This time of year is ripe for new goals, especially the dreaded New Years Resolution. For many people they start with good intentions and by February 1st they’re ass-deep back in the ice cream (or whiskey, tobacco, or whatever your vice may be). So while rushing around today I kept thinking about what has helped me met and exceed my own objectives. A big point of this blog is actually about my struggle and efforts. It’s not so much to toot my horn (though sure, that’s part of it), but it’s to log what I’m doing on the web. (Thus, a web log aka blog.) The hope is that I might inspire others, maybe even you. Plenty of people tell me I do that. They also ask A Dude, “Hey, A Dude! How do you do that voodoo that you do so well?” Well, since you asked so politely, I’ll tell you.
Get Out There and Stink It Up with the Rest of Them
That title is a paraphrase of a line from Tom Hanks in his stand-up comedy / drama Punchline. In it, he becomes a mentor to a frustrated but funny housewife played by Sally Field. And asking him what to do, he just encourages her to try. When I signed up for my first charity ride in 2015, that line came into my head. And it came back again when I started this blog. Just the other day, I heard a version of it in the DVD extras of the great movie The Big Sick. Legendary comedy producer, director and writer Judd Apatow uttered something along those lines about being creative. I’m paraphrasing, but he encouraged people to:
“Simply start creating something. Don’t worry about how great or crappy it will be. Once you’ve done something, don’t sit around for two years talking about it — create something else!”
While this seems quite simple and obvious — you can’t bike and walk 5,000 miles in a year if you don’t cover the first mile — it’s surprising how many people don’t ever get past their fears. Today I had aquatherapy with a lovely woman who’s married with children. She mentioned she was too afraid to ride her bike, except with her kids around her house. She’s right to be concerned — drivers in Austin are often not paying attention, and it’s pretty dangerous, even if you stay in your (bike) lane.
But it made me kind of sad for her, because she’s missing out on some great experiences biking. Granted, I’m not a mother (as far as I know!), so I’m sure the calculus is different when one has children. However, I see parents biking with small kids on their bikes, so it’s a choice. (One I could help with as a League Cycling Instructor, once I get my stuff together.) The point is that yes, one has to take the first step, and many more after that, if one is to get anywhere in life.
You Don’t Have to Do It By Yourself
How? is always the question. I can’t tell you what to do exactly, but what has worked for me might work for you. A class, a coach or a community is a proven method of having the external support to get off your butt. In Austin, there are a ton of ways to get out there: Bike groups on MeetUp, organized rides from bike shops, social cycling people, and that’s just a few.
If there aren’t in your area, you can make one happen yourself. Put up a poster, email your neighborhood list, try online sites like Craigslist. Or just an old fashioned friend or family member may be willing to try a fitness challenge. It doesn’t have to be biking. Almost any activity that you can do alone (that means not a team sport, obvi) can be done with someone else. If you’re too shy or introverted to put yourself out there, you may have to do some inner work on your motivations and goals.
On the other hand, most of my bicycling is done solo. That’s just how I roll. Partly it’s because I’m not on an early morning schedule. Another is lack of a car to get to rides. A third is that I’m at an intermediate level and haven’t really found my tribe. The social rides are either too slow and boring and actually can be dangerous when people are imbibing, or are at times or locations that don’t work for me. And the shop rides are too fast and competitive. Even when you’re with others, you’re going to have to get out there and pedal your own bike anyway, so you may as well enjoy your own company, or learn to.
What Is Your Special Purpose?
Movie fans old enough to remember Steve Martin in the great film The Jerk will remember his epic and hilarious quest to find his “special purpose.” What is yours? That’s kind of a big question. In fact, too big. It doesn’t matter. People get hung up on how many miles they’re going to ride, or pounds they’re going to lose, or any number of outcomes. So guess what I did? I broke it down. I asked myself, A Dude, if you could do one thing this year that at this point in January of 2020 you could say, “Damn, I’m proud of myself for accomplishing that!”, what would it be?
There’s a writer my brother turned me onto named James Clear. He’s the author of Atomic Habits and writes a blog about the science behind making good habits stick. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ol’ JC, it’s that process and progress matter, not the outcome. The former will take care of the latter. Here, I’ll prove it. Take a look at this screen shot of my computer files from a folder entitled ADAB Book – Chapters:
It shows that I have 17 chapters of my book-in-progress done. How did I get there? By writing 30 minutes or 500 words minimum every single day in 2018. I began the year with daily blogs, and eventually switched to blogging three days a week and book writing the other four.
When will it be done? Will it get published? Become a best seller? Will I make any money at all on it? Or even lose money? Does anyone really even care? I’ll answer that with an old joke. An elementary school kid comes home and his parents ask what he learned in school today. “Well, I learned two words in English class: ignorance and apathy.” The parents were impressed. “OK son,” they asked, “what do those words mean?” The boy answered emphatically, “Well, I don’t know and I don’t care!”
The point is, those things don’t matter. They get in the way, in fact. So guess what I did? I broke it down. Because I committed to the process and to making progress, and made writing a regular, non-negotiable habit, I have written 62.5% of my book. I thought, worried, talked and even journaled about it for a year and barely got anything written. Set aside and scheduled time to write every day and BOOM! It’s well over the half-way hump toward completion.
Yeah, But What About the Sports Stuff?
OK, hold your horses, I’m getting back to that. How does this middle-aged, overweight guy with medical challenges and a full-time job (and now, not), ride his bike on average about 4,500 miles per year for four years in a row? (Almost all of 2015 is not on Strava, but about 3-3,500 miles definitely happened with the charity ride I mentioned and the trainings, and then another one six months later.) Well, here in a nutshell are some of the tricks to my sports psychology:
- Commit to not taking the easy way out. In my case, I was helped by the fact that my car got smashed 14 years ago and through choice and poverty, I didn’t and couldn’t replace it. If you have and need a car, make it harder to use. Park it at a friend’s x miles away and bike there and back. Only use it certain days. If those aren’t options, you’ll need to figure out ways to restrict your access and force yourself to bike (or walk, or swim, etc.).
- Remember the F word – FUN! Any effort worth doing needs to have some element of fun, or else you’re going to burn out and quit. I’ve mentioned biking with others, but what about music? (No headphones on a bike, please!) Set mini-goals for yourself. Activity trackers like Strava make it easy. Have friendly competitions with others. Pick a fun destination like a park for a picnic, a swimming hole, a movie theater. How about ride with no destination at all? Just be sure to reward yourself with hopefully healthy food and maybe a beverage or something positive afterward. Perhaps a massage or leisurely bath. Enjoy the journey, my friends.
- Know your limits aka “Live to ride another day.” My friend Sam who is no slouch on a bike — he biked halfway across the US with his daughter — told me this when I really wanted to do my fifth century ride (100 miles) last October. But I was feeling shite (I forget why) and the weather was atrociously cold and windy. So after alot of gnashing of the teeth, rending of garments and chasing pavements, I skipped it. There are many days that I dig into the reserves and go into the red zone. And I probably shouldn’t, but I’m stubborn that way. Just know when too much is too much. If you can’t tell, ask people who know you if you’re overdoing it.
- When the tank is empty, you gotta fill it up. A corollary to 4., the next step is to take care of yourself, especially before you reach the breaking point. You wouldn’t drive your car with no gas, would you? I’m guilty of not eating healthy or sleeping as much as I need to. But my body tells me when it’s had enough, it’s time to chill and watch Seth McFarland’s funny Star Trek homage The Orville or a locally-made movie like Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some. Or nap, or read a book, call a friend, and maybe eat a freakin’ salad or something. I’ve taken whole weeks off the bike and it’s fantastic, because when I get back on the steel horse, I have a much better attitude and perspective, and health, too. You know what this means for you, or need to know if you don’t.
- Connect your brain and your heart. If you overthink things and just make your biking or sport or book or whatever only about your head, you’re not drawing on a huge resource. Heart is maybe an overused word, just like passion, but one needs some kind of connection between the body and mind for things to work well. I’m no shrink, like frequent liker of this blog Dr. Perry Phd of MakeItUltra Psychology (Thanks, Doc!) But I think he’d agree that connecting the mind and intelligence with the emotion, the guts, that inner part of you that kicks ass, is essential to reaching any real accomplishments. In my case, I often ride on sheer feeling and determination because I want to make my goal for the year, month, week. After all, I’m no pro like Lawson Craddock. We only get a day at a time (and really, a second), so use it to the best of your ability!
- There will be shitty days, so learn to embrace them. Flat tire, or two or even three on one ride? Rain shower without rain gear? Texting or other asshole drivers coming too close in their SUVs making you want to get off your bike for good and throw it at them? Saddle sores that hurt and take you off the bike? Other problems with your undercarriage, plumbing and the like? Anemia, fatigue, injuries, allergies, job or other obligations? Crashes with curbs or other bikes that take skin off and hurt for a long time? Dogs that are really going to bite you if you don’t do something serious right now? Yep, been there, done all that. Listen, you are going to have to face some unpleasant things in life, on or off the bike. We’re all going to die. So at some point you’re going to have to suck it up and tough it out. Do your best. Assuming you don’t die or get seriously hurt, you will recover and get back on that horse. You must. And ever time you overcome an obstacle, you have another tool in your basket of resiliency. If you keep that up, at some point you’ll be writing a blog telling other people how they too can do some amazing incredible things on a bike and live to tell the tale.
In the end, you get to choose. How far and fast you ride. Or run. Or row. Or write. Whatever. There are plenty of more informed and scientifically-based books and resources out there to help you examine all this. But I hope my insights from hard fought personal experience have been useful to you. Now, get out there and stink it up with the rest of them whether you like to do it yourself or not.
I’m rooting for you! And like the campaign slogan of the last real US president went, Si se puede! I may not know you, but I believe in your ability to do far more than you can imagine. Why is that? Because no one ever thought I could do what I have, least of all me, but I made it happen anyway
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