK.
They say hindsight is 20/20 and as soon as I read the prologue to Sullivan’s book, I knew instantly I had to share it with readers. It’s that profound. True, what I hiked was not Mount Rainier. Not even close. It was not even the distance or gain of Pratt, Melakwa, Island, or Rainbow Lakes, all hikes I did last summer without thinking much about the mileage. But using Sullivan’s approach, I now compare myself to where I was at ground zero eleven weeks ago when I struggled to touch my right thumb and index finger together.
Choosing the Gain
Now, I can cut an apple or potato with a knife. I can see the palm of my hand without needing a pair of mirrors. Before starting The Gap and The Gain, my thoughts still went to where I was prior to eleven weeks ago.
No more. I choose not to return to THE GAP as it no longer serves me. I see a better way. Will I get where I was again? Absolutely, someday. That’s another lesson I have learned since December 13: I never give up.
But right now, I choose happiness. I choose to look at how far I’ve come and celebrate that, not what I perceive as loss. So can you.
And I choose to read on. Who knows what other insights I will glean if I got this much out of Sullivan’s prologue?
Blog post 37 is a compilation of my own experience and that of clients struggling to move forward this week. Some of us are injured; others are angry with themselves or feeling discouraged. A few are sharing that they are not moving forward as quickly as they would like. Sound familiar? You are NOT alone. I thought once I got my cast off, I would be home free, but that was the START of a long, uphill climb. The way to make progress may lie in focusing carefully, using positive self-talk, and resetting our expectations.
For anyone who is constantly fixated on that little number on a scale, remind yourself of one very simple truth. Ready? YOU ARE NOT YOUR MASS. Print it in triplicate in 72-point font and hang it up everywhere you need a reminder. Scales don’t know your BMI, cannot ascertain how much muscle you have, and know zero about all of your outstanding personal qualities. The scale only tells you ONE tiny bit of information, and yet so many of us obsess over that number. If you rely on the scale reading every single morning, ask yourself why.
Whenever you have a medical appointment and your doctor insists on weighing you, explain that you are trying to have a healthier relationship with your body and want to break the scale habit. Face the opposite direction and ask the doctor not to tell you the number. And if your doctor cannot respect that, find one who will. Media tries to get us to obsess about our exterior looks, but what about the rest of you? If you have great bloodwork, healthy blood pressure, and a consistent movement routine, then celebrate that. Eff the scale!
Use Positive Self-talk
Focus on the positives rather than “shoulding all over yourself” or saying “I wish I could.” Such messages hurt us and shut us down, rather than inspire and help. Find a few affirmations to repeat daily such as “Every day in every way I am getting stronger and healthier,” or, “I love my body and my problems and wouldn’t trade with anyone,” or, “My current experience is teaching me about life.” The words we use are very powerful.
Early in the process of recovering from my broken wrist, I babied my arm because I wanted to be certain I didn’t need surgery. When my doctor agreed I was stable enough that I wouldn’t need surgery, but I was “way behind,” I bought into his message and started aggressively doing whatever I could to regain full range of motion.
Unfortunately, the cast was improperly set, resulting in thumb problems. When I was misdiagnosed with trigger thumb, I got stuck in a rut repeating negative messages, practically convincing myself I was going to need surgery after all. As soon as I started to use “I got this,” “I am strong,” “I am healthy,” and just this week, “I am a hiker,” things turned around. I got my confidence back.
Whether you think you can or cannot, you are absolutely right
YOU can turn yourself around. Every healthy bite, every step forward, every affirmation, every repetition helps you build your positivity track record. The next time you catch yourself thinking “I can’t” or “I wish I could change X about myself,” grab a piece of paper and write down ten — yes, TEN — things that are going well or that you like about yourself or your life. If it helps, share how you feel afterward in the comments.
Can we do a multi-day backpack a month after recovering from foot issues? Is it realistic to climb a mountain several months after surgery? How long does it take for a wrist to heal enough to tolerate pullups? And if none of those goals come true, what then?
We often set exceedingly high expectations for ourselves without knowing whether it is actually possible. Humans have the unique ability to hope. However, sometimes we have to amend or adjust our expectations. And that is hard.
Baby Steps Count
I mistakenly thought I would be in the clear once I got my cast off. I never expected complications (you never do — fortunately I have a pretty decent track record as far as bones go.) When I realized I had underestimated how long it would take to return to full performance, it felt like a smack in the face.
Several wise mentors reminded me of the positive steps I WAS taking, each and every day. We can’t compare to our previous personal bests (or that of others), but only to our recent selves. I may not be what I call “Rainier Ready” right now but that’s okay. How far can I move my thumb? Can I hold a tight fist for thirty seconds rather than ten? Will icing twice make the swelling go down even more? Today I fastened a hoodie zipper that had eluded me for nine weeks. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.
With Positive Self-talk, Embrace Your Progress
We don’t get any do-overs in life. We each face unique obstacles. How are you going to handle them? You are the hero or heroine of your own story. Can you step outside yourself and picture your favorite character handling your problems? Maybe that will give you new insights to try.
So, as long as you are taking positive steps forward each day, even if it is a five-minute action, celebrate. If you are doing more than you have in your workouts and feeling the results, pat yourself on the back. My wish for you is that you find a way to enjoy the process and embrace your progress, not just live for the end goal. This is a delicate topic but one we are all experiencing. Share your wisdom in the comments section so we can all learn from each other. And remember, you are not alone!
The last time I broke a bone was a fractured metatarsal in my left foot over twenty years ago, weeks before I climbed Kilimanjaro. Before that, fresh out of college, I broke my left arm. I only recall two things from that first experience: casts trap the odor of garlic. They also cause terribly itchy skin. Over time I’ve seen that older adults take much longer to heal than kids, teens, and young adults. Even if we have an iron will and a high tolerance for pain. Following my recent wrist injury of 2/22/22, I have been reflecting on the importance of recovery to move forward, for myself and for my adult clients over fifty.
When To Prioritize Recovery
If you feel stuck with your workouts, or you struggle to make any gains despite herculean efforts, check your overall volume of activity and the quality of your sleep. Rest and recovery play an enormous role in sports performance as well as in injury recovery. Most adults don’t seem to get enough sleep.
What are some indicators of overtraining? The following behavioral indicators are your body’s way of making further increases in stress volume and performance improvement nearly impossible:
Changes in sleep patterns
Increased thirst or sugar cravings (beyond the norm)
Lethargy or sluggishness
Loss of ability to concentrate
Physical indicators include:
Change in resting heart rate
Fatigue or muscle soreness beyond DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
Lymph gland swelling
Reduced performance (slowed times, weaker on climbs or lifts),
Unusual weight fluctuation
None of these is a “sure” indicator. However, if you have several at one time, your body may be asking for rest.
A properly designed training program includes at least one day per week for active recovery or rest. If you are hiking more than five miles with a weighted pack, plan to take the following day off for stretching or walking. A light yoga or stretching session, hot tub soak, or massage might also help. If you feel like you need an extra day of rest, take it. As you get more accustomed to the rigors of your training program, you will find your stamina and recovery improving. Without including regular periods of rest in your seasonal schedule, you run the risk of burnout, overuse, or worse, injury.
Recovering from tough workouts can take many forms. A common sports restoration method is massage, although there are almost as many different forms of massage as there are sports. After a long hike, you may enjoy flushing strokes to help speed the removal of lactic acid and other built-up waste products that accumulate during exercise. Anything deeper (i.e. rolfing) may actually cause muscle damage.
If you feel muscle stiffness or soreness, you might enjoy an occasional massage, but be aware that exclusively using one method may result in your body adapting to it. You might get better results by cycling through the methods you choose.
After you’ve been hiking for multiple hours, it’s important to get quality nutrition to help replenish depleted glycogen stores. Consider starting with a mixture of carbohydrates (40-50%) and protein (20-30%) along with healthy fats (20-30%) and adjust to suit your individual needs. Foods containing antioxidants (like blueberries) or bromelain (like pineapple) can also help the body speed healing. Consider blending together yogurt, fresh fruit or juice, and collagen or protein powder with ice for a refreshing and nutritious snack.
Exercise and Illness
The six hours following any challenging workout is the critical phase for remaining healthy. That’s when your immune system is the most stressed and the least capable of fighting off illness. I use the reminder, “Above the neck, what the heck? Below the head, stay in bed.” If you have a scratchy throat, runny nose, or sneezing, you may be able to train at reduced intensity. However, if you experience chills, fever, aching muscles, or chest cold (i.e. you’re coughing up material from deep in your lungs), your body needs rest. Drinking plenty of liquid, getting additional sleep, and sure you are getting enough vitamin C and D can help.
Another great recovery technique is soaking in a hot tub or shower for twenty minutes. If you choose this method, continue to drink fluids to help speed recovery. Consider alternating between heat and cold — a short stint in the hot tub, followed by a quick dip in a cold shower or, if you’re so equipped, a cool pool – two or three rounds back and forth. This works really well for lower body issues (such as sprained ankles, swollen legs, or plantar fasciitis.) Try adding lavender oil and epsom salts for a delicious treat for the body.
Active Recovery To Move Forward
Outdoor athletes can benefit from active recovery workouts reduced in intensity, either later on the same day or on days following long workouts. The distance hiker or backpacker might take a shorter walk with less gain, less effort, and no pack. Active recovery can also take the form of cross-training, using completely different muscle groups than those used in your sport – activities like gardening, flat bicycling, yoga, Tai Chi, or strolling barefoot along the beach are all suitable activities for recovery.
Relax and Stretch
Stay off your feet, see a movie, read a good book (or three!), take a short nap (or sleep in). Sit on the floor and stretch gently. Listen to soothing music. Connect your bare feet to the earth, known as grounding. Eat plenty of good, wholesome food. Try some yoga or meditation. Active recovery means unstructured time for the body, mind, and spirit. If your program has enough built-in recovery time, you will be supercharged and moving forward with more health, vibrancy, and well-being.
I won’t lie; it’s been a tough week. And not just for me. I have experienced a number of disappointments I won’t go into, along with several joys. Such is life. But when I’m proverbially stuck in a valley longer than I am on the peaks, I know I need to dig into extra strategies to pull myself out. When nothing else works, perhaps something below will help you the next time you want to bury your head in bed and skip a day, or a week.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, under-motivated, blocked, or stuck, I almost always find peace and tranquility in nature. Especially this time of year with all the birdsong and blossoms. Twice on Monday, I broke down in painful tears. My lovely canine companion trotted over, to lick the salt from my cheeks, tail wagging the whole time. He may not be certified as a therapy dog, but he is MY therapy dog. It’s impossible to stay sad for long when a bundle of fur is nosing his way into my personal space.
I felt a brief twinge of annoyance both times — after all, I was making my way through my endless list of rehabilitative exercises — but then I recognized his wordless wisdom: “Mama, I know just what you need. Walkies!” And by golly, it worked, both times. The take-away: if you can’t think of any way forward, then PHYSICALLY move outside. The fresh air might do wonders.
Give Your Brain a Small Task to Focus On
This past week I have depended on several other things to get me through: puzzles; books; movement; and chores.
Two types of puzzles have helped this week. Short 200-300-piece jigsaw puzzles are doable in a single sitting. When you are putting together pieces of a beautiful image (of playful kittens or a peaceful beach scene) it’s hard to feel mopey. The other type is word games, though any short game or app can do in a pinch. Wordle has taken the world by storm. I prefer Classic Words, the closest I can find to old-fashioned Scrabble. Time: 5-30 minutes.
Likewise, the latest books I’ve read — In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart, Out Of My Heart by Sharon Draper, and Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer — have provided food for thought when the idea of preparing a meal with one hand leaves me wanting to skip meals. These three middle-grade novels are about outsiders trying to fit in. Each provides a fresh perspective on injury and disability. I could take on a deep and challenging read, but when I have low bandwidth, reading books that are light, easy, and entertaining feels more self-compassionate. Time: several hours, broken into 5+ minute increments.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the daunting list of “to-do’s” around injury or illness recovery. As someone who knows quite a bit about the physical body, my list includes physical therapy exercises, red light therapy, massage, sauna, isometrics, hot tub, strength, medical appointments, and more. I could easily spend the whole day doing wrist-related activities and then collapse into bed only to start the whole thing the following day.
Instead, it helps to set a KISAGE goal. What is enough? Today, can I get my thumb and pinkie to touch without help from my left hand? Can I make it through dinner right-handed without dropping my fork? Can I work on developing an increased range of motion while I walk my dog? Fifteen-minute segments dispersed throughout the day.
When Nothing Else Works, Prioritize Recovery
Sometimes even the special tricks above don’t work. If you have a pet, you might want to put on music and snuggle. Or watch a favorite movie. If you are an extrovert, try calling a friend to join you for a walk or meet on Zoom or Facetime. If your usual fun hobbies hold little appeal, you might try one of my last three tricks: eat, sleep, or cry.
Eat Something Nourishing
No, this is not an invitation to binge. But I have noticed during my injury, I have had a greatly decreased interest in food. Partly because it is hard to prepare one-handed, and partly because what I can make has become super boring. One day I forgot to eat until three and wondered why I was so wiped out. However, if you go too long without food, you might get hangry (hungry/angry) or overly emotional. If you struggle to remember when you last ate, have a nourishing meal. As soon as I get a decent meal in me I usually feel much better.
Get Extra Sleep
If you are completely exhausted, you may need to double down on your efforts to get enough sleep. I usually get 7.5-8 hours of sleep. But during my recovery, I recently slept close to ten hours, then took an hour and a half nap that afternoon. Healing — bones, from illness, from grief — takes time and effort to prioritize. When I can’t muster the energy for anything else, I take a book and my dog into the bedroom for a nap. It almost always helps me feel better.
Let It Out!
I come from a background of hiding tears, feeling somehow that crying is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to Medical News Today, crying may actually help us reduce stress hormones and other chemicals that build up in our bodies. No wonder we feel better after a big cry!
If you have a favorite strategy not mentioned above, please feel free to share the wealth and comment below. Good luck, and remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
The joy aesthetic that means the most to me is freedom. I had just started listening to Lee discuss this aesthetic as we headed for Arches National Park. I looked forward to traveling, exploring new places, hiking, and shooting photos. Even after I broke my wrist, I had to get out and enjoy the aftermath of a big snowstorm, sling and all.
Taking photos using my left hand — with two fingers, no less — proved difficult. But I sparked with joy when I saw the expanse of blue sky over crisp white snow and red rock. The freedom aesthetic includes a preference for natural fabrics and loose-fitting clothing. I am glad I had some with me, as it was the only thing I could maneuver one-handed AND fit over my bulky sling. If we hadn’t had fresh snow on the ground, I would have removed my shoes to walk around barefoot, a practice known as grounding or earthing.
The Aesthetic of Transcendence
Of Lee’s next four aesthetics (Harmony, Play, Surprise, and Transcendence), I identify most with transcendence. She includes in it the power of the treehouse. (I have always wanted one). Of skylights and rooms with space and high ceilings, both of which we have in our current home. Lofts, hills, mountains, and looking up to the clouds, skies, and stars. Views from elevated places. Check. She really speaks my language.
When I look at the shadow cast by Mt. Rainier and see that summit looming, beckoning, I feel awe. Joy. And when she mentioned inflatables, I smiled, recalling the memorable birthday experience I had several years ago during a sunset hot-air balloon ride.
The Aesthetic of Celebration
Of Lee’s last three aesthetics, Magic, Celebration, and Renewal, we experienced all three at the Admitted Students Preview on the University of Washington campus. On March 26, we experienced a magical day that combined school spirit, a celebration of my daughter’s hard work over the past four years, and gorgeous seasonal cherry blossoms in full splendor.
Think of those moments that stand out to you as special. What made them so? Was it the place, the event, the people you were with? Did you enjoy novelty, surprise, or whimsy? In the next few days, whenever you catch yourself smiling, jot down a few words about the moment. See what patterns you find. In going on your own joy treasure hunt, you will discover your unique “recipe” to create even more. And if my two-part “book review” intrigues you, check it out for yourself. Happy hunting.
When getting ready for some sort of physical adventure, most people increase their targeted exercise. But don’t forget about mental preparation! Below we review a typical multi-day trip on Mt. Rainier (including photos from our climb in July, 2017) and discuss how to mentally prepare for summit day.
Mentally Prepare with Suitable Physical Conditioning
Most multi-day expeditions (backpacking in the Canyonlands, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, trekking to Everest Base Camp or the summit of Kilimanjaro) and high-altitude climbs (Rainier, Mt. Blanc, Ecuadorian or Mexican volcanoes) require months of physical conditioning. The higher and/or longer the trip, the more involved the training.
Consider a 3-day climb of a 14,410-foot peak such as Mt. Rainier. Such a climb involves ascending 4-5,000 feet while carrying a heavy pack (anywhere from 35-55 pounds) on Day 1. Day 2 includes reviewing technical skills and acclimatization. Day 3 is all about going to the summit (another 4-5,000 feet) carrying a day pack, then returning to base camp to retrieve gear, and descending back to the trailhead.
To get ready for your summit day, (think Everest, Denali, or Mt. Rainier) consider including a Long Day. The Log Day is an all-day trip with a loaded pack. You might be thinking, “What? On top of everything else I’m already doing? What about WORK and FAMILY and SLEEP?” You can skip it… But it could mean the difference between enjoying your trip and suffering.
Let’s look more closely at that three-day climb of Rainier. Reach base camp Day 1 early afternoon, set up camp, melt snow for water, eat. Get used to the higher altitude. Get as much sleep as you can while perhaps being disturbed by others going for their summit attempt. Day 2, try to hydrate and practice self-arrest and roped travel skills. Go to bed as early as you can while the sun is still up and others in camp are still awake.
Get up at midnight on Day 3 to get ready (in cold, dark, unfamiliar conditions). Start climbing by 1 or 2 a.m. via headlamp and moonlight if you are lucky. On a coordinated team, you might reach the summit by 9 a.m. If not, you might take as long as twelve hours from base camp.
That’s just to get to the summit. You still have to get down.
Return to base camp (descending 4-5,000’) in 3-5 more hours Have a snack, refill water bottles, tear down camp and pack up. Descend another 3-5,000’ to the trailhead in 3-5 hours. Total round trip time on Day 3 can be upwards of 18 hours for slower parties.
If you have never hiked 10-12 hours in a day, you will have no idea how your body will perform. Back-to-Backs are crucial for experiencing what repeat days will feel like without recovery time. The Long Day will help you prepare your feet, shoulders, patience, and mental faculties for the extreme endurance needed.
Succeeding on a high-altitude trip is an exercise in unknowns. If you are going with a guided group, you may not know any of the other participants until you arrive. You also cannot control the weather. While you can plan a trip during “optimal months” or “high season”, conditions vary annually, and El Nino, La Nina, and recent storms can all change things — not to mention global politics.
However, there are some things you can control ahead of time that can make you feel more comfortable on summit day, no matter where your adventure takes you.
Hydrate and fuel often
Consider setting a watch or phone alarm on your hikes to get into the habit of drinking every 30-45 minutes along with a light snack as you hike. Keep drink and food handy so you do not have to stop and remove your backpack whenever the urge to nibble strikes.
For alpine starts you will be putting on crampons in the dark, tying knots by headlamp with cold fingers, starting a flame stove in the wind, and doing tasks on fitful sleep. Be as familiar with all of your equipment and gear as possible so that simple tasks do not use up precious energy or brainpower. Save it for the climb.
Have a Mantra
Have a song you replay in your mind or some sort of saying you repeat to yourself whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. On Kilimanjaro in 2001 I used “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch” for the last push to the summit. And on Mt. Rainier I have told myself, “100 steps then look around.” When facing non-climbing tasks such as rehabbing my wrist, for example, I recently chose a small bite-sized goal like touching thumb and pinky together. Intermediate goals gives you something more immediate and possible to accomplish. Think baby steps.
Train Like You Will Travel
Listening to headphones on a climb is not the best idea. You want to be aware of your teammates and surroundings at all times. If you always listen to music or podcasts while hiking, include several hikes without earbuds so that you don’t become reliant on “entertainment” on long hikes. Likewise, if you always use two poles, try training with one so you will be comfortable having only an ice ax in your hand. And in the unlikely event that something should happen to your pole (s) you will feel more stable and confident hiking without if you need to.
Set a Turn-around Time
Have, know, and stick to your group’s turn-around time. Having a set time can be a huge motivator that you WILL be able to rest and return at some point. This can help with pacing, and it is how guides gauge your progress. If you struggle to gain 500 feet per hour above base camp, they know you will be unable to reach the summit before snow conditions deteriorate. In something like rehabilitation, try a mini-goal of squeezing fist by X date and if it doesn’t happen, enlist help through a qualified physical therapist.
Practice Your Skills
The more familiar you are with the technical skills you will need on the trip — things ranging from roped travel to putting on crampons to self-arrest to cooking at altitude in the dark — the less brain power they will require. Having an extra day at high camp for acclimatization purposes and skills practice can make everyone on your team more attuned, relaxed, and ready for summit day. Likewise, along the way to getting published there are tons of skills to practice from honing your synopsis to line editing to knowing how to pitch your story to agents.
Study the Route
Know what is expected of you and what the route will be like in terms of terrain, plans for rest breaks, and tricky navigation or technical areas. By understanding what you will face, you remove some “unknowns” that can be stressful. Study previous trip reports, talk with guides, other climbers who have done the route before, rangers at camp, or even descending climbers. Similarly, in the example of a fractured bone, know the path you are on. Ask questions!
Ready for Life
Ultimately, you can be in top physical condition and have great weather for your climb, but if you fumble with your equipment, get spooked by exposure, or forget to eat and drink regularly, you still run the risk of not reaching your objective. These are all things you can manage ahead of time if you know they are important. Now you do! Whatever your mountain, literally or physically, enlist the help of someone who has been there and can supply support and advice. And keep going. That’s the whole point of my previous blogs. Take it one step at a time. One chapter at a time. One fist squeeze at a time.
Blog 32 has been by far the most difficult post for me to complete. Not for lack of ideas — I came back from vacation bursting with them — but because I’ve had to dictate or hunt-and-peck it. On February 22, 2022, I broke my right wrist in Arches National Park’s famous maze hike, the Fiery Furnace, and have been managing everything left-handed (I am a righty).
Fiery Furnace: Arrows Mark the Path
My husband, daughter, and I picked up self-guided day permits to visit the Fiery Furnace on 2-22-22. It is our favorite hike in Arches National Park (Moab, Utah). I hadn’t hiked since December 10, so I felt compelled to make up for lost time. By completing the orientation video on Monday, we could start hiking before the rest of the 60-some permitted hikers arrived.
Around 9:30 a.m. we began our counter-clockwise trip, searching for 27 miniature arrows that mark the way through the maze. Some arrows are posted at eye level, others on thin brown posts. A few have gone missing and have chalk-drawn scratches. Several are tricky to find. Part of the fun of the maze is exploring features in dead-ends, including five arches, squeezes, bowls and spires. Four years ago, we “got lost” until another party located the arrow we had missed. Can you spot the one in the picture below?
Of the five hundred photos I shot while on vacation, more than half were from our hike. Even during an overcast, somewhat chilly (below 40 F) day when the lighting is not optimal, I still found plenty to catch my eye. The unique rock features and delicate cacti and plants are a photographer’s dream. It’s no surprise that I was lagging behind, capturing as many of the features as I could.
What’s more, the ranger had told us he’d only ever found fifteen arrows, so just as we like to track state license plates when we travel (i.e. the License Plate game), we tracked the arrows in the maze by taking photos of each. Knowing we would be doing it in the opposite direction in the afternoon, they provided us with a sort of reverse map.
Clockwise through the Fiery Furnace
In the afternoon, wanting to experience the maze in the reverse direction, we went against the directional arrows. I hoped to find all five of the maze’s hidden arches during our leisurely exploration. The trickiest part was finding our way back to the manmade stairs.
My daughter took off ahead of us as though wanting to see how quickly we could do it the second time. I was still enjoying shooting photos with my DSLR camera. About a mile in we stopped at an open area for a snack and I explored an arch high up on a rock. Then wanting to do some more scrambling with hand free, I tucked my camera into my pack, leaving my cell phone in my pocket for snapshots.
Karate Chop Mistake in the Fiery Furnace
Halfway through the maze, I got off-balance on a bit of steep rock. Thoughts raced through my head: “Protect the back, head, legs, hip, camera.” Somehow, I spun around, landing catlike in a sandy wash on both legs. I could tell both my husband and daughter were relieved it turned out so well. Unfortunately, I smashed my right wrist into a rock as I landed. I took one look at my throbbing hand, swelling and bent at an awkward angle. Had I just dislocated it?
It was more shocking than painful. Instinctively my Mountaineering-Oriented First Aid training kicked in. No tigers — the scene was safe. No bleeding or broken skin — nothing life-threatening. But I definitely needed a splint. I handed my pack to my daughter and asked for help getting out of my T-shirt to use as padding. I used my buff to keep my wrist supported and neutral, and my husband helped get the camera strap around my forearm as a sling. Later the doctors at the hospital were impressed with our in-the-field get-up.
I knew that above all else, I had to remain calm. I forced myself to take deep breaths and a few sips of water. We declined the assistance of another couple heading in the opposite direction, one of whom said she was a nurse. I suggested we go back the way we came, thinking it was shorter, but Doug reminded me that the first half of the route in front of us required less climbing.
With him ahead offering me a supporting hand if I needed it, I walked unaided to the car, breaking down in tears a few minutes after we resumed hiking, thinking of how I’d just screwed up our last family vacation. We drove directly to Moab’s Urgent Care where an on-call orthopedist reduced the break twice (far more painful than the fall itself) and set it, enabling me to walk out before sunset and before a snowstorm arrived.
I have learned so many lessons in the past two weeks that I have decided to write another blog post about it. A few, briefly:
1. It will be a while before I can use my 100-400 mm lens or my DSLR camera, but it IS still possible to take one-handed lefty photos with my cell phone. Proof below, the night of my fall.
2. Dictation, Hunt-and-peck, Notes on my phone can substitute for my journal habit. I am incredibly slow but as this Blog shows, dedication pays off.
3. Bones heal. The orthopedist got my wrist reduced and set well enough that I do NOT need surgery and that is a huge blessing. I am grateful it was not my head, back, legs, hip, or gear. Sure, it would be easier if it were my left, but I would still be hunting and pecking. The silver lining is I am becoming ambidextrous!
4. Remember Joyful from my last post? Even injured, I came away with many fond memories of our trip, despite the obstacles we faced from store closures to botched reservations, inclement weather to a trip to the hospital.
If you are up for an exercise in empathy, try two experiments:
1. With your non-dominant hand, grab a pen and write: I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR WHO I AM AND WHAT I CAN DO. I WILL NEVER TAKE MY LIFE FOR GRANTED AGAIN.
2. For an hour, be mindful of those many things you do with your dominant hand or with two hands. If you are feeling brave, try it with only one hand or with your opposite hand exclusively.
Hardest? Doing my hair. Zipping. Tying knots. Buttoning. Fastening my dog’s harness. Writing. I thought it would be driving, but that is pretty straightforward. And washing dishes or hair and vacuuming just take practice. Haven’t tried mowing yet. I’d love to see your comments about your experiment.
This week I began listening to Ingrid Fetell Lee’s Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. In it, she introduces ten aesthetics of joy. Yesterday I listened to her describe the first aesthetic, energy, which we get from vibrant color and light. Intrigued, I recalled my own post about joy back in December. And I decided I’d use Joyful as my guide on my hunt for joy.
Aesthetic 1: Color and Light
In the first section on color, Lee admits that as a former chromophobe, she once preferred whites or neutrals to bold colors. But when she moved into a living space with bright yellow walls, she kept them as they were. She became sold on the power of color to liven our moods.
I’ve intuitively added colorful stickers and inks to my journaling repertoire in recent years. Our gym pops with bold, energetic yellow, blue, and red. Could adding color to my wardrobe, my food, our garden bring more joy? I thought about my preference for outer layers that blend in with the environment rather than stick out.
Then I remembered the bright teal coat I received for Christmas. I smile every time I put it on. And the soft maroon Turtle Fur neck cover I wear on frosty mornings is as comforting as it is colorful. She may be onto something. The next time I shop for clothes, I promise to find one cheerful, bright item instead of another black, blue, dark green, or muted top. Just thinking about the possibilities gives me energy.
Hunt for Joy 2: Abundance
In her section about abundance, which I listened to this morning, she describes how excited a “kid in the candy store” is as he “forages” for his next sugar high. I feel that way when I find a bush laden with ripe berries, a little free library or bookstore stocked with favorites, or a garden bursting with colorful blossoms and chirping birds.
Her discussion of over-abundance fascinated me. Overflowing landfills, an obesity epidemic, and hoarding are examples of how abundance can become maladaptive. I look forward to seeing if and how she addresses these in future chapters.
This morning while walking my dog, I experienced several moments of joy that encapsulated energy, abundance, and the third aesthetic, freedom. While Ajax sniffed with renewed frenzy on a street we don’t often visit, I enjoyed the sights and sounds. Steller’s jays flew overhead. A dozen robins foraged for worms on an empty school playground. A trio of varied thrushes called to each other. Black-capped chickadees sang to attract a mate. And the sun poked through the clouds, sending happy beams down to cheer me. This is joy, I thought to myself.
While I haven’t listened to her section on freedom yet, I look forward to hearing what she says about open space, wildness, and nature. Every time I visit the mountains or a forest, I experience this joy aesthetic. And when I return with next week’s blog, I hope to share even more about my adventures in the hunt for joy.
This week I pondered a recent Precision Nutrition lesson about common cognitive distortions. These are inaccurate, negatively biased, habitual ways of thinking. On a birding trip to Monroe this morning, I reflected on three I used today. Herein I describe my efforts to overcome four cognitive distortions against the backdrop of the rare, beautiful Whooper Swan.
A Birding Outing to Monroe, WA
My husband, a friend, and I drove to Monroe early this morning. Our mission was to locate and photograph the rare Whooper Swan, the Eurasian counterpart to the North American trumpeter swan. We pulled up at the edge of one of the fields it had visited the day before. There, on the edge of a large flock of white fowl, stood the yellow-beaked Whooper Swan, feasting on grass. Chasing rarities doesn’t get any easier.
When our friend asked me if I’d ever seen a Townsend’s solitaire on any of my hikes, I told her, “I’d have to check my ebird list.” The Whooper Swan makes world bird species number 543 since I started keeping track twelve years ago. But I have a sucky birding memory. Enter Cognitive Distortions.
Common Cognitive Distortions
I joined them on this outing partly to expand my mental and cognitive resilience. (What, wasn’t it for fun? Partly.) Aware that my list of to-do’s back home was getting long, I wanted to address several cognitive distortions:
Binary Thinking — either/or, all/nothing, black/white. I could either go birding or stay home and tackle my to-do list. Birding was a way for me to remind my brain about that nifty little word, and. Perhaps I could bird AND get my workout in, write my blog, finish eight pages of fiction…
Negative Mental Filter — seeing a rare bird would be a huge unexpected, unplanned-for experience, and would give me social time with my husband and friend. I’d be out in fresh air, taking cool photographs, and doing something new. I wanted to enjoy the positives and try to ignore that one nasty negative (not getting everything done on my list)…
Labeling — as in, “I have a sucky birding memory.” No, I’m an advanced beginner birder. Which is perfectly fine. Or better, I remember whatever I pay attention to. Perhaps I just need more time birding.
Shoulding All Over Yourself — ignoring the “You should do your strength workout; you should stay and write your blog post; you should get that piece to your readers so they have enough time.” What I wanted was to see swans. I love swans, geese, and ducks.
Overcoming Cognitive Distortions Takes Vigilance
As we took our last photos and returned to the car, I congratulated myself for getting out of the house and going on an adventure. I’d embraced the beginner’s mind (see January’s post) knowing that both my birding partners have far more knowledge and experience than I do.
Everything was great… until my friend offered to take me birding sometime. Before I could think, I heard the automatic words come out of my mouth. “Oh no, I’m not very good at it.” Aack! And I had been trying so hard! Will I be a WIP (Work In Progress) for the rest of my life?
Instead of saying “I failed!” I had to laugh. How much vigilance do I need to change them? Especially when I’ve been using them for decades. Tapping into my infantile growth mindset (and my friend’s kind words) I realized SHE offered to take ME. She wanted to pay it forward by teaching what she knows. I could accept her generous offer and have fun birding with someone new. Get a different perspective. She’d have company, I’d get more adventure. Win-win.
Overcoming Cognitive Distortions Takes Planning
I plan to move forward by taking the following steps:
Sharing my intentions with family members who can help me spot the cognitive distortions I’m using;
Noticing and Naming whenever I’m using one, so I bring increased awareness to my brain;
Writing them down, crossing out the distorted “untruth” and writing a “better truth” or “true truth”;
Celebrating whenever I stop mid-stream to check what’s coming out of my mouth. Becoming conscious.
Perhaps in doing so, not only can I change my brain’s programming, but I can also model how to overcome cognitive distortions for my colleagues, writing partners, clients, and daughter. In this way, I’m moving from “consciously incompetent” toward “consciously competent.” How about you?
Recently a client asked me to discuss fear in a future blog post. I can only share from a coach’s perspective since I am not a psychotherapist. I approach such a complicated topic by focusing on a coping mechanism we all have access to. Preparation. Fear is our ally. It tries to protect us from something. If we can identify exactly what we are afraid of, we can figure out how to overcome fear.
Common Types of Fear
To overcome fear, first identify what you’re afraid of. For purpose of discussion, I only focus on three:
Fear of tangible, real, scary things — natural disasters, fires, war, getting lost, wild animal attacks, disease, injury, or illness. We may be afraid of something because of a traumatic event in the past, or we may have heard stories or seen images of scary events that we hope we never experience ourselves.
Fear of the unknown — this may be one of the biggest causes of anxiety, worry, and chronic stress — one look around you during a pandemic and you understand how potent and far-reaching such fear can be. Below, I share getting lost as a wilderness example.
Fear of failure — with its cousin, fear of success. Nearly everyone has felt one or the other at some point, especially when trying to make it in an area where it’s common to fail many times before finally succeeding.
Some things are worth being afraid of (i.e. category one), but often we’re afraid of things that haven’t happened — and may never happen — as in the other two categories. If we worry incessantly, we can make ourselves sick.
The Fear Response
In simplest terms, when we fear something, we first turn toward the fear to identify what acute stress response we should have: whether we need to stick up for ourselves (Fight), run away (Flight), become legitimately scared (Fright), react like a deer-in-the-headlights (Freeze), or shut down completely (Faint).
Since prehistoric times, our bodies enter these stages to protect ourselves. In a frightening moment, our reptilian brains simply react. But what if we were proactive instead of reactive, and rehearsed ahead of time what we might do? By anticipating what could go wrong, we can plan responses and better manage our fear. At the moment, if we can take deep soothing breaths, we can access that thinking part of our brains to help us make solid choices.
Overcome Fear of Scary Things: Bears
Take the example of fear of wild animals. From my first blog post in August, I shared an encounter with a black bear on a hike. Your natural instinct may be to freak out. Stop. Is the bear noshing on berries? Does she have cubs with her? Is she far enough away that giving her notice of your presence will make her move away?
Pair why you’re afraid (i.e. I don’t want the bear to maul me!) with knowledge of black bearbehavior. They lack keen eyesight; they’re fiercely protective of their cubs; mostly, they’re just hungry and they don’t want to mess with people. Stay calm, so that your thinking brain remains in control. Make yourself appear larger by clicking your trekking poles together overhead, all the while calling, “Hey bear, bear, bear,” so you both keep your distance.
First, we identified what we’re afraid of (the bear) and why (it could seriously hurt me). Our fear then tries to protect us. Within milliseconds, we identify the appropriate response. Flight (running) might cause the bear to give chase as though we’re prey. Freezing could surprise it if it continues toward us. Fainting? It could become curious about the peculiar smells and come closer. Fight? Uh, no. What’s left? Fright. Yes, of course, we’re scared. Normal. But by remaining calm, we keep our thinking brain in the game. A decision based on knowledge, and not raw emotion, gives us the very best option for safety.
Overcome Fear of the Unknown: Getting Lost
Getting lost is another common fear for people traveling alone in the wilderness. Easily preventable. We can learn and practice navigation skills. Have a map, compass, geolocator, and GPS whenever we hike. Tell people where we’ll be and when we expect to return. Travel with others with a stronger skill set so we can keep learning. And we can study the route we’re going to be traveling to increase our confidence.
While it’s unlikely you’ll get lost, that fear will actually spurn you on to get the knowledge, experience, and resourcefulness you need to prevent it. You will be hypervigilant on the trail so that you avoid it. And if you still get lost? You’ll figure out the best way forward, knowing that you did everything possible to prepare yourself.
A Few Good Survival Stories
But nothing guarantees success. What’s the worst that can happen if you do get lost? You’ll want to be self-sufficient for several days until someone can help you. That means having extra food, water, and clothing. Gary Paulsen wrote a Newbery award-winning book, Hatchet, about a boy surviving in the Canadian wilderness with a hatchet. Another fabulous Young Adult survival story with a female protagonist is I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marsall.
Overcome Fear of Failure
Perhaps the best way to manage a fear of failure is to get clear about what failure means to you. If you are on day four of a six-day climb and you abort, have you failed? You succeeded for four days. If you submit a manuscript to forty agents and never get a request for a full, have you failed? You put yourself out there forty times. If you have a health setback that shocks you to your core, have you failed? You’ve identified a new direction for yourself.
Dear readers, failure is never trying. As a coach, parent, athlete, and writer, I cannot stress this point enough. If your definition of failure includes quitting, and you keep trying new strategies to move forward, you cannot possibly fail. You may not reach the desired outcome the way you expected to, but that does not mean you have failed or you are a failure. As long as you are trying, learning, growing, and putting yourself out there, you can reach your objective. Keep trying.
Fear is a beautiful teacher. It shows us what is most important to us. Ask yourself why you are scared, whether there is any reason for it, and what you can do to help prepare yourself to succeed. In a scary moment, remember to take three long, deep breaths in through the nose, and twice as long exhaling through the mouth. Give your thinking, logical brain the space it needs to help you solve your problem. Go forth with courage and confidence.
I’ve spent weeks mulling over the idea of how labels identify us, categorize us, divide us, and in many cases, harm us. I don’t have any answers, just lots of questions. How can we turn harmful labels into helpful ones?
We label everything. If it’s not “Me”, it’s apparently “Not-Me.” The Other. At times I wish “Comedian” fit me so I could turn a complicated, divisive subject into a humorous one.
We Are Not Our Labels
Quick, think of the term “pink elephant” without picturing one. Impossible, right? Likewise, banana. Of course, your brain conjures up the item. What happens with the other labels, or professions? “Doctor,” “Nurse,” “Police,” and “Fireman” could bring to mind people in jobs we typically see as helpful. But even those labels carry negative connotations, for some, in certain areas of the country. The word “Teacher” may remind you of someone who positively impacted you. But what if the teacher you thought of scolded you? Punished you? Failed you? Or worse?
What do you picture when you hear “Homeless?” A beggar in rags? A starving young child in the back of a car? Or a struggling family losing everything to medical bankruptcy? “Disability” might make you think of someone with a visible physical limitation. Perhaps someone in a wheelchair or on crutches, rather than someone with an invisible hearing aid. “Heart attack?” Maybe a heavyset, sedentary older adult rather than a younger athlete. If there’s a point here, it’s that we are not our labels.
Do Harmful Labels Matter?
We’ve been socially trained to use labels as a way to categorize our multi-billion-member society and understand our place within it. Labels pigeonhole people and limit how others see them. People are not just their age, their biological sex, their skin color, their profession. They are nottheir ability or their religion.
Having so many “us/them” labels causes heightened anxiety not just for those being labeled, but also for those wanting to understand labels. My teen is still trying to help me figure out how the pronouns and letters work within the gender identity and LGBTQIA2s+ communities. But I’m starting to think, are we going too far? Are all these labels helpful? or harmful? Is there another way? What’s too much?
Focus on the Individual
A wise writer friend of mine shares the idea of forgetting labels entirely and seeing the UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL who may be suffering, angry, or happy. How can we get to know single people on their own merits without labels? Must we always take sides? What happens if we overlook or ignore the labels?
In a conversation with my critique partners this week, nearly everyone shared stories about their own harmful labels. I’m reminded of the children’s saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Hogwash. Sometimes words – labels – hurt far worse than physical objects.
I was recently handed labels that I refused to accept. Still, it’s caused plenty of anxiety. How can we stay true to ourselves in the face of dissension and strong opinion, especially when we dislike conflict? Do we accept those labels and knit them into our being, or can we deflect them?
Refuse Harmful Labels
What would happen if we refuse those harmful labels? Better yet, what if we created our own story with helpful labels? Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words hang in my gym: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Instead of building a wall to shield ourselves from others, what if we surround ourselves with people who see us as unique, valuable individuals, who support our opinions and beliefs regardless of the labels we’ve been given?
If we’ve been labeled “highly anxious,” “quitter,” or “liar,” for example, can we cultivate in ourselves the “opposite” of those labels? Can we mimic the courage of a firefighter, the persistence of someone learning to walk again after a stroke, or the resilience of the cheerful street performer living in a park? Ah, now those labels — positive words, valuesanyone can have — help.
We must stand up for what we believe in: our values and principles. Even if it makes us unpopular, and even if it’s hard. If we continue to do what we believe is right, we can live our most authentic lives and treat others the way we want to be treated, as individuals. Labels can simply fall by the wayside.
Traumatic events test the foundation your life is built on. They might even pummel you to the ground. If you get beaten down, how do you find the courage and strength to pull yourself together and keep going? One solution may be by learning how to reframe negatives into motivating positives.
How Reframing Works
Last week I introduced the concept of the five-minute action. A trick I explored this week is looking at negative or stressful events in a new way. Before you say, “I don’t want to read about dread, worry, anxiety, and bad habits. Just teach me how to get unstuck!” consider this: what if we look at them as coping strategies that are simply trying to help us?
To reframe something means to look at it in a different, more positive way. When you have a bad experience, try asking yourself open-ended questions to find the “silver lining.” Perhaps you learned something new about yourself. Or you met someone kind and helpful you might not have otherwise met. Maybe you learned how imperative it is to never have that same experience again.
An “open-ended question” is one that cannot be answered with simple one-word responses such as “yes, no, or maybe.” Such questions require deliberate thought, usually phrased with words like who, what, where, when, and how. Some examples might include, “How might you view that experience in a way that doesn’t increase anxiety?” or “What takeaway lesson did you learn about yourself or others that might help you in the future?”
Reframe Negatives: A Snowstorm’s Silver Lining
The most memorable example I can share is about returning to Seattle from a holiday visit in North Carolina years ago. My family got caught in bad weather in the middle of the United States. Our connecting flight had been overbooked while others were getting rescheduled for the next day. Staying overnight was not an option for us, as hotels were all booked. The airline attendant helped find an earlier flight for my husband connecting through Denver, while my daughter and I waited for a direct flight that would take off for Seattle an hour later.
The silver lining — and what I remember most about what could have been a major headache — was flying first-class with my daughter. We landed at SeaTac Airport just a few minutes after my husband, due to more flight delays. We did not have to camp out in an airport like many people across the midwest, nor did we have to travel separated in economy class. Conditions that could have ruined our trip actually left us with pleasant memories. The bonus? Our bags somehow made it home before we did!
What Do Bad Habits Say That’s Positive About You?
Similarly, try reframing any bad habits you want to change. What’s good about that habit? If you spend a few hours watching a movie with your spouse, dog, and kids, think about what such a choice might say about you besides “I know better. I’m too lazy and I never get enough sleep.”
Maybe it means that you’re doing your best to spend time with your family. It might mean that you’re giving yourself some much-needed downtime following a stressful day of work. Perhaps you value doing things together instead of isolating on cell phones. Watching a documentary and discussing what you’ve seen could also educate and inspire younger family members. Not to mention it allows you to keep tabs on everyone when being out and about might be considered unsafe.
Identify What May Be More Helpful
If it is still a habit you really want to change, what habit might you put in its place? If you want to stop drinking every evening, perhaps you could try replacing alcohol with seltzer and lime. Maybe you could unwind by taking an after-dinner stroll or easy bike ride. If you still want to watch TV, consider setting a timer or alarm clock at a specific time to remind you when to turn off screens and shift gears into preparing for sleep.
Bad habits do not make you a bad person, just like traumatic events don’t define you. Try reframing your habits and seeking the silver lining in the negative events. Then share your experiences in the comments below. And if you need help making changes, I would love to start a dialog with you about how coaching can help you do so.
One of my projects this year is to complete a certificate course through Precision Nutrition focused on rest, recovery, and resilience. Such a course couldn’t come at a better time. Hopefully, it will be chock full of wonderful nuggets to share with my loyal readers. The idea of taking some five minute actions to get yourself moving perfectly matches the other ideas I’ve introduced over the last month.
Tips for Getting Unstuck: a Review
To review, on New Year’s Day, I wrote about keeping it simple and good enough (kisage). By doing so, we give ourselves permission to make mistakes, to develop a growth mindset, and to eliminate the need to do things perfectly.
Right before Christmas, I shared the importance of finding joy in the smallest of pleasures. We can get so busy that we take things for granted. By slowing down, we can appreciate the small things that bring us great joy. After all, we remember moments, not days.
And a month ago, on December 8, I described how to focus on doing one thing to get unstuck. That way, you can keep in mind your highest priority for the day, even if it changes from one day to the next. It helps us avoid overwhelm and prevents us from getting mired in long to-do lists.
The Idea Behind Five Minute Actions
How can taking a five-minute action help? It creates a tiny bit of positive momentum that helps you get unstuck. You’re probably thinking, “But clutter busting my house will take weeks, maybe even months.” Or maybe, “That’s insane. I can’t prepare to climb Mt. Rainier in five minutes.” And trust me, I’ve said it myself: “There’s no way I can even think about writing a book in five minutes.”
I hear you.
BUT… what five-minute action COULD you take that will get you one step closer to your goal?
Let’s use this week’s blog post as an example. I started thinking about it several days ago. It was on my “shortlist” yesterday, but it was not my “one thing.” Today, it was my ONE THING. Yet, I still couldn’t get started.
Finally, I reminded myself to pick a five minute task. It could be anything. I chose to look for a few photographs to go with my post.
Before I knew it, I had chosen six pictures that represented different aspects of taking a five minute action. Then, I wrote my first paragraph. I came up with some headings. Before long, I had half the blog. And all it took was committing to taking one five-minute action.
How Five Minute Actions Work in Fitness
I have used a variation on this idea with my Body Results clients, too. If you’re having trouble committing to doing an entire strength workout or going for an hour-long walk, commit to taking a five minute action.
Set out your workout clothes. Fill your water bottle with ice. Call a friend to meet you at the trailhead. Walk to the mailbox. Show up at the gym and get warmed up. By setting your intention and just starting, you overcome inertia and create positive momentum.
You can even promise yourself, “If I’m not feeling it after five minutes, I can stop.” Nine times out of ten, by the end of five minutes, you’ll keep going since you’ve already started. Similarly, with the example of working on my blog post, after five minutes I couldn’t just stop. Try it, it really works.
Will Five Minute Actions Work with Anything?
I challenge my readers to find something that does NOT have any five-minute actions associated with it. Your homework, should you care to participate, is to find a goal that is important to you and figure out several steps you need to take to get it done.
Can you take five minutes to schedule an hour for quality time with your spouse or child? What about emailing an accountability partner who will help you stick to your workout goals? Could you commit one five minute block of time, every single day, to work on your manuscript? Would it help to have a guide service send you information about a climb that you could post on your fridge or at your desk for motivation?
Anyone can find five minutes. The key is to do this consistently. Move forward, even if it’s just a small five minute action every day. They accumulate, and sometimes they grow into larger blocks of time. Before you know it, you’ll have made a sizable dent.
If you are unable to break your goal down into smaller steps, post a question on my blog and I’ll help you figure out what step you need to take to get some momentum. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect, you’re trying to get unstuck. The blog post is complete, and all it took was starting with a five-minute action.
You may have noticed in the past six months that I adore playing with words. In October, I coined OcTraPiMo for “October Trash Pick-up Month.” To kick off the new year, my accountability partner, Elena Hartwell Taylor, a developmental editor at Allegory Editing, suggested a new word from a phrase I used. Keeping it “Simple And Good Enough.” Introducing ‘SAGE‘, or “avoiding perfection.”
Perfection is an illusion I’m more than ready to let go of. Instead of setting resolutions this year, I’m going to embrace making mistakes. The more the better. Because that means I’m trying new things and stretching outside of my comfort zone.
One caveat: meet Making Mistakes’ big brother, Learning From Them. We must learn so we don’t make the same ones again. I have made (and continue to make) tons of mistakes in my life, some of which I’ve learned from, others I haven’t. I want to explore the silver linings. To embrace the changes that come from trying something new and discovering things I never knew before. Like our annual tradition of taking the Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Washington on New Year’s Day.
Make Simple and Good Enough Goals You Can Keep
As a trainer, most of the year I teach clients about setting SMART goals – making them Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-stamped. I am not a fan of page-turn resolutions as I know most of them fail within the first month of a new year. My plan to “keep it simple and good enough” inspires playfulness rather than dread. If I don’t think I can consistently drink 65 ounces of water (half your body weight in ounces gives you your target to consume daily), what if I start by increasing my consumption from 32 to 40? Then maybe 48? An eight-ounce glass a day. Surely I could do that, no problem. Consistency and playfulness, not perfection.
What Simple and Good Enough Might Inspire
What if we accepted 85% rather than 100%? We spend 85% of our time getting that last 15% of any project finished. If we said, “good enough” and put that time toward other things that are more important, how could our lives change? What would happen if, during the holidays, you only sent five cards rather than fifty? Or if you sent gifts a week later than normal? I tried both this year. The earth kept revolving. Which would you prefer, completing THE one most important thing each day, or staring at a list of twenty, stuck, overwhelmed, increasing your blood pressure, and doing nothing? What if you could only make one annual commitment to yourself? What would yours be?
Be Willing to Be a Beginner
I’m going to work on changing my mind. Not in a wishy-washy way, but intentionally, to reset neural pathways so that I embrace novelty and change. I want to cultivate a beginner’s mindset for everything I try instead of expecting perfection on the very first try. Nobody shows mastery of anything the first time. It takes more than 10,000 hours to master something!
I’ve spent over twenty-five years learning about wellness and fitness, not web design. As my husband and I revamp our website (with a developer’s help), I know we’re going to make plenty of mistakes. And that’s okay. I embrace, in Carol Dweck’s words, a growth mindset. It might be stressful at times, but if we keep the end goal in mind and see what we can learn in the process, it might be more enjoyable.
Simple and Good Enough Inspires Play
What “good enough” inspires in me is spending more time doing fun, playful things with my family. As an example, over the holidays we got 6-8 inches of snow. I took time out to go sledding the day after Christmas several hours after we got fresh powder. I went cross-country skiing two days later, first thing in the morning before starting my appointments.
As the weather inched up to just above freezing, my husband and I grabbed a few hours to build a Snow Minion. Did I finish all my work those days? Not quite. But holidays are meant to be enjoyed. Did the world fall apart because I was a few days delayed on work? Nope. Did I feel better getting personal joy into the mix? Absolutely.
So try it yourself. Keep it simple and good enough. Make mistakes and learn from them. Harvest a beginner’s mind and cultivate a growth mindset. And most importantly, let yourself play. May these be the resolutions you carry forward into 2022.
Some of my clients recently asked for strategies to increase movement during the holidays. They expressed concerns about diminished activity due to numerous video conferences. My own client sessions have become less active since I started hosting them on Zoom. I still demonstrate exercises, but mostly I supervise clients completing their workouts at their homes while I stand at my treadmill desk screen.
Note the operative words: stand and treadmill desk. Grab every opportunity to stand instead of sit. If you have an adjustable desk and can stand for at least half your work time, great. Build opportunities to walk during work meetings or phone calls. My hiking buddy actually started a conference as we returned to our cars after a recent hike. Increase daily movement however you can.
Below I present suggestions for moving more, encouraging wellness at home, and maintaining hiking mileage during winter.
Increase Movement During Breaks
Set an alarm. Remind yourself to move every hour. Use five minutes to stretch, toss laundry in the drier, place dishes in the dishwasher, or vacuum.
Play music. Vigorously dance to encourage blood flow. Not only is this fun, but it will help minimize brain fog and maximize alertness.
Incorporate movement at your desk. Set up a work station at your treadmill, use an exercycle, or try a step-in-place device. Set up stretching bands, TRX loops or a pullup bar and grab a few repetitions as a break.
Plan short breaks between video sessions. Grab a 15-minute walk in the neighborhood, hug your pet or child, get a healthy snack, or sit outside in the sun and ground barefoot. (Yes, even in the dead of winter I include barefoot time whenever it’s not freezing, snowing, or pouring)
Take Additional Steps Toward Health at Home
Keep water nearby at all times. Divide your body weight (in pounds) by two and try to consume that number of ounces every day. A person who weighs 150 pounds should shoot for drinking 75 ounces each day. Add to that if you’re exercising vigorously for an extended period of time (i.e. hiking). Once you empty your water bottle, get up and fill it. The tactile reminder will encourage you to move more often.
Make it hard to get easily-consumed, high caloric density snacks. Even better, don’t buy them; once you bring junk food in the house, you’ll either eat it or throw it out. Have ready-made hummus, veggies, hard-boiled eggs, sliced fruit, or nuts to eat instead.
Include a few options for managing stress. Try taking deep, cleansing breaths whenever you feel stressed, trying the suggestions above, or simply stare out the window and let your mind wander.
Nap! If you find yourself dozing off or getting increasingly frustrated and you have the luxury of twenty minutes, grab a catnap. Much better than using caffeine or sugar to temporarily provide a boost.
Maintain Mileage and Gain During Winter Months
If you enjoy hiking year-round and you want to maintain your mileage and gain during cold and snowy weather, try the following suggestions.
Explore more-frequented trails near the city. This time of year, Pacific Northwest Trails are relatively empty. Cougar Mountain and Tiger Mountain both have tons of great low-elevation trails that provide wonderful hiking opportunities without much snow.
Consider doing “laps” on a lower elevation hike. Cougar Mountain, for example, has plenty of miles of trails that you can link into longer outings. On a hike two weeks ago, I completed the Big Tree Ridge Trail twice for over nine miles and 2700 feet of elevation gain. It all counts toward maintaining your hiking fitness.
Plan hikes with work companions or, like my buddy did two weeks ago, start a conference call toward the end of your outing to squeeze fitness into your hectic day.
Carry a pack at least once a week to maintain in-season fitness levels so that when you start ramping up you don’t have to start from scratch.
Complete urban workouts with a pack. Hikes are not the only way to carry weight! Walk to the library to check out or return books, or visit the grocery store and carry groceries home in a pack. I seldom use my car unless I have to drive more than a few miles. I combine local errands with dog walking and pack carrying so we’re both happy. Added benefit? We’re doing our part to save fuel and promote clean green living.
Napoleon Hill said, “Action is the real measure of intelligence.” I have always prided myself on getting things done. But we are human beings, not human doings. In a pandemic world where everything moves at lightning speed, it’s challenging to slow down. It’s even harder to make enduring change. You may recall that it took me seven years to launch this blog.
Other times, things change in a heartbeat. Following the stressful events of last week, I’ve identified areas I want to change in 2022. I want to let go of the illusion of perfection, eliminate the word “should” from my vocabulary, seek out and enjoy tiny daily pleasures, and slow down before the good stuff passes by.
What Brings You Joy?
My family, physical activity, writing, photography, animals, nature, and helping others top my list. What’s on yours? May this post be an invitation to notice and name what brings you joy.
Whenever I experience a lack in any of the above areas, I overcompensate in others. Last week my journal became my salvation. I wrote more than thirty pages. As things return to normal, I feel compelled to pair seasonal images of family joy with the discoveries in this post.
However you celebrate the holidays, my hope is that you’re with loved ones doing things that bring you joy, no matter how big or small.
Slow Down and Enjoy Moments of Gratitude
The first thing I noticed at the end of last week’s event was a bright sunbeam peeking out of the clouds, illuminating the tile at my feet and bringing a smile to my face. As I headed outside, I stopped to caress the wilted buds on a bush. I dropped to a knee and skimmed my hand along the tops of frozen, brittle blades of grass.
I deeply inhaled the frigid cold air, trying to bring a gallon into my lungs. As my husband and I walked, I marveled at the crunch of the grass, the uneven surface of the gravel, the smooth pavement. At the gulls and crows soaring overhead. A squirrel darted away, a prized nut in its mouth. We meandered slowly, intentionally absorbing every detail. I wanted to hold onto this moment of blissful freedom, enjoying everything Mother Nature offered.
The Joy of Coming Home
Once in the doorway of our home, I dropped to my knees to let Ajax bathe my face and hands in kisses, wagging full-body around me countless times. Did the four days feel to him like four years? He’s been my shadow since we got him in July of 2015, and my steady hiking companion for the past two years. Everyone should be so lucky as to know the bliss of a pup’s unconditional love.
As I continued through the house, I marveled at the soft lighting, the familiar smells, the peaceful quiet. The comforts of everything we’ve chosen to adorn our home. A refrigerator with wholesome, nourishing food. A yard to enjoy in all seasons. The most comfortable bed on the planet. My gym and workstation. A hot tub to enjoy after long hikes. Signs of my family. Our decorated tree. There truly is no place like home.
Slow Down to Notice Signs
Yesterday I received a newsletter from a journaling association I’ve followed for several years. Normally I’d hit delete, as I recently tried to reduce clutter from my inbox. Not only did I open it, but as I scrolled down, the following poem jumped out. Did this person somehow inhabit my brain? With Lynda Monk’s permission, I share it below in hopes that it delights you as much as it did me. (Bold highlights are mine)
For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing
By John O’Donohue
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic, Time takes on the strain until it breaks; Then all the unattended stress falls in On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim. Things you could take in your stride before Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit. Gravity begins falling inside you, Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out. And you are marooned on unsure ground. Something within you has closed down; And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time. The desire that drove you has relinquished. There is nothing else to do now but rest And patiently learn to receive the self You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight, Taking time to open the well of color That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone Until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit. Learn to linger around someone of ease Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself, Having learned a new respect for your heart And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
If you would like to receive inspiration and ideas for your own journal writing journey, get a free journaling gift from the International Association for Journal Writing. And if you have any questions about how journal writing might help you, please post them in the comments box.
In January of 2017, a friend and I embarked on a photo-a-day journey together. Our goal was to take at least one photograph each day for an entire year. At the end of 2019, Katrina Kennedy, the originator of CY365 (Capture Your 365), turned her focus toward Pinterest. Since then, my buddy and I have recycled Kennedy’s CY365 prompts from 2018 and 2019. If you’re looking for a new idea to sweep you into 2022 with creativity and energy, read on.
What Photo-A-Day Prompts Did For Me
Not only has our daily practice improved my skills and competence, but it’s taught me how to truly see beauty in the mundane. Following the “Capture Your 365” daily prompts taught me a number of valuable lessons:
You don’t need a lot of time to pursue your goals, but you do need consistency
Doing something for a few minutes daily hones your eye, skill, practice, and interest in something
Using a prompt helped narrow down the possibilities, as writing prompts do for writers faced with a blank page
The lessons provided through CY365 taught me how to see and what to appreciate — what matters most to me
Seeing how my partner interpreted the prompts gave me additional ideas of things to try with my own craft
Nearly five years of daily photography has provided me with plenty of visual material for my blog. Unless noted for a particular photograph, I have shot every photo I post on my blog.
A New Idea: 31 Prompts
For 2022, we’ve decided to try something new. Instead of repeating the 2018 prompts again, we will each come up with, and share, a month’s worth of prompts. We’ll follow one set of suggestions for the odd months and the other during even months. As a bonus, we can see if any trends evolve from six photographs in each of the sixty categories.
While my offering won’t be presented in as elegant a format as Katrina’s, perhaps it will inspire another reader to pick up a cell phone or DSLR and capture their own 365.
D9 Often Overlooked
D16 Sweet treat
D27 Photographer’s choice
D30 Favorite color
How this technique can work in other areas
Lest you wonder what on earth this has to do with making change… read on! While I was waiting for a timed animal observation during a recent Colobus monkey watch at Woodland Park Zoo, I created several lists like the one above. One included 31 tips for extreme self-care, from petting a dog to getting a massage to having a special meal.
The other included 31 tips to get more exercise into your life. You could use the exact same technique for whatever routine area of your life you would like to “Gamify” (i.e. make more fun) while adding some sparkle and novelty. Perhaps you’d like to be more consistent with your writing. Can you make a fun list of 31 writing-related tasks? Or maybe you want to come up with free fun things to do with your family. Try a shoebox filled with 31 ideas.
The more fun you can inject into your prompts, the more likely you are to do whatever it is you’re putting off. This technique allows you to trick the left part of your brain that falls into habits easily and allows for the more creative right part to get involved. As an extra holiday bonus for you, by sharing in the comments your own top five tips for either “extreme self-care” or “adding more exercise”, I will send you my complete list of 31 in either category. Gamify! Game on! Happy holidays!
Aesop said, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” The past two weeks have been painful in ways I won’t divulge. But what matters is navigating through the pain and emerging unscathed–perhaps even stronger–on the other side. One useful habit I’ve developed over the past year has been to express and keep track of gratitude. Doing so helps me minimize the suck while remembering and appreciating the good. It’s there if we only look for it. As we approach Thanksgiving, perhaps practicing gratitude can help you get unstuck, too.
What Started as a Weekly Exchange…
Doris Day said, “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.” Two years ago today, my mother and I decided to embark on a weekly e-mail exchange. We would share one positive thing that we’re grateful for from that week. It could be small, such as having a conversation with a stranger at the coffee shop. Or huge, such as having a loved one finally coming home to recover after major surgery.
Not only did it keep us in touch with each other week after week, but it also gave us valuable insights into what we each notice and hold dear. Hearing about her struggles and successes from thousands of miles away helped me relate to her more even though we haven’t been able to see each other for a long time.
You can do the same with a friend, loved one, writing partner, or training partner, sort of like the accountability partner I introduced earlier. You can also keep it private, in a gratitude notebook. See what you come up with. Having now kept a record for two years, I can look back at our earlier exchanges. I remember exactly what was going on that prompted each gratitude, a “week-at-a-glance” journal.
…Provides Examples Spanning Two Years
Rather than complaining about the past two weeks (poverty! no!), I thought I’d review just a few from the past two years (riches, indeed!) Your gratitude list will obviously differ from mine, but this gives you an idea of how diverse, healing, and nurturing such a list can be.
Practicing Gratitude for Family Experiences
A wonderful vacation to the South and Stewart Islands of New Zealand, merely months before COVID hit
Help from my husband and daughter in treating a hard-to-reach lesion on my back (no surgery, thankfully!)
A trip to Yellowstone National Park that resulted in great nature experiences
A visit to the Coast to camp, birdwatch, and escape a heatwave in Seattle
My daughter soaring through her online AP exams with college credit for all of them
Touring UW campus and helping my daughter submit a college application and FAFSA form
Practicing Gratitude for People
Hearty laughs and connections in unexpected places that remind me of the humor instilled in me by my birth family
Writing partners in the Seattle community who offer overall encouragement and support and remind me that I’m not alone, even if meetings have to be via Zoom
Keeping a blog since July to capture the wonderful moments and share with readers
Identifying what is beautiful, to me, in nature and shooting it with my camera
Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude
Robert Brault said, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” We take for granted much of what we have until we no longer have it. Our freedom to congregate. Freedom to hike. To go to restaurants, stores, plays, movies. While some (well, okay, many) of our freedoms feel compromised over the past two years, we still have so much to appreciate.
Just this week, Victoria Peters, one of my Monday morning critique partners, reminded me how important it is for us to “Be here, right now, at this moment.” Anna Colpitts pointed out how much she enjoyed my behind-the-scenes tour of Woodland Park Zoo and blog posts about hikes she’ll never do (but appreciates.) Roma Anjoy reminded us that we each have the right to choose — which extends to our attitude as well. Absent this week but always present in spirit, Susan Ferguson has been a role model, inviting me to join the EPIC board (three years) and participate on the WOTS Steering Committee (three years).
And that idea about trading gratitudes with my mom? I borrowed that from Jeanne Gerhard, a friend I met at Write on the Sound nine years ago when we were both looking for connections and information about writing. I am forever grateful for each of my Monday Morning critique partners who have stood beside me for eight years and who help me get unstuck time and again.
After our dog Emily died on June 28, 2012, I drifted in a grief cloud for many months. But two positives emerged from that period: I started attending the annual Write on the Sound conference in Edmonds, and I became a volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo. Both experiences have enriched my life in more ways than I can count. If you are considering ways to give back to the Seattle community and you love animals, join me on a virtual volunteering tour to see how to do the Zoo for a brand new you.
Do the Zoo: Animal Watches
One of my favorite shifts this past year since the Zoo has invited volunteers back has been participating in animal watches. On a watch, volunteers spend several hours with a particular animal or group of individuals, noting every five or ten minutes what they’re doing. While my Animal Unit Volunteer (AUV) position helping with the giraffes remains closed, I’ve shifted time to animal watches.
I’ve won lottery shifts for three different animal watches: Alpine keas, Komodo dragons, and Colobus monkeys. All three animals are in exhibits I don’t often visit. Spending time with them teaches me more about their natural behavior and provides details and stories I then share with guests.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see Barani and Nakal, the two Komodo dragons, climb the walls in their new exhibits and dig in their sand pits. These endangered lizards only live in a very small region in Indonesia, on Komodo Island and Flores Island. The biggest threat to these impressive reptiles? Man encroaching on their territory and poaching their food sources.
The Zoo has four Keas who often blend in with the olive green surroundings of their exhibit. Only through standing in front of their exhibit, listening to the birds call to each other, and watching closely have I been able to learn where their favorite spots are inside their exhibit. Patience pays off! They are tricky to photograph at the Zoo, however, without getting mesh between camera and kea. I’ve seen two during a visit to New Zealand’s South Island.
These black-and-white, long-tailed monkeys native to Africa live near the gorilla exhibit. During a recent watch, guests commented most often about their long, white, bushy tails and skunk-like coloring. Animal keepers trained Blondie (pictured), Grabby, and Lewis, the newest member of the family.
Sometimes animals are named after keepers, or receive names in their native language. Blondie has white hair on her toes. Grabby likes to take food from Blondie.
Volunteer with Horticulture
In July 2021, I accepted a temporary six-month Horticulture shift on Thursdays mornings, the day I used to help on the savanna. Until Labor Day, I helped water the ferns and new plants in the Dinosaur Discovery loop, a temporary exhibit in the south part of Zoo grounds near the Family Farm.
Once the Zoo grounds opened at 9:30, we moved on to other tasks. We cut browse (another word for snack plants) at nearby Greenlake for all the herbivores. One shift included arranging flowers for Jungle Party, the Zoo’s annual fundraiser. Other shifts I helped rake, prune, transplant plants, and more. A side benefit of volunteering with Horticulture was asking questions about gardening from one of the best in the business.
Another benefit is accessing behind-the-scenes areas off-limits to the general public. These adorable goslings peeked through the fence at us, hoping for attention. Seeing all the areas the public does not gives me a much greater appreciation of all that the Zoo staff does to run such a highly esteemed facility.
Do the Zoo: Wildkeepers
During my eight years as a volunteer, one of my favorite shifts is as a Wildkeeper, what we in brown sweatshirts (volunteer colors) lovingly refer to as glorified Zookeepers without benefits. Sweeping, shoveling, raking, laying gravel — you name it, Wildkeepers do it.
Not only do we get a great workout, but after every several-hour shift of manual labor, we receive our own enrichment, a close encounter with a select “animal of the day.” Following several hours of raking in October, I fed apple pieces to the de-scented skunk, Harry, and I met Jibini, the Milky Eagle Owl, who hatched January 28, 2020.
Animal Visibility Watch
This shift may be my favorite during COVID times. For each two-hour shift, volunteers visit twenty animals who live scattered throughout the zoo. We spend up to a minute looking for each animal, roughly the time guests spend looking before they move on. We simply mark whether we saw the animal (s) before continuing.
I took the following shots during my AV watches. Wallaroos and Wallabies are smaller cousins of kangaroos. They live in the Zoo’s Australasia exhibit. I’ve been fortunate enough to see their larger cousins, the kangaroos, in their natural habitat in Australia. They’re high on my list of animals to learn more about whenever they have another watch.
Assam Rhino Reserve
Another animal I’ve enjoyed learning about this year is the greater one-horned rhino. Many visitors ask if Glenn and Taj are brothers. They were born a day apart, in different zoos. Both boys turned five this month and will remain permanent residents at the Zoo. They have been in the former elephant exhibit since spring 2018.
The Northern Trail opened this spring with plans to include lynx in the near future. Zeus, the male mountain goat, was translocated from Olympic National Park several years ago. He and Atlin fathered a new female kid on July 16. I have yet to get a good shot of her up close but this link will give you a great view!
Animal Unit Volunteer
I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least a short mention of the heart and soul of volunteering, in my mind: getting to directly help animals. In my role for more than two years as an Animal Unit Volunteer (AUV) within the savanna, I got to spend time near baby Hasani (meaning handsome, in Swahili) before he moved to Merkel, TX.
I arrived for my shift the morning he was born, and I cried when I saw how difficult it was for him to stand. He had a condition called hyperextended fetlocks. Fortunately, an equine vet was in town and helped outfit Hasani with custom shoes to support him until he grew strong enough on his own.
Unfortunately, I never got to say goodbye to Hasani. The Zoo remained closed to volunteers when keepers moved him to his new home. But I have fond memories of looking directly up at Dave, Hasani’s dad, as he chewed on browse in the stall next to the one I cleaned. All Zoo animals are amazing. Do you have a favorite?
I am within four shifts of reaching a thousand hours of volunteerism at the Zoo. Is volunteering in your future? What I’ve covered in this post is only a small fraction of the many possibilities. Once COVID restrictions change, even more opportunities will open up. Perhaps you, too, can do the Zoo for a brand new you.
On November 6, Ajax and I met two friends, Tonia and Susie, at Exit 54 off I-90 to hike to Mirror Lake. The forecast promised precipitation all weekend. A lot of it. Lucky for us, we started early enough in the day that we experienced far more snow than rain. The change in seasons always provides unexpected lessons, and the surprise snowfall left each of us with valuable lessons learned.
The Trip that Almost Wasn’t
Up until 18 months ago, I would have called myself a fair-weather hiker. Anytime the chance for rain is greater than 50%, I reschedule. Why be miserable when you can go when it’s nice out? Plus, my dog is not a huge fan of walking in slop. Neither of us relished the thought of spending several wet hours outside in near-freezing temperatures. I almost postponed.
But then Tonia told me Susie would like to join us. For a year, the three of us had tried coordinating schedules to hike together, without success. I didn’t know when we’d find another opportunity. We had to try.
Rain Turns to Snow
Early Saturday morning as we headed for Exit 54, I started second-guessing my decision as the rain turned into a downpour. Are we going to get all the way there, just to turn around and drive back? Two miles below the Hyak East exit, however, the rain turned into snow.
I love snow. I grew up in Wisconsin, after all. For the first time during our drive, enthusiasm, interest, and excitement returned. Maybe we’ll be in SNOW instead of RAIN. That would mean we wouldn’t get that wet. Maybe we could salvage this trip, after all.
Within five minutes of arriving at the agreed-upon parking lot, Susie showed up and told me Tonia would meet us in ten minutes. I’d only been up the Forest Road 9070 as far as Mt. Catherine. Susie, a skier, knows Exit 54 as well as I know Exit 47. Once Tonia arrived, my friends moved their boots and packs into my car and hopped into the back seat. Ajax navigated from the passenger side.
Lessons Learned: Navigating Narrow Forest Roads
I navigated around deep pits in the gravel road, taking my time. Gravel gave way to slush, then finally to snow. I grew up in Milwaukee, but that doesn’t mean I know how to drive in the snow. But I didn’t give any thought to it…until my right tire started spinning. I eased up, tried again, shifted to manual. Were there chains in the back? Did the car have snow tires? Could we make it another third of a mile as is?
“Uh, guys, I keep slipping,” I said after seeing blinking lights on my dash for the third time.
“We can always park and walk from here,” Susie offered. Where would we leave the car? I hadn’t considered doing a 3-point turn on a narrow gravel road covered in snow. Thoughts of parallel parking failures as a teen shot through my head.
Knowing we’d have an easier time leaving with the car pointed downhill, we looked for a place wide enough to turn around. Backing up using a fogged rearview camera proved impossible. I kept heading toward the cliff edge, only to overcorrect. Before I knew it, one wheel slipped into the ditch.
Tonia hopped in the driver’s seat while Susie and I pushed the car out of the ditch. Susie, most experienced with snow driving from years of skiing, offered to back up while Tonia and I provided directions. Before long, we got the car turned around. I found a wide-enough spot to pull aside and park. Finally, we were off!
Lessons Learned: Navigating High Water / Blow Downs
The first snow of the season is magical, full of hope and promise. Around us, the air felt clean, crisp, pure. Trees bowed to the sky’s mercy, laden in a blanket of white. Quite a contrast from the deforestation on Tiger that Ajax and I had witnessed five days earlier. The snow muffled all freeway sounds, and the forecast likely drove other shoulder-season hikers inside. Once again, we were the only ones on the trail. Bliss!
Mirror Lake is accessible from the Pacific Crest Trail. Susie led, followed by Tonia, while I snapped photos in the back. Anytime Ajax wanted to veer off in the wrong direction, we called him back. Due to all the recent precipitation, we navigated several rapid-water crossings. Ajax got his paws pretty wet but we continued without anyone slipping or falling in. Under freezing conditions, that could mean an immediate turnaround.
At one point we reached a huge log across the trail. The only way past it was over. Lucky for me, Ajax had on his “suitcase harness” so I could lift him onto the log and he could hop down. Other blow-downs weren’t as bad.
Lessons Learned: Heeding Driving Wind
After roughly 90 minutes, we descended slightly and found ourselves in 4-6 inches of snow. Strong wind gusts blew the snow sideways. When we regrouped, Ajax acted quite agitated, pacing back and forth in the biting wind. Susie voiced concern about the drive back down the gravel road. We had no way of knowing whether the conditions we faced on the trail were the same 1000′ lower where we parked. We had to assume we’d remain the only ones on the mountain, and without a cell signal. What if we struggled to get the car out?
I was certain we’d be fine if we continued. However, when Ajax ducked into a growing tree well to protect himself from the sideways blowing snow, the scale tipped in favor of turning around. I’ve never seen such a pathetic look on my 6-year-old dog’s face before. He was genuinely miserable. His vote swayed mine, and we all agreed to turn around. But not before we got a few photos.
Once we climbed out of the basin, conditions changed. The wind died down, the snow let up, and at one point we actually had a momentary clearing across the valley. Had we waited a few minutes to see if anything would change, or if we’d started out from the car a few minutes earlier or later, would we have kept going?
Snow Changes Everything
The truth is, if I hadn’t had hiking partners lined up, I never would have left Seattle. Had I left Seattle alone, I would have chosen a familiar hike I’d done before. And had I gotten as far as FR 9070, I would have had difficulty turning around on the narrow road without partners. So the question is moot – alone, Ajax and I never would have chosen to explore the 5.3 miles and 950 feet gain that we did. So, what did we all learn?
Additional Lessons Learned
Snow changes everything, from gear to pack weight, from terrain considerations to travel time. It’s much easier to slip on wet, possibly icy rocks and logs in winter. A fall in a stream in summer is no big deal; in freezing conditions, it can become life-threatening. My dog is a great hiker, but with his thin coat and unprotected paws, I can’t expect him to be able to travel as far in the snow.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Especially when everyone is excited for the first snow of the season. Shorter early-season snow outings are perfect for ironing out foul-weather gear. Tonia backtracked in Seattle to retrieve her waterproof shell. Susie had on the only rain pants. Two of us wore gaiters, but did any of us have the right waterproof boots for deep snow? Were our hats and gloves suitable for snow as well as rain? Did we each carry enough layers? How about a change of clothing in the car?
Add Travel Time
Snow travel is not the same as trail travel, so mileage has to be recalculated. All trail times get reset whenever you’re traveling over snow or ice; the deeper the snow, the slicker the conditions, the slower the going unless you’re wearing microspikes or snowshoes. Carrying more layers and equipment (and a hot beverage!) also means your pack will weigh more, which will slow you down.
Weather in the mountains can change from moment to moment. While the avalanche risk in the early season is low, the other obstacles noted above make it important to lower your expectations. In the Cascades, if the forecast is for rain, but you can get up high enough, you can still be out without getting miserably wet if you’re in the snow. If the driving rain on the way home was any indication of what else was coming in, we made a wise decision. Better safe than sorry; we can always go back another day to enjoy the beauty of the winter wonderland.
On November 2, Ajax and I headed for Tiger Mountain, a half-hour drive from home. The upper trails had been closed for private logging since July. I was eager to learn whether I’d still have a good place to hike during the approaching winter months. This blog post is a photographic tribute to Tiger Mountain’s beauty, despite the devastation on all three summits due to logging.
A Trip Up Tiger Mountain Trail
The forecast called for cloudy, dry weather before noon. We left the parking lot at 8:15, unsure what we’d find or where we’d go. A perfect day for a coddiwomple.
A man without a pack headed down the trail just ahead of us. When he turned toward the Section trail, I decided we’d try our usual route but in reverse. We turned left onto Tiger Mountain Trail. Doing so would give me an opportunity to make sure the calf I’d strained on our Pratt Lake trip two weeks earlier would be okay. (It was!)
Evergreen versus Deciduous
Right away I noticed the difference in our surroundings compared to five months ago. Deciduous leaves blanketed the trail in yellows and browns while the ferns remained lush and healthy. Yellow carpeting provided the illusion of a sunnier day both from the brightness in the sky and the path under my feet. Unless you know the trail, it might be tricky finding the path through so many fallen leaves. But over the past eighteen months, Ajax and I have hiked many of Tiger’s routes. While I don’t quite know it like the back of my hand, it’s becoming familiar.
We took a brief break (clothing for me, water for Ajax) just before nine and didn’t see a single person, one of the reasons I enjoy going mid-week, early morning, in the off-season, on a less-used trail, and in transitional weather. It felt like we had the mountain all to ourselves.
Disturbance of the Peace
A few minutes later, the first buzzing of chain saws pierced the air. My heart sank. Loggers were already at work. We would probably hear them for the rest of our hike.
I knew from recent posts on Washington Trails Association that several routes to the summit had been closed. Tiger Mountain (Exit 20 off I-90 east of Seattle) is at low elevation and perfect for hiking year-round. I wanted to see for myself what side trails remained open for future winter outings.
I have many fond memories of snow blanketing the road between Tiger 2 and Tiger 1. Ajax and I have taken many jaunts through the forest, boughs laden with heavy snow.
Our Upward Coddiwomple Continues
Unfortunately, shots like the snowy one on this blog are only memories. As you can see from the map above, the top-most portion of Tiger Mountain has been logged. The good news is, tons of wonderful hiking remains, as long as you’re not summit-hungry. Tiger Mountain Trail and the Railroad Grade both provide ample low elevation hiking, only a portion of which is currently off-limits.
We followed the TMT until we reached the marker for “K3 / Unmaintained” and followed it steeply up and across several running streams. Section/Nook, TMT, Talus Rocks, and RRG trails all have running water on them; Cable and W. Tiger 3 do not.
We leapfrogged upward until we reached the sign indicating the summit of West Tiger 2, a half-mile away, cordoned off with obnoxious orange netting. After turning east we continued beneath Tiger 1’s summit until the sounds of logging drowned out the sounds of wildlife and running water.
At our designated turn-around time, we headed back the way we’d come, navigating around a large downed tree across upper K3. When we reached the Cable Line Trail, I decided I really wanted to see what was left of the summit. We headed straight up.
A Mountain Being Loved to Death
The erosion on the Cable Line trail stunned me. Cables hang in places, looking almost like hand lines. Usually, a foot (or more) of soil covers them. So many hikers have traveled this trail, it looks as bad as the old route on Mailbox. Maybe worse.
At the sign indicating .6 miles to the summit, we turned off the deeply rutted track and continued on the much nicer main trail to the summit of West Tiger 3. Or, I should say, what remains.
Large orange barriers and warning signs indicate that the area is being actively logged and to keep out, courtesy of Weyerhaeuser. The summit of West Tiger 3 has been completely destroyed.
Logging has moved east; the summits of Tiger 1 and 2 are still being decimated. Ugly, gaping wounds stretch in every direction. My heart goes out to the gray jays, chipmunks, woodpeckers, songbirds, and other critters who once called the summits home.
And to all those hikers in the Puget Sound region who no longer have access to a great training route. Yeah, sure, now you can see Mt. Rainier from all three summits, but with no foreground.
To a hiker gawking at the destruction, I commented, “This may be worse than a volcanic eruption.” At least volcanic material becomes fertile ground, given enough time.
More Questions than Answers
So many questions popped into my mind. Does Weyerhaeuser plan to plant more trees? What happened to the Hiker’s Hut on Tiger 1 at 2800 feet elevation?
Could I use this as a backdrop for a middle-grade novel? How long before the loop from 3 to 2 to 1 becomes beautiful again? Did the geocache my daughter once found between Tiger 3 and 2 get destroyed by loggers?
What happened to the memorial spot on a little turn-out just east of Tiger 3? Tiger is so much more than trees. It holds treasured memories. Life stories.
I certainly understand that as the human population continues to explode, resources become more and more precious. And I get that privately owned recreational lands can be used as the owners wish. This is the first time I’ve experienced land previously used for public recreation becoming an ugly harvestable commodity.
Tiger Mountain’s Beauty on Our Return to the Car
On our hour-long hike down the Section Trail, we only encountered one other gentleman on his way to the summit. The sound of logging dimmed and disappeared behind me, almost like a bad dream. Around us we could once again hear birds calling, squirrels chittering, and water running. My sadness turned to peace as I relished the beauty that remains intact on the rest of Tiger Mountain. The mushrooms and fungus keep doing their job decaying old logs.
Moss continues to drape branches and birds continue to create peepholes. I still recognize favorite trees from earlier photographs. No vibrant reds or oranges to speak of, but the textures and nuances of the greens, yellows, and browns soothed me.
And when we reached the large stump where I take selfies, Tuesday was no exception. What goes through our pets’ heads when they see something change so dramatically? Did the unfamiliar noises disturb him? Or was he merely hungry? What caused the startled expression on his face?
Tiger Mountain’s Beauty Endures: Take-aways
As I reflect on our November second hike, I ponder the take-away messages Mother Nature left with me:
Look for the good, the beautiful, the positive in any change, whether we perceive it as good or bad. It’s there. Logging is ugly. Yet Mother Nature heals, and with time there will again be beautiful forest growth on Tiger 1, 2 and 3. Meanwhile, the bulk of Tiger Mountain remains unaffected. It’s truly a beautiful place.
Express gratitude for what is. I am so grateful for my photo log of hikes when Tiger’s summits were pristine. I can look back on our many, many trips and remember, fondly, all the beauty we discovered as a family, with friends, or solo with my pup.
Understand the difference between change we can control (like what job to take, how much to eat, or where to move) and change we can’t (such as natural disasters, COVID or social justice policies, and local logging).
Choose to do something to manage the impact of those changes we can’t control. We have a voice; use it.
Find truth and comfort in “Serenity, courage, and wisdom.” And trust that Mother Nature will prevail.
When I first conceived of OcTraPiMo (October: Trash Pick-up Month, 9/28-10/28/21), I never would have predicted the outcome. My dog and I completed 35 walks of at least 30 minutes each, dedicated exclusively to picking up trash on our routes, with these exceptions. We varied our routes to cover as much ground as possible. We visited a third of our routes more than once.
Trash Pick-up Results
We invested a total of 22.5 hours in this project, recovering 5080 pieces of garbage. We averaged 145 pieces per walk (225 pieces per hour). The highest trash totals were 425 and 433 (both on walks lasting 79 minutes) and we collected the lowest number (the winner!) on October 22, the only walk all month where we gathered less trash than minutes walked (15 pieces in 19 minutes.)
Sadly, not once did we walk in our North Seattle neighborhood without seeing any garbage. Only during our 12.1-mile hike to Pratt Lake did we not find any trash.
So, what, exactly, did we find?
Most Interesting Finds
Over the course of a month, I found enough clothing to make an entire outfit, albeit of differing sizes. I left the pair of jeans with a belt in hopes that whoever left them might return for them. Someone had tossed a gray hooded sweatshirt deep into a hedge. I’d seen suspended sneakers before, but never a single shoe under shrubs until now. Socks and hats? Fairly commonplace. But a bra? Could these items have fallen out of someone’s backpack?
Most Disturbing Finds
These fell into three categories. The countless tiny plastic bits from juice box straws won as most offensive from an environmental standpoint. On repeated visits to the Olympic Hills Elementary School ground near our house, we collected dozens to hundreds of tiny pieces discarded from children who had eaten lunch outside.
Second: junk mail strewn everywhere, soaked from the rain. This disturbed me because of the eyesores the large pieces of trash created. Even worse, however: they provided proof that local thieves had been hunting through mailboxes for something of greater value.
Discarded masks, never seen before two years ago, were a very close second to a plethora of beverage containers: styrofoam, paper, and plastic Starbucks and soda cups; beer and soda cans and bottles; plastic juice boxes; and water bottles, sometimes unopened, other times punctured, occasionally reused for purposes too disgusting to repeat, and many times crushed from cars repeatedly running over them at busy intersections.
Most Offensive Finds
By far the most offensive findings were used condoms, syringes, and razors, all of which we didn’t collect. I pledged not to pick up anything that might harm me (including broken glass). But the most curious? Little blue and silver metal cylinders I’d never seen before. After finding a box of 20 under a hedge one day, I had to look up online what they were.
I guessed whoever bought them must have had some motive other than adding them to whipped cream dispensers. I was right. Oh, my stars. Naive me, I never realized people use nitrous oxide canisters — laughing gas — as a mood-altering substance. You learn something new every day.
Why I Cut the Experiment Short
I committed to my experiment for an entire month. On October 27, I stopped collecting trash. I feared for my safety not once, but twice, and realized my mental health was more important than completing the experiment.
Safety Risk 1
As we made our way from the library to the post office collecting trash, I spotted a hedge with many pieces of trash. Big pieces. I wasn’t sure I could fit it all in my bag, but the area was a complete eyesore. The bottles I pulled out were all empty. A box of cereal felt like it still had food inside. Another heavy bag did not feel like trash. Was that a bag of…groceries?
Aware that homeless people frequented the area, I suddenly thought: Is this trash or a cache? Could I be removing containers (assuming they were garbage) that were items someone had stashed for later? A fearful idea popped into my head: could someone think I’m a thief? Might I become the next victim of a local shooting accident, just for doing something innocent and helpful like collecting trash?
“That’s it. We’re done,” I told Ajax. We headed for the nearest public trash can outside a grocery store.
Safety Risk 2
But addictions are hard to break. A few blocks later, I found myself bending over to pick up more offensive litter. A man from across the busy street, hands thrust in the pockets of his beige jacket, called out, “That’s really nice of you. I do that sometimes in my own neighborhood.” My fourth thank-you in thirty-five walks.
Two blocks from our house, I stepped into a culvert for yet another beer can. A car slowed next to me. A 30-something white man in a wool cap lowered his window. “Ma’am, just wanted to tell you for your own safety. You’re really hard to spot by drivers rounding that corner.”
That clinched it. I’d put my dog and my own safety at risk while pursuing a clean neighborhood. No more. I can pick up the obvious trash at my feet. But unless I have on a bright orange neon vest, it’s unsafe to keep doing what I’ve been doing as I’ve been doing it.
Mental Health First
Returning home with a bag full of 300-400 pieces of community garbage is…depressing. I can’t help but judge fellow humans as a whole for becoming slobs.
My husband has even noticed a difference in my mood. When he joined me on one of our “trash walks” late in the month, he asked, “Do you plan to continue beyond October?” I said I wasn’t sure. “Maybe you’ve gotten everything from it that you can.” Hm.
What exactly had been the goal? Clean up the world? Spark a massive OcTraPiMo movement across the city? Make my neighborhood beautiful again? Set an example for my daughter? See what would happen? When cravings for unhealthy foods returned, I knew I had to complete the experiment that had run its course and threatened to harm me, psychologically and physically.
Why Trash Pick-up Month Was Worthwhile
I would encourage everyone to try a version of the experiment for themselves. For at least one neighborhood walk, see what happens. In my late-night mulling after developing the first draft of this post, I came to the following conclusions:
“Pack out what you pack in” is a phrase engrained in me during twenty-five years with the Seattle Mountaineers
Respect for land, property, and wild life, then, must also be learned. However, it is not necessarily a value everyone shares. If you lack a roof over your head, food to eat, or a job, you may struggle to meet basic needs
Is this issue a matter of privilege? As a female Caucasian business owner with a roof over my head, sufficient food and resources, and time to volunteer, maybe I take too much for granted. I value clean, green spaces and take great pride in ownership. I have made the faulty assumption that others should share my passion for conservation and the outdoors. But many are not nearly as fortunate as I am.
Could I try imagining the story behind how each piece of trash ended up where it is?
“Find what you seek” turned out to be especially important. The more I looked for trash, the more I found. My 5080 total amounts to a lot of trash. But so what? A friend pointed out, “Might those less fortunate than you use trash to mark their territory or define their boundaries?” That, and many other thoughts on this month-long journey, never even occurred to me. I am so lucky to be able to come up with and try experiments like this.
During the past three years, I’ve focused on capturing the world’s beauty and uniqueness in my photographs. In November, my goal is to look at things in a new way. If I can train myself to notice the bad, the ugly, the grotesque in a single month, what can I discover when I retrain myself to see the good, the beautiful, the wonderful?
The images I’ve added to this story are some of my most inspired and colorful during October in 2020 and 2021. My hope is that they inspire you to try something new, expand outside of your comfort zone, and learn something new in the coming weeks. Maybe I’ll see you out walking in a few days, picking up Halloween candy wrappers. For the love of all things beautiful, and for the world that we want to live in.
If you’ve followed my blog since I started posting in July 2021, you probably know how much our backyard wildlife habitat means to me. And how I am not someone with a “green thumb.” You may recall that starting this blog evolved from the idea of doing “50 home projects in 50 days.”
One of those projects was to muck out our pond, something we hadn’t done since installing it a decade ago. Last weekend, we finally got around to it. Since then, I’ve been pondering how enhancing our suburban retreat ties into the concept of getting unstuck.
Planting a Hedgerow
In 2011, we wanted to attract wild birds to our backyard feeders so we could photograph them up close. A water feature and native plants seemed like the best lure. I’ve always enjoyed the sound of running water, so we planned to include a mini-waterfall. After weeks of landscape design and research about plants native to the Pacific Northwest, we got to work.
During a long weekend in March, my husband and I prepared the soil, creating a zen-like flow to the hedgerow outlined with interlocking red brick. We spaced the larger shrubs several feet apart: red-flowering currant, Indian plum, Ninebark. Snowberry, Ocean Spray, Mock orange. Serviceberry and blueberry. We chose as groundcovers wild strawberry and crinkle-leaf creeper plants.
In two days, we turned the south part of our backyard into the infant hedgerow pictured below, leaving space to install a pond when it got warmer. We still had more research to do to find out how to make one work.
Installing a 3-tiered Pond
Phase two took place over Memorial Day weekend. First, we removed additional grass and measured how deep and wide the pond should be. Once we dug out the dirt and mounded it for the cascading waterfall, we lined the hole with carpeting to protect it from added rocks, root punctures, and critters with sharp claws.
After placing the pond liner, we filled the depression with water and added gravel. The decorative pebbles gave it a natural look and provided a variety of depths for birds of different sizes to stand on for bathing. Next, we hooked up the fountain so we’d have running water, both for our enjoyment and to attract birds flying over.
Our daughter helped fill in gaps between pavers with gravel. We built a mound for our three-tiered recycling waterfall and removed the excess liner material. After adding several water lily plants and larger rocks to mask the pond liner, we were ready to turn it on.
All we had to do was sit back and let Mother Nature do her growing magic.
Maintaining a Wildlife Habitat
Just as every home improvement project takes more time–and money–than budgeted, every goal has plenty of obstacles and pitfalls. Every story has a hero who struggles. And every goal, once reached, requires maintenance.
Whenever you take on a yard project yourself, especially if you’re not a landscape designer, it’s easy to overlook long-term maintenance costs. We love our water feature, but we’ve definitely had issues with it. Hoses clog. Unwanted algae forms on the surface. Plants die. Weeds take over. Leaves decay in the basin. As homeowners, these are all things we have to manage for years to come.
The biggest nuisance? Once every six months or so, raccoons (at least, we think) knock the fountain over, causing it to shoot water out of the basin and drain before we notice and turn off the pump. I promised that the next time it happened, I would clean out the pond and build a better foundation for the fountain before we refilled it.
That opportunity came last weekend. We all contributed to the clean-out effort, just in time for Mother Nature to blow off most of the surrounding leaves.
Wildlife Habitat Take-Away
I realize that cleaning out a pond is a tiny project and a problem of low importance in the grand scheme of things. After all, we’re living during a pandemic. Violence is increasing everywhere, our climate is changing dramatically, social injustice pervades daily experience, and political arguments divide our nation. All of these are mega-scale problems. Yet if I think about such issues, I freeze, powerless to change anything. We can’t live with powerlessness.
We must look at the macro level. What can a single person do? I can take good care of the things that matter most to me. Our backyard habitat has become a stopping point for migrating birds. It is a refuge for songbirds, woodpeckers, raptors, and hummingbirds. It attracts moles, voles, raccoons, possums, squirrels, and more. Keeping it healthy and picking up trash around the neighborhood are two things I can do locally, on a daily basis.
Take back the wild a weekend, a year, a decade at a time. By reflecting on the evolution of our habitat, I’ve seen in pictures what’s possible. If only a handful of us in every neighborhood made the same commitment to the environment, what a difference we could make.
Three weeks had passed since my last hike to Mason Lake and Bandera. I desperately needed some solitude in nature. At the beginning of the day, I had no idea that in several hours, I would be narrowly escaping injury.
My dog, Ajax, and I usually start hiking at dawn. Tuesday, we tried something different. We headed for the mountains after dropping my daughter off at school. The familiar yearning to be “first up the trail” grew until we arrived at the Pratt Lake parking lot. At least four other groups had beaten us to the trailhead. I locked the car at 8:30, with Ajax on a leash and a restless feeling in my gut.
Race up the Mountain
We soon caught up to the largest group of six at the first fork. They turned right toward Granite Mountain. Ten minutes later, we passed a trio of backpackers taking a clothing break. All that remained were two pairs. Could they have been heading toward Granite, too? Soon after that, I felt the whisper of spider webs across my face.
I smiled and my mood improved. Even leaving this late, we were first on this section of the trail. Not only could I let my dog off-leash, but we could enjoy the peace surrounding us. No more need to race. The only deadline facing us was returning to the car by 3:15, or else dealing with rush hour traffic through downtown Seattle.
Around us, vanilla leaf plants, ferns, and maples shone vibrant yellow. Mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, and colors peeked out from fallen leaves. Rushing streams crossed our path. Rivulets that flow from alpine springs even in times of drought now had more water volume due to October’s rainfall. I spotted small salad-plate patches of snow on the highest ridge, signs of approaching winter. But the day itself was balmy, in the low 60’s, with a slight breeze. We’d enjoy one last hurrah before storms hit the Puget Sound region.
As we hiked, I pondered blog post ideas. Other writers have written about finding creative inspiration while walking. I do, too. We reached the second fork at mile two and headed right toward Pratt Lake. At the Olallie Lake overlook, we snapped a photo of Mt. Rainier towering over the surrounding hills in the mid-autumn sky. Four minutes later, we came to the third fork. Left leads to Rainbow and Island Lakes, which I’d visited earlier this year, twice. Right leads to Pratt Lake Basin. We turned right.
Down we wound past several switchbacks. As we crossed the boulder field, I took a selfie in front of beautiful bright yellow, orange, and red maple leaves. Part of my excitement about “getting my nature fix” was enjoying fall foliage before storms blow down all the leaves. This hike did not disappoint.
A Surprising Spill Hours from the Car
Once we passed the boulder field, we entered the woods where I’d gotten stung by a yellowjacket three months earlier. I stepped down onto a slanted boulder stuck in the middle of the trail, and before I knew what was happening, I slipped.
As I landed on both feet, I felt more than heard a pop on the lateral side of my right knee, just below the knee joint. I’d fallen correctly – not on my hips, tailbone, face, wrists, or elbows. But popping is a bad sign.
I gently loaded it to test it – no break, no dislocation, no fracture. No shooting pain, no buckling, no sprain. Sometimes Ajax can sense my mood shifts. He didn’t react at all. You’re okay, I told myself.
A tiny voice of reason whispered, “Turn around.” I was 2 hours and 20 minutes from the car, 90 minutes of which would be downhill. Once I climbed out of the basin, that is. I flexed and extended my foot, drew circles, took a few more steps – the ankle felt fine. I did a few stretches, then bent and straightened my leg. Tight.
I have a high tolerance for pain. I know a lot about the human body. I’d endured natural childbirth without pain medication. I’d also climbed Kilimanjaro five weeks after fracturing my foot. I had no swelling, nothing I could see or feel externally, just tenderness and tightness where a tendon popped.
Am I Really Injured?
This was nothing compared to incidences I’d experienced in the past. Yet except for Ajax, I was completely alone. That niggling voice of reason persisted. Could I trust my right leg to get me back out if I kept going? Was I walking into a troubling rescue situation if I continued? Was anyone else camping in the basin if I suddenly couldn’t walk? What if I fell again?
Lured by the Destination
I got my trekking pole out of my pack. I don’t always use it, but I always have one with me. The lure of the destination and the last bit of beautiful weather overpowered my logical brain. We kept going, but instead of thinking about future blog posts, I cued into bodily sensations. I can always turn around, I thought.
My pole stayed out over the next three and a half hours. I found myself leading with my left leg on unknown or steep steps. Were they slick or solid? Fortunately, we’d already descended most of the way into the basin. Walking on level ground boosted my confidence. I only had a slight limp. I could do this.
For the next half hour, we traversed Pratt Lake, shooting photos of the brilliant fall foliage. At the fourth fork, we turned right toward Melakwa Lake.
Only .6 miles farther, we reached our final destination, windy Lower Tuscohatchie Lake. I took a short ten-minute break to feed Ajax, mix a protein shake, and shoot some photos. I couldn’t risk spending any more time. Not knowing whether my leg injury would become more painful, I wanted as much leeway as possible for our return to the car. We were forty minutes ahead of our turn-around time when we started back, buffeted by strong wind.
Returning to the Car
At Pratt Lake, we spotted two tents near the trail. Somehow, we’d missed them on the way to Lake Tuscohatchie. Did they belong to the three hikers we passed earlier that morning? We continued on toward the Pratt Lake traverse and took another quick snack break. Each time we stopped, I felt my calf stiffen. We had to keep it warm by moving. I’d rest it in the car.
Fortunately, I have very strong legs. They behaved as well as one might expect. We hiked out of the basin without seeing anyone else. Two miles from the trailhead, two Asian women approached with a huge fluffy dog. They didn’t respond to my greeting. Within a mile of the car, we spotted two other solo hikers, both women.
I felt the top of my calf with every step, but the low-grade ache told me I’d heal in a few days. On the way out, I briefly wondered what I would have done if I’d gotten seriously injured. What if I’d tried taking a step and couldn’t bear weight? I could have been in big trouble. And seeing so few people on the trail — nobody equipped to help anyone beyond themselves — I had to trust my ability and be self-reliant. There was no other option.
During the last hour, I said aloud, “Thank you X,” for all the things I was grateful for: my strong legs for getting me out safely. My boots for protecting my feet. Ajax, for his wonderful companionship. The light breeze for keeping me comfortable. The melody of the streams, and the colorful leaves. Not a single piece of trash anywhere. And the first sight of my car at 3:14.
We’d reached Lower Tuscohatchie Lake, gotten some great fall foliage shots, and made it out safely, all while avoiding panic. After several days of resting and stretching, I’m ready to hike again. Injury averted. Mental wellness re-established. Confidence restored. Mission accomplished.
A great way to stay on track with your most important goals is to engage the help of accountability partners. Such people can provide much-needed support, encouragement, and motivation at any stage.
A workout partner might meet you at the gym to exercise with you. A hiking partner can meet you at a trailhead for an adventure. A critique partner is someone who reads your manuscript drafts and provides feedback on what’s working and what is not. Accountability partners keep you on track toward your stated goal which could be in any of the above areas. They discuss how you’re doing, where you’re struggling, and what you want to accomplish. If you feel your enthusiasm waning, find a supportive buddy.
First and foremost, look for someone you trust. The last thing you need is to reveal your dreams to someone who laughs about them or tries to discourage you. You might choose a friend, family member, or significant other as your partner. Or you may feel more comfortable buddying with someone from the same gym or club. Someone, perhaps, who has reached a goal similar to yours who provides advice.
Online resources such as Meetup, Reddit, or Facebook groups, forums, or focus groups can also reveal suitable people. Participating in trips with outdoor organizations like the Mountaineers, Sierra Club, or the Mazamas can be a fabulous way to meet potential partners.
If you are a writer, you could ask someone in your writing community, critique group, or local conference to partner with you. Taking classes on something that interests you is a great way to meet other like-minded people who could be supportive buddies. For additional details about finding an appropriate accountability partner check out Five Steps to Succeed with an Accountability Partner.
The Difference Between a Teacher/Coach and Accountability Partner
Trainers, teachers, and coaches can certainly provide motivation and accountability, but they are usually paid experts in their field. Accountability partners are free! The hiking buddy who meets you at the trailhead and supplies interesting conversation could make a great partner.
I joke that my hiking accountability partner is my dog Ajax. Whenever he sees me loading my backpack the night before a hike, he knows we’re going on a fun adventure the next morning. One look in those adoring, eager eyes — rain or shine — and I know I cannot disappoint him. When I ask him for advice his answer is always, “Hike more.”
What An Accountability Partner Does
Accountability partners will listen to you, provide feedback, and help you stay on track. They provide external motivation to complement your internal motivation. I use an accountability partner within the realm of writing. We correspond by email twice a week. In each exchange, we share successes from the previous 3-4 days and outline our goals for the coming days.
By writing down such goals and committing to another person, I strengthen my resolve to follow through. I don’t want to let her down or confess that I didn’t do what I promised I would. And in return, I offer her the same support and encouragement.
Provide Friendly Competition
You can do the same for health and fitness. Tell your partner what workouts or hikes you plan to do, what time you’ll go to sleep each night, or how many servings of protein you’ll have each day. Wherever you want to make progress! Accountability partners might also provide motivation through friendly competition. I like my husband’s definition of competition: “agreeing to perform better.” That is exactly what you’re looking for. Your goal is to support your buddies to meet their movement goals, not necessarily “win” or “beat” anyone.
Your gym might offer some type of contest such as climbing x flights of stairs in a month, walking or jogging y miles, lifting z pounds, or completing specific hikes by a given date. In these cases, the goals include finding ways to inspire movement while building stronger social communities.
Help Support Change
Accountability partners can help in other segments of your life, too. Maybe you want a new job. Perhaps you need to expand your social network. Or you’re ready to change your diet, but doing so is difficult on your own. Finding someone who will listen to you, become your sounding board, and brainstorm ways to get past obstacles can help.
When Should You Enlist Help from an Accountability Partner?
Whenever you feel like you are struggling or want added positive pressure, find help. Starting out, you might feel like you need to check in with your partner every few days. As you build your habit, shift to weekly or monthly check-ins. If the first person isn’t a good fit, keep searching until you find someone who is. Be sure to exchange equally so the relationship does not become one-sided.
Why Partner Up?
We are stronger in collaborative relationships than we are working alone.It is hard to break promises we make to others. Especially those we trust and respect. Commit to your partner, schedule your accountability practice in your calendar, and get to work making changes. If I can do it, you can too. Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
One of the most stunning hikes I’ve ever been on is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s North Island. Hiking the 12.4-mile route was at the top of my experience wishlist when my husband, daughter, and I visited in 2014-2015. The forecast on our northward drive to Auckland was for partly cloudy skies and gusts up to 15 mph. Our return flight to the States was in three days. We would not have another chance. And I almost gave it up by not being true to myself.
Obstacles or Excuses?
To prepare, we’d done some hikes with my daughter in the States. Nothing as long as I would have recommended to clients preparing for such a hike. We’d toured as much of New Zealand as we could, and our fuses were growing short. Although we’d included some moderate hikes, a horseback ride, a kayak tour, and sightseeing during our trip, we’d also spent many hours each day driving.
When our daughter told us that her knees hurt several days before our trek, I voiced my concerns to my husband. We promised we’d take frequent breaks. If she needed a longer rest, she could build a fairy house along the trail. I offered to carry all of her clothing, water, and gear. We prepared word games to keep her mind engaged. And we stocked up on yummy snacks to keep her fueled.
I wanted to back down at the last minute. Too many things could go wrong. But my husband said we should try it. I later learned that he’d even persuaded her to do it without complaints, as a holiday gift to me.
Decision to Try
On day 22, we drove north from Nelson to Picton (South Island) and caught a four-hour Interislander Ferry to the North Island. We then drove four more hours, stopping only for gas, stretching, and food. When we finally spotted snow-capped Ruapehu near dusk, I felt myself getting excited. Could my dream actually come true?
When we arrived at the A Plus Samurai Lodge in Turangi, it was after sunset. We still had to iron out the logistics of dinner, as well as the transport to and from the mountain. The one-way trip required a drop-off at one end and pick-up at the other, both of which were included in our two-night stay. The rest was out of our control.
Arrival at the Trailhead
That night, I had numerous nightmares: forgetting the first aid kit, missing our ride, getting dehydrated, running out of daylight, and nursing my daughter’s knees halfway through the day. But when we finally awoke at 5:45, excitement and anxiety dueled within me.
We weren’t exactly sure how the commute would work, but as the van climbed toward Mongatepopo Hut, above the clouds obscuring the mountain, we arrived without incident. It looked like decent weather after all. All we had to do was hike the 12.4 miles to our ride on the other side.
Trek Teachings: Tenacity and Trust
Details about the trek would make this post too long. Many others do a nice job. We succeeded without getting dehydrated, lost, battered, or injured. But the whole reason for this blog is to share one message: be tenacious about going after what you want.
Never “Settle” for Less Than What you Want
I tried to talk myself out of the trek, blaming my daughter’s knees and youth, our fatigue after long hours in the car, inconvenient store hours, fear of what could go wrong. And in one passage of my journal, I struck gold. I’d written about the shame I felt eating an ice cream bar and how canceling the trek should be my punishment. Yeah, I know. One frigging ice cream bar.
Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” How fortunate I am to have a husband who lives according to strong principles like finishing what you start and making those things that you really want, happen.
We succeeded on that trek because he knew how important it was to me. We planned it; he helped carry out the plan. We all need moral support in order to change, whether that’s from a significant other, family member, colleague, coach, friend, or accountability partner. He listens to me and helps silence the niggling voice of fear, doubt, and shame. He keeps me on track when I threaten to veer off of it.
Who are your biggest supporters? Who will help you when you want to hole up with Netflix instead of doing something that matters to you?
Paying It Forward
Now that I write from what I hope is greater strength and self-acceptance, I realize maybe I had to live through times of self-berating and struggle to reach a position where I can help coach others find the courage to change. Overcoming my addiction to sugar helped me minimize the self-doubt and shame and take pride in what I can do.
Crystal Raypole suggests in her helpful article on overcoming self-sabotage: “Self-sabotage can happen when you’re looking for a way out. Such behaviors help suggest something about your situation that isn’t working for you.” In our case, we had a lot of valid concerns, any one of which could have prevented us from starting. I was willing to place my daughter’s comfort above my own desires.
We trusted that things would work out. We had to at least try. And I am so glad we did. Not only was the trek a major highlight of two trips to New Zealand, but mulling over the significance of that trek has drilled home the importance of staying true to what you really want. My hope is that the next time I feel the need to punish myself by giving up something I really want, I will stop and remember the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the wonderful memories of a successful trip.
Last week, my husband and I had a conversation that could have easily led me down a rabbit hole into hopelessness. Seeing as how I’m embracing change this year, I refused to let it. Instead, it gave me an empowering idea. If November is known to novelists as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), what if October became known as OcTraPiMo (October Trash Pick-up Month)?
The Birth of an Idea
My husband told me about one of his friends who recently drove from Seattle to Portland to watch his kids participate in invitational cross-country meets. As he crossed into Oregon, he said the number of homeless people, trash heaps, and tent cities increased dramatically all the way into the city. When he registered at his hotel, the clerk insisted that he bring all valuables from his car inside. “The parking lot is no longer safe,” he was told, despite lights brighter than daylight.
Similarly, when I drive through downtown Seattle, graffiti and tags cover public buildings, overpasses, side streets, thruways. Trash litters the highway below tent cities near freeway banks. People have caused severe burn scars where they’d had city fires.
As recently as ten years ago, we had none of this, at least nowhere near as visible or ubiquitous as now. What’s happened to our beautiful region? Where’s the pride, the care?
When Anger Boils, Listen
As I listened to my husband relate his friend’s story, I grew more disgusted and increasingly incensed. Historically whenever I feel my personal power slipping away in a discussion, I withdraw, thinking surely the other person must be right.
But not this time. I’ve had enough of our beautiful area being trashed. On a tiny scale, I can relate to what indigenous peoples must have felt when the first wave of settlers swarmed into the area.
But what can one person do? When I walk my dog beyond my clean, well-cared-for neighborhood streets and see litter in every direction, I turn a blind eye. “It’s not my property,” I think. “It’s not my responsibility.” And in today’s litigious society, even, “I might get sued for trespassing.”
Is that how we all feel? Ignore it, because what can a single person do? It’s someone else’s problem?
In the mountains whenever I come across anything that doesn’t naturally belong, even orange peels or apple cores that will eventually decompose, I pick them up and pack them out. I carry my dog’s double-bagged poops with me, and I add to my load dog bags others drop along the path. I’ll stink so our beautiful trails don’t.
At Woodland Park Zoo, I watch for trash that visitors throw in the bushes. While it may be one of my responsibilities volunteering with the Horticulture team, I want to help the Zoo remain a beautiful green oasis in an overly crowded city. All guests have the right to enjoy it in its pristine state. I do these things already, naturally. Why not do the same thing in the yards and streets beyond mine?
Transference of Habits
I could easily carry a pair of rubber gloves in my pocket. And it’s easy to attach a large plastic bag inside a sturdier handled canvas carrier so I can remove the most eye-offending trash. Other families have done this near the library and schools with their kids. Those children are our future. Like sponges, they see and hear everything. They need to see adults making a positive difference so that they know they can, too.
Individual acts of kindness can cause a ripple effect.
While I may not be able to single-handedly clean up the country, the state, even my city, I CAN do my small part. And if whole bunches of individuals did the same thing, imagine the world of difference we could make. For each bag of trash collected and properly disposed of, the earth would be one bag cleaner. Each scrap of plastic we remove means that birds and fish will ingest less garbage. We can become stewards of the entire planet, not just special places like trails, parks, and zoos.
I decided to test out my OcTraPiMo idea two days before October, to get a jump-start developing my new habit. My “trash dog” (Ajax loves to get into the garbage cans when nobody is home) would become an actual trash dog. Our goal was to turn one of our three daily walks into a thirty-minute trash collection outing.
Anything larger than a quarter ended up in my bag. For obvious reasons, I excluded used needles, razors, human excrement, and broken glass. A week into my experiment, I added a category: other people’s bagged trash. With the number of squatters and homeless people growing on the perimeter of my North Seattle neighborhood, I don’t want to be inadvertently accused of stealing. I kid you not, I’ve seen and heard it all.
In my first one-mile walk along a twenty-minute route I refer to as my “default”, I collected 90 pieces of trash. My walk around the neighborhood elementary school had always seemed so clean before. My haul included three AA batteries, a scrap of a child’s toy tire discarded in the gutter, three masks, a plastic bottle, and an empty beer can. But the biggest offender was numerous scraps of plastic, including straw wrappers from juice boxes and broken forks tossed by school kids who eat outside due to the pandemic. I’m amazed by what you get used to and no longer SEE.
The second day I stayed in a residential part of the neighborhood and my trash count for the same duration was half. Masks and discarded beer, soda, or water bottles were the biggest offenders.
One Month, One Walk, One Bag at a Time
On day 3, my first official OcTraPiMo day, I headed a block west of the local elementary school in what I call “the valley.” My trash count doubled for a thirty-minute collection. Realizing I didn’t get it all, Ajax and I went back on day four, to collect 163 more pieces in 33 minutes. Something unusual happened on day five: my daughter asked to join us. We collected 169 pieces of trash on residential streets in 30 minutes.
And on day six, I smashed my record (is this a good or bad thing?) On a walk to school with my daughter, I collected 153 pieces during 33 minutes. Later in the afternoon, Ajax and I walked to the closest neighborhood library. My haul of 225 was so heavy — lots of wet cardboard, bottles, cans, and a heavy piece of a car I didn’t even know what to call it — that I dumped it in the library trash can and continued home to collect another 140.
My OcTraPiMo month is in its infancy. I intend to continue for the entire month, possibly even beyond. But I can already celebrate and share several interesting takeaways:
More of What We Focus On
First, collecting trash has made me focus on… trash. And how much there is that we don’t even see. In just six days, I have completely switched my attention away from finding Little Free Libraries (my former walking obsession) and toward removing eyesores that harm the environment. Remember the Punch Buggy game, spotting VW cars and giving your neighbor a punch in the arm? Now I see trash everywhere. In less than a week, I feel guilty if I pass by a piece of garbage I could do something about.
Could we cultivate this same focus on good deeds or tiny positive steps we take toward our goals? If I can train myself to zoom in on trash, can I also train myself to focus on beauty? To look for the silver lining in every problem? To find at least one good quality in people who annoy me or situations that aggravate me?
Added Workout Benefits
Second, collecting trash provides a moderate workout. The more you pick up, the heavier your bag. Bonus resistance training! And bending over to pick up 300+ pieces of trash means your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes get extra stretching. I consider myself to be in good shape, but I recognize the value of additional circuit training, which trash pick-up can become. If you struggle to fit in exercise, or even hate the thought, don’t call it exercise, call it “greening your neighborhood.”
Third, as my trash numbers grow, my dedication to saving wildlife, setting a positive example for my daughter, beautifying my hometown, and contributing to the community in an empowering way increases. On day four of OcTraPiMo, a fellow dog walker noticed what I was doing… and thanked me. Nothing inspires me more than being helpful and feeling like I’m making a difference.
What one thing can you do today and (if you are feeling courageous) every day in October, to create change around you? Join the conversation.
As I worked on blog post ten this week (twenty percent of the way toward my blogging goal), I hit a few snags and couldn’t get unstuck. (See, it happens to everyone!)
The problems? First, I needed more time to do justice to my top choice for the week’s post; and second, the flood of other possible ideas overwhelmed me. I ground to a halt, and if not for my deadline of a blog a week, I might have stayed stuck.
Unlimited Choice Can Be As Hard As Having Too Few
But my problem pales in comparison to what my daughter, a senior in high school, currently faces. What is the best way to coach her through the college application and selection process? She sometimes finds it hard to choose a cookie recipe to make or a frozen yogurt flavor to order. With hundreds of potential colleges, what’s the best way to narrow them down? If she could find a dozen that interested her, we’d help her apply to the top six. After all, what worked for me way back when could at least be a starting point.
I also faced what I call the “all-or-nothing” phenomenon earlier this week. I had an opportunity to hike on Tuesday, but I couldn’t decide on a destination. My non-decision ended up being my decision: I stayed in town on a beautiful day.
Later in the week when a friend proposed hiking to Mason Lake, I agreed. I appreciate it when someone else decides. Other times, it feels liberating to make my own choice. But sometimes, having unlimited choices is daunting.
How to Start Narrowing Down
So where do you start if you feel like you want to make changes? Say you want to alter your diet, start a different job, take steps forward in an important relationship, grab some new travel opportunities, expand your friendship circle, interact more with family members, and improve your physical health.
If you tried undertaking all of that at once, you would fail to succeed in any of them. What do you do if you want to change everything? The answer may be to limit your choices first by picking THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL (whatever is weighing most heavily on your mind) and to provide yourself with a structure to explore it.
Whenever I face a blank page, it’s far easier to create if I’m given a prompt, an idea, or a structure within which to write. Take blogging: I limit myself to eight photos, keep my word count under 1200, and stick to the same format I’ve used during the past three months. I also tie whatever I write to the broad topic of moving forward and getting unstuck. Such scaffolding provides me with structure and coherence, and it provides my readers with continuity from post to post. Even so, I still face plenty of choices but it’s not as overwhelming as it could be.
On Having Too Many Choices
Curious about shutting down when I feel overwhelmed by too many choices, I looked online to learn what others had to say. Suddenly, I had my topic for this week’s blog.
From the article, Too many choices – good or bad – can be mentally exhausting. In the April issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2008, Kathleen Vohs discusses how making decisions, even about fun tasks like what movie to see or where to hike, can deplete our brain. “Simply the act of choosing can cause mental fatigue,” she says. “Making choices can be difficult and taxing, and there is a personal price to choosing.”
In coaching our daughter through the largest decision (so far) of her young life, we don’t want her to think she has to make aperfectchoice, because according to the Swarthmore professor, doing so “is a recipe for misery.” If we can get past the illusion that there is a “perfect choice” and choose good enough, we will save ourselves pondering and reflection time, worry, and angst.
The next time you’re debating about what to choose, impose some restrictions. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, set a timer for five minutes and allow yourself to play. Let your pen move nonstop across the page, or let your fingers fly over the keyboard. Or get outside in nature for some fresh air and movement. Sometimes taking your mind off the problem will give your creative self some inspiration or clarity.
If you have the whole state of Washington available to hike in, try narrowing it down to a single target area, with a possible elevation gain and range that fits your ability and mood. Washington Trails Association’s Hike Finder is a great resource.
And when I discovered the guideline of having an optimal number of choices in the range of eight to fifteen, I realized that encouraging my daughter to have a list of her top twelve choices is a reasonable place to start. What’s more, I realized we intuitively already know how to do this.
So if you’re dating a new person every weekend, put some limits on your choices. If you’re looking at the whole world as a possible travel destination, pick one or two areas to start narrowing down. And when you’re choosing a subject to write about, realize that you can always write another, next week. I did. And like that, I was up and writing again.
If you look closely, you can find inspiration everywhere, including the Young Adult (YA) graphic novel, The Oracle Code, by Marieke Nijkamp. I’d borrowed this book from the library several times, but I’d overlooked it until I noticed it on a list of recommended books similar to others I’d enjoyed.
Oracle Code Summary
Hacker Barbara “Babs” Gordon gets injured in a shooting accident and finds herself in a wheelchair trying to solve the puzzle behind the unusual rehabilitation center her father sends her to. When Jena, a new friend at the center, disappears, Babs enlists the help of Benjamin, a rooftop hacking friend from outside the center, to try to help her solve the mystery.
A female protagonist (check!) overcoming physical obstacles (check!) in a mystery (check!) Sounds a lot like something I’ve helped people do for over two decades. Perhaps that’s why it resonated with me.
Quotes that Inspire
Two quotes from Nijkamp’s story jumped out at me.
“Losing is only permanent if you stop trying.” (p. 95) Another way to say it is the only way you can lose is to quit completely. As long as you are willing to try new things, explore different ideas, and consider a variety of ways to reach your end goal, you are still in the game of life.
One of the very first hikes I went on when I moved to Seattle in 1990 was Mt. Si. At the time, it seemed like a fun way to get outside with a friend from graduate school for some exercise. In 1999, my husband and I joined the Basic Climbing program with the Seattle Mountaineers. Hikes became a way to get in condition for technical peaks. Our daughter joined us in 2004, and our dozen annual climbs shrank to one a year. Hikes became very short.
When Governor Inslee closed all hiking trails in Washington in March of 2020, I felt a profound sense of loss–of freedom, independence, choice, fresh air, discovery, and exploration. I had to get back on the trails. At the very first opportunity, the day Inslee lifted restrictions, I returned to the trails and have been hiking ever since, sometimes three times a week. I had no idea when I started hiking that it would grow into something so important.
If something prevents you from doing what you want to do, like COVID did for me eighteen months ago, try to name it. Would you call it fear? Uncertainty? Overwhelm?
Nijkamp writes: “It’s fear that keeps us sharp, that keeps us going, that keeps us figuring out the unknown.” (p. 190) The next time you’re afraid, ask yourself: what’s the worst thing that can happen? Can you expect the best while being prepared for the worst? How likely will that fear materialize? Who can support you if it does?
Inspiration from Others’ Demons
Lest everyone out there thinks trainers waltz up every mountain they choose, please realize that I could have let any one of three big obstacles stop me. My hope is my story will inspire you to move forward.
Lower Back Pain
While I’ve never been in a wheelchair like Nijkamp’s protagonist, Babs, I have battled lower back pain since the late 1990s. I first noticed problems while rowing starboard for my college’s crew. However, it only became debilitating when I competed in powerlifting, a sport involving single-repetition maximum lifts in the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.
Flare-ups sometimes last for days, and even now, if I neglect my sleep, get too stressed out, eat foods I know cause systemic inflammation, or take shortcuts with my training, I end up hunched over like a ninety-year-old woman. Lower back pain is no fun for anyone. Fortunately, by learning to manage mine, I can also help others manage theirs. I’ve turned adversity into an opportunity.
Until July 2019, I was addicted to sugar. Giving up sugar was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Alcoholics can avoid liquor; drug addicts can stop using; gamblers can steer clear of casinos and betting. But since sugar is pretty much added to everything these days (beyond the obvious sweets, it’s also found in breath mints, gum, yogurt, tomato sauce, dried fruit, nearly every cereal, etc.), it requires hyper-vigilance to avoid consuming.
(Note: If you feel you or a loved one is battling addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, gaming, exercise, gambling, etc., a great resource is In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate.)
Now I cringe thinking about how many batches of cookies, bars of chocolate, bags of mint M&M’s, cans of sodas, and bottles of diet Peach Snapple I’ve consumed over the past three decades. When I reread some of my journals, I know that my earlier obsession with food was likely fueled by a psychological dependence on sugar. Struggling to overcome not one but five addictions gives me tremendous empathy for the struggles of my clients. I know firsthand how enormously challenging it is. And if I can find a way through it, so can my clients.
One look at my freckles and red hair and you can probably guess I’m of Scotch-Irish heritage. I’ve had four Moh’s procedures to remove skin cancers from my face and additional surgeries to remove basal cell carcinomas. For two summers, I wouldn’t go outside between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. unless every inch of my skin was covered. Now, I know how to choose appropriate hikes and manage the timing of my outings to keep my skin protected. I also know how crucial it is to get natural vitamin D from sufficient exposure to the sun while not burning.
Every single one of us carries baggage or has reasons to quit. We will always face obstacles and struggles. And until I can no longer breathe, I know I will continue to be challenged. Take a good hard look at what you’re carrying around. How has it weighed you down? What can you do to overcome it?
Because you can. You are the hero or heroine of your own story. One of my favorite song lyrics comes from Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. Obstacles test us and make us grow stronger and wiser. Use greatness everywhere — fiction and biographies, songs and hikes — to help motivate you.
A sign over my desk includes a quote by Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” As long as you keep trying new things, you have not lost. I admire courage like Babs’ in The Oracle Code who shows inner strength to adapt and move on with her life. Reading about female protagonists overcoming tremendous physical adversity inspires me to take better care of myself.
When you feel like giving up, think about why you started in the first place. Whether you run marathons, climb mountains, play music, or write poetry, you do it for some reason. What does that thing provide you? What could it provide you if you let go of your fear and the word can’t? Can you get back in touch with the younger you and feel the joy, excitement, or curiosity you first had?
The comment I heard most often from clients this past week is, “I keep getting in my own way. How do I get unstuck?” Could it be as simple as trying something new? A quick search through the holdings at the Seattle Public Library revealed at least a dozen self-help books with “get out of your way” in the title. This must be a common phenomenon. Why do we do it and how do we stop?
Be Still to Get Unstuck
In a recent issue of PNWA’s Author Magazine,Jennifer Paros wrote about being still in order to see our current reality, so we can get unstuck and move forward. This is a paradoxical concept, especially if you’re as accomplished with “doing” as I am. In fact, clients have heard me say, “If you feel deep down that you’re a climber, yet you’ve never hiked, how can you know unless you get outside and try it?” Perhaps the stillness Paros alludes to comes in pausing, quieting the doubts, and trusting oneself enough so that the path forward can make itself known.
Similarly, if you feel you’re a good enough writer to get published, yet you have never submitted your work for anyone else to read, how do you know? And can you find the courage to keep writing with only that inner knowing to sustain you, or might a critique group help you find out for sure? What if you entered a writing contest or self-published a piece to see what kind of response you get? What stops you from trying something new?
Create Goals to Get Unstuck
Hiking to Melakwa Lake had been on my “goals” list all summer. The mist that my pup Ajax and I encountered this week reminded me of the fear-and-doubt fog I allowed to obscure my path toward starting a blog. For seven years, I’d convinced myself I had nothing more to share after publishing my first book.
Yet in July 2021, I had no deadlines, no agent, no editor breathing down my neck. I also felt like I lacked direction and purpose. Wanting to have something to show for the summer, I had nothing to lose. It dawned on me that I wanted to write whatever I wanted to write. In two weeks, I took a leap of faith and launched my blog. All it took was two short weeks.
But, like Social Media posts, people only see the happy end result. I never revealed those seven years of being stuck. Did I even KNOW I was stuck?
Quiet the Voice of the Gremlin
My gremlin still tries to make her voice heard: “Think of what you could be doing today if you’d started the blog seven years ago.” To that little green monster, I stand with my hands on my hips, and say, “Better late than never.” Every time I successfully accomplish something I set out to do, the voice of the gremlin grows softer, weaker, fading like ethereal fog.
Whether you’ve wanted to climb for a decade, wished you could publish a poem, yearned to be a better communicator, or dreamed about furthering your education, every goal begins with a single step. But which one?
Rename Your Blocks
As a trainer and former climb leader with the Seattle Mountaineers, I have ventured into the mountains for over two decades. Some people think I just go out and do stuff without much worry or thought. If they knew the behind-the-scenes of my daily exercise routine (including how long it takes to pick a hike) they would know that’s not true.
No matter how much I train, every time I visit the mountains I feel a small element of doubt and fear that I have renamed excitement. As I get better at taking calculated risks, my sphere of comfort expands.
What will it take to get outside your comfort zone? Can you embrace whatever blocks you? Can you think of it as protecting you from the unknown? What if you renamed your block and rewrote your script? What if you set an intention and then carried it out?
Just like your muscles need to be regularly overloaded to get stronger, your mind needs a challenge, test, push. Think of it as exercising the habit of following through. If you never hike, you won’t get to the top of a mountain under your own power. You will not publish your work unless you find the courage to send it out into the world.
So, on a rainy Sunday morning following a restful night’s sleep, Ajax and I drove to Exit 47, and instead of turning left as we’d been doing all summer, we turned right.
A Visit to Misty Melakwa Lake
Why did I wait until the end of summer to attempt this hike? It wasn’t the mileage or gain; Ajax and I had covered fifteen miles together and ascended 4,000 feet on recent hikes. It also wasn’t driving distance; we had been to Exit 47 half a dozen times this summer. I think it was more about the uncertainty of maneuvering through the Denny Creek campground, the hassle of adding extra distance at the start and end of the hike, and not knowing how many people would be out hiking on a rainy weekend after Labor Day.
Lame, right? Really, what’s an extra half-mile? And what is really blocking us? Maybe I still wanted to hike with a buddy; it had been a month since I’d gone out solo. Those “solo hiking muscles” had gotten weak. Time to give them a workout.
Melakwa Lake is a popular hiking destination, perhaps due to the emerald green color and clear alpine water. But close proximity to the heavily used Denny Creek Campground probably increases foot traffic for those local hikes under ten miles. Apparently, it also has a decent scramble that will get you up high enough to look at Gem Lake, Glacier Peak, and the North Cascades on a clear day.
My favorite parts were:
Fall colors – one of the reasons I went to that particular location
Seeing two new-to-me emerald lakes, Upper and Lower (this has been the season for new lakes)
Pika!! One came so close to the trail I got a shot of him with my camera phone
Handfuls of ripe blueberries and huckleberries, even bigger and more plentiful than the ones we picked the previous weekend on Mt. Catherine
Clean, pure exercise with my favorite canine companion
An hour of solitude when we veered off the beaten path to explore the trail leading from Melakwa Lake to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake
The parts I could have done without (aren’t there always some of these?)
Rain, with mud in places; I’ve gotten used to a summer of dryness, but nothing a good dog bath couldn’t cure
Fog obscuring what I know must be stellar views, reminding me again of my recent trip to Blanca Lake
Slick, rocky trail in places that reminds me of part of the approach to Mt. Washington
Crowds. As we ascended the switchbacks we could hear the conversations of people in the valley behind us for a half-mile. If we are seeking a solitary experience, then we need to hike popular trails on weekdays or avoid them.
Today’s Step to Get Unstuck
What could you do TODAY that you keep putting off? What small five-minute task could you take that would get you one step closer to your goal and help you start building that follow-through muscle? For me, turning right instead of left committed me to try a hike that had been on my list all summer. Perhaps signing up with a coach or talking with someone you trust can help you figure out your next step.
Pause, feel whatever you’re feeling, and then take that next step, saying goodbye to that place of comfort, that previous place of familiarity. My wish for you is that you not wait seven years to do something that might take two weeks. Do you have favorite ways for getting unstuck or getting out of your own way? I would love to hear about them in the comments box.
Earlier this summer, my teenage daughter expressed interest in planting raspberry bushes in our backyard. In the back of my mind, I thought about weeding, watering, bramble rangling, and additional care that might add to my workload when she starts college next fall. Since I am our designated lawn caretaker, anything outside our walls falls on my shoulders, at least until I learn how to delegate better. But this was her project, not mine. Could I let her be the driver?
Don’t get me wrong, I adore time outside, from hiking and forest bathing to volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo, to grounding and journaling in our yard. But removing berry brambles, ivy, dandelions, and bamboo grass is my least favorite garden chore. Give me a pruner, lopper, lawnmower, broom, or rake and I’m happy. Did I really want to add more chores? Could I hand over this project to someone and keep my hands off? And what about the fruit? Ambivalence seized me: wanting and not wanting change at the same time.
Gardening During a Drought and Pandemic
If you have any sort of garden, you might think this is a silly topic to blog about. I’ve always thought of myself as having a brown, not green, thumb. I am quite proud of the fact that once we got our backyard wildlife habitat established in 2011, we turned it over to Mother Nature. Seems like I always forget to water my indoor plants, even succulents, African violets, or cacti, which are all supposed to be hardy.
If my daughter succeeded in cultivating raspberry bushes and they produced fruit, would she follow through on her promise to take care of them? Would they even survive one of the worst droughts the state has seen? Would our dog dig them up before they got established? Would future droughts wipe them out?
Teaching Teenagers about Goal Setting
We added “plant raspberries” to our family “to do” list on our 50/50 house project, but weeks passed without any progress. Would it be a wish that never bore fruit (pun intended)?
However, in mid-August, my husband decided to encourage and support her enthusiasm for raspberries. The two of them sat down and discussed the steps necessary to build a raspberry garden. After developing a list of questions, my husband gave my daughter an assignment to call the nursery before they closed at 6 p.m. the next day.
Setting SMART goals
What are the steps for setting goals? I’ve written and taught clients about SMART goals as they relate to climbing mountains, so I know that to make and accomplish a goal you need to keep it:
Specific – plant three ever-bearing raspberry bushes in time to have fall fruit
Measurable – provide a quantitative assessment so you know when you’ve achieved it
Actionable – break the goal into small steps such as preparing the soil, calling about products and prices, acquiring plants, putting them in the ground
Realistic – make sure you have time and means, then follow through
Time-stamped – provide a deadline, IN WRITING, to commit.
In this case, if she wanted any chance of having berries this year, she had to follow through before the end of the week. She had the steps and support she needed, now she just needed a nudge. Were we missing anything?
It turns out that the SMART acronym does NOT address everything. What about a person’s internal resistance? Wanting something to change but also not wanting it at the same time? That was all on me.
I tried to focus on the positives: how walking her through a small project like this might spill over into large, seemingly insurmountable tasks like choosing a college, hunting for a job, finding an apartment. My husband had been the spearhead behind starting our company, twenty-three years ago, launching our extensive home remodel fifteen years ago, our yard project ten years ago, and planning most of our international vacations. He is a master planner. I’m more of a pantser–in writing terminology, someone who flies by the seat of my pants rather than outlining or plotting. (Not, as my teen pointed out, someone who yanks down pants!)
Part of the reason I felt compelled to start a blog all by myselfwas to own my path, to get myself unstuck, and to prove to myself that I can develop a growth mindset in other areas of my life. Why not teach that exact same process to our daughter? Today, she could be planting raspberry bushes; tomorrow, she might set a PR in javelin or choose the right college.
I thought about my daughter’s interest in painting a bird feeder for our yard a dozen years ago. That small interest set off a ripple effect that led to hundreds of family birding trips over the last decade. It led to my husband becoming a Master Birder through Seattle Audubon. Might her interest in growing raspberries lead to her becoming a gardener in the future or getting even more interested in science? We had to let her plant those proverbial seeds. Even if, in this case, the “seeds” were already plants.
Better yet, it might help me grow a growth mindset. Rewrite those negative messages. And if I was struggling, I could blog about the process and perhaps help others change. But the real “why” hit me after I finished my first draft of this blog post: Could letting her grow a garden help launch me into loosening the apron strings and letting her become the capable adult we both want her to become?
Precision Nutrition’s Psychology of Change course has a slightly different approach to goal setting. They use GSPA, or goals, skills, practices, and actions. Once you set a specific “smart” goal – whether you want to lose weight, climb a mountain, publish a book, or plant a garden – you need to develop the skills needed to reach that goal.
For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you will need a different skill set than someone who runs marathons. While both require endurance, mountaineering involves carrying an overnight pack for many hours, over multiple days, on varied terrain with substantial elevation gain and loss. Distance runners often think climbing to the summit of a 14er will be easy… until they realize training only for endurance doesn’t yield success. What skills do you need to reach your goal?
In the case of gardening, a few of the skills we needed to teach our daughter were:
Physicality – ability to dig dry soil, water plants, weed without getting prickled, and return things where they belong (are you laughing? then you don’t have a teenager!)
Curiosity – ability to seek answers or ask questions of those who may know more than you
Beginner’s mindset – ability to admit you don’t know everything (still laughing? see number one) and be willing to fail and learn from it
Someone writing a book will need the practice (i.e. habit) of consistently writing, even if that’s fifteen minutes a day. A person with a mountaineering goal will need to include strength training, pack carrying (i.e. hiking), alpine skills, and aerobic training. A gardener needs to develop observation skills by visiting the plants daily and learning about soil, leaf color, insects, and weeds. And all of these goals require patience.
Someone trying to develop a growth mindset needs to question those niggling thoughts racing through their mind. Is this truth? Where did I get this idea? Can I explore other ideas? If I believed this thought to be false, what might I replace it with?
In short, to replace a fixed mindset with a growth mindset, we need to be open to opportunities that can teach us to expand our horizons, try new things, and embrace making mistakes.
What small actions can you take today to move toward your goal, whatever it may be? If you want to climb a mountain but you haven’t exercised consistently in months, can you start with regular walks around your neighborhood? If you already walk, can you try a short hike? If you can hike, can you add weight to your pack? Can you experiment with more elevation gain or maintain a faster pace?
If your goal is to summit Mt. Rainier, break it down to the skills, practices, and actions a person would need to succeed. If you want to start a blog, figure out what you will write about, how often you will post, and learn about web hosting options and writing software. Commit to a time each day to write. If you want to plant a garden, figure out what you want to plant, who has garden knowledge who would be willing to talk to you, and then acquire the seeds or starter plants and plant them.
Change is hard, but it is not rocket science. Goal setting can be motivating. Getting past ambivalence and following through can be very challenging, especially when you are trying to relinquish control. I’m not proud of the fact that I have been a helicopter parent at times. I’m trying very hard to change that.
Try asking yourself why you want what you want. Ask yourself again, why is that important? Four more times, ask WHY until you touch on your deep core values and know what you’re really after. In this case, we are after an independent, self-assured child who can confidently head off to college in a year. Scary how much we still have to teach.
For me, despite my initial reservations about her project, buying into planting a raspberry patch meant providing my daughter with valuable life skills she can use for any goal. My husband and daughter worked hard on this project. My part? Merely the photographer. Once I saw the beaming smile on her face, I knew that letting her follow through with this was the right decision. Will the plants bear fruit? Will they survive the drought? Will they produce in coming years? Does it really matter?
Denis Waitley put it much more eloquently: “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” We already had the proverbial bird lesson covered (wings); we needed to get to the roots (via gardening.) My heartfelt gratitude to my daughter and husband for reminding me, in a bite-sized lesson, exactly what this blog is about: roots and wings and finding the courage to change.
In May 2020, when the state of Washington’s governor Jay Inslee reopened public hiking trails, my options were to hike alone with my dog Ajax, or hike with him and one person. Lucky for me, Ajax is a wonderful hiking partner, and the two of us have done dozens of hikes together during the past eighteen months, even if I couldn’t find a human companion.
However, I treasure those trips I take with a human buddy. Like all of my visits to the Woodland Park Zoo, I always learn something new from our conversations. On August 3, 2021, we joined a close friend and her dog to explore Wallace Lake loop, a nine-mile loop in a Washington State Park off US Highway 2. We headed upward along the wooded Greg Ball trail, a gently ascending path built in the memory of the gentleman who launched the trail maintenance program within the Washington Trails Association. This blog post highlights some of the topics of conversation we had about moving forward.
One of our topics inevitably turned to a discussion of my recently launched blog. I mentioned the term empowerment and how successes in one area of your life often bleed into others.
The evening I launched my blog, I received an email from a former client who was getting discouraged about some tough challenges. Remembering our tumultuous history, I could have deleted the message, but instead, I paused and thought about the confidence I’d gained during my recent success. Perhaps I could try something different.
And I did: I sent her some carefully thought-out suggestions for ideas she could think about with no strings attached. After all, if I could branch out in a new direction and launch a blog on my own, what else might I be able to do if I just tried?
Similarly, if you reflect on areas of your life that are working well, what are some of the skills you used to get there? What are some of the tasks you routinely do that others find useful, maybe even important? Is there some way to use those same skills and strengths in a different area of your life where you might not feel as satisfied (yet), in order to make progress?
CREATIVE DISCOVERY THROUGH PLANTAR FASCIITIS
As we continued beyond the lake to the falls we’d visited months earlier in April, our conversation turned to another exercise I’d experienced during a horrendously debilitating case of plantar fasciitis years ago. Because it had hurt even to walk, I spent a lot of time that summer writing. I even tried a journaling technique that involved getting in touch with different parts of my body.
The voice of my brain was one color of ink, my heart, another; I used a third for my injured foot, a fourth for my inner critic, a fifth for my gut instincts, and a sixth for the sane, adult part of my brain which, when not stressed, remains in harmony with the rest of me. My task? To let each part of my body “talk” to one another on the page.
I laugh now because as the colors battled for time on the page, my sane, adult voice pretty remained silent until all the others had their say. My injured foot insisted, “I’m putting my foot down. No more exercising. I need rest. And if I have to shut the rest of you down to get it, so be it.”
What I learned from that journal exchange was that the self-inflicted overuse injury was my body’s way of demanding recovery. Ever since, I’ve insisted that my athletes adhere to active recovery (or rest) days in their programs, even if they think daily hard training is the answer.
If you experience a physical limitation or injury or are dealing with something holding you back, consider asking the obstacle what role it is playing in your life.
Is there an addiction or bad habit you’d like to replace? While every habit or addiction is there for some reason, whenever you outgrow that reason, it’s time to look at how it served you and how another habit might work better for you.
If you can come to terms with whatever your block is trying to tell you, instead of getting mad at yourself because you are stuck, you might be able to start taking the necessary steps to move forward.
ROLE-PLAYING USING TWO EMPTY CHAIRS
Icky, sticky situations can provide challenges for anyone, but especially for those of us who tend to be more introverted. Another technique I’ve learned from various parenting classes is role-playing but by yourself. Whether you need to have a crucial conversation with a spouse or partner, address a child with some tough love, or talk to a friend or colleague about how you’re being treated, this technique may help.
Sit in a chair with another facing you, and state your side of the story to the empty chair as simply and concisely as you can. Take a deep breath and then switch to the opposite chair and try to imagine how the other person you want to address might react to your comments. What would their body language reveal? How would they look at you? What would their voice sound like? Really “listen” to what the other person might say or how they might react.
Then return to the first chair and respond. Bring up as many obstacles as possible so you can practice your reaction. Change up the dialog and situation until you feel better prepared for the unexpected. Like the multiple color pens exercise, this one allows the exploration of different options in a safe environment and can provide powerful insights.
As we rejoined the masses of people (and their dogs) who were making their way upward to the lower, middle, and upper falls as we descended, I had a chance to contemplate the way conversations ripple outward to and through whoever is sharing information. If one of my hiking buddies or clients finds something that I say to be useful, I want to send it out to others.
If someone reading my blog finds the information to be helpful, they might share it with others. In that way, the thoughts I share in my small corner of the universe have the power to ripple outward, just like a stone in a puddle or pond. May the exercises suggested above move through you to invoke change and provide upward and forward momentum.