I’ve got several 2018 goals in play, and the one I’m most excited about is the intention to read more often. The specific goal is to complete 40 pages each week - whether that happens in 5 sittings or 1 is no matter.
Reading is a healthy goal, right? It’s a way to learn new things, and can be a relaxing diversion, all while providing fun facts for your next dinner party. And while any one of these things is a strong motivation to keep the pages turning, I’ve realized there’s a reason far greater - reading has the power to change your life. There are a few books that have served as serious catalysts throughout my life. They include:
Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Looking at that sensationalist title today, I can’t believe I ever picked up the book, much less paid for it, but a co-worker on a health kick gave a passionate recommendation, and I succumbed. Those Skinny Bitch writers pack a punch, because by chapter 4, I was seriously considering vegetarianism for the first time in my life, and by chapter 9, I’d stopped eating meat entirely. Thus ensued 1 year of strict vegetarianism followed by 7 years of full veganism, all of which resulted in a me that was fit, healthy, engaged in a greater cause, motivated to cook creatively, and inspired to learn more about nutrition and wellness, constantly. I made new friends, ate new foods, and felt consistently healthy for the first time in my adult life (I hadn’t been an adult for very long, but that made the revolution all the more significant).
Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott
I’d taken a course at work called Crucial Conversations, which provided me with helpful tools to use as a manager. It included the kinds of situational cues and questions that help a work team arrive at beneficial conclusions and produce positive outcomes. I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up the next volume in Susan Scott’s series, but by some stroke of fate or fortune, Fierce Conversations ended up on my desk, then quickly moved to my nightstand. This book, as promised, provides guidance and motivation to tackle the most challenging conversations in life, period. Without getting specific or situational, its step-by-step instructions walk the reader through interrogating her unsettled feelings, putting words to the (often yet unrecognized) desired outcome, then getting it out in the open, with the goal of seeking resolution, even and especially when the stakes are high. When I started reading this book I assumed it would further my expertise as a manager and leader. By page 149, I’d ended a years-long relationship that was no longer serving me. Mic drop. This book changed the course of my life.
Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner with Adam W. Chase
I learned about ultra running after my first marathon, at which I reached the finish line and wanted to keep running. It didn’t take me long to find Hal’s definitive guidebook, which is incredibly comprehensive, realistic and actionable. It explains every little detail of ultrarunning, including differences in distance, terrain, weather, altitude, gear, nutrition, pacing, camping, and more. When the chapters about chafing, hypothermia and kidney failure only strengthened my resolve, I knew I was meant to run a distance beyond 26.2. Using Hal’s training plan, I finished my first ultramarathon in first place at age 31, truly a defining moment in my life. I mean…there could be no better endorsement for a book about running, right?
So, when I contemplate the 2018 reading goal I’ve set for myself, I know it’s about more than conversation at the water cooler or fulfilling a quota. It’s about being open to the information, inspiration, and guidance that might just reveal a path I’ve not yet considered, and nudge me to do something amazing.
We’re all born with it, the mind/body connection. As infants, we react immediately and instinctively to physical discomfort. Over time, of course, we develop the ability to take care of ourselves and we learn to consider our discomfort before reacting, even when doing so is hard. I think the ability to rationalize a body’s signals is a necessary ingredient to living a healthy adult life - if everyone reacted to everything in the moment, all the time, that would create its own kind of stress and negative health impacts. That said, the ability to rationalize or ignore what your body is saying is often taken too far, resulting in anxiety, exhaustion, injury or worse.
I honestly thought I’d be better at it than I am. In fact, training for, and completing, 5 ultramarathons in a year’s time required me to be highly tuned into my body’s signals. Spending hundreds of miles a month on foot causes a person to notice the slightest maladjustments and dial into even minor aches and pains, while burning through shoes, socks, and (gross, but true) toenails with cyclical predictability.
I completed my last ultra about a year ago, and though I’m not currently training for ultra distances, I maintain an agenda of frequent and intense physical activity. The discipline that ultrarunning has taught me, not to mention healthy habits like fueling, sleeping, and goal setting, all serve me well.
Though I mastered the self care of an athlete - a daily regimen of running or cross training, movements for mobility, stretching and smashing of muscle, frequent sports massage, maximizing diet for performance - I also learned to minimize physical discomfort. I rationalized, delayed, downplayed and disregarded the kinds of sensations that, if experienced in the course of ‘normal life’, would make many people call in sick, at the very least. I disconnected mind from body at will, and with crystal-clear awareness.
Anyone who considers herself an athlete; anyone with a physically demanding lifestyle; anyone who prioritizes performance above comfort will understand this: The challenge I see most clearly, and hold in highest regard, is respecting - and strengthening - my mind/body connection. That means having the patience to sense what’s happening and slow down, and willingness to take the time to act, adjust, or rest, all while cultivating the ability to take care of myself physically in the way I’d take care of a loved one - not just when it’s convenient, but in all moments. No matter what feats of strength or endurance are in my future, I know this challenge will be the greatest of my life and - with any luck - the most rewarding.
What is a vision board? Here’s a Google-fresh definition: Literally, a vision board is any sort of board on which you display images that represent whatever you want to be, do or have in your life.
Last year around this time, I posted about my latest vision board, as well as the one that got me started a year before that. This weekend, ready for a new creation, I invited a group of my closest friends to join the fun. The invite went out about a month prior, so we had time to consider what to include and stockpile magazines to help get the job done.
Before I dive into what my board means to me, I should preface: My resolution for 2017 is to approach life focused on quality over quantity; the word I’ve chosen for 2017 is “thrive”.
My board is more orderly than those before it, and - I think - represents my 2017 themes well. The idea of focusing on quality over quantity, for me, means raising my standards and becoming more selective in all areas - from how I spend my time and who I spend it with, to the things I buy, places I visit, even the way I work out. I am still driven to explore life, the world, and the people around me; I want to spend more time with my mom; I want to prioritize love; I want to leave space for new possibilities, maybe even a new pet.
Though I only have a few vision boards under my belt, I’ve observed some common threads among them:
My New Zealand vacation - a two week whirlwind that included an ultramarathon and backpacking two of the country’s “Great Walks” - took place over two months ago, and I haven’t been able to distill all the activities into separate blog posts as I thought might be ideal - organized by activity, summarized with action items and resource links - you know the kind. I’ve tried several time, but instead, I keep coming back to a journal entry I made at the trip’s end. It recaps my sentiments exactly, and if there’s more to say, I suppose it’ll come later.
One note of explanation - I wrote this as a message to Erin, my best friend and travel buddy. In our two years of friendship, we’ve traveled to more new places than I’d been in the previous five, our wanderlust matched only by a mutual thirst for adventure and desire to explore everything this diverse, beautiful, chaotic world has to offer.