Book Review- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

 

In my last post I told you guys how I had set my goals for the year and have big plans to make great strides in many facets of my life. I put as much trackable and numeric emphasis on my goals so I can keep an eye on things and watch my progress. This has already paid dividends as I meet my small goals each week, check them off and get to experience the gratification of making headway. It is great to see I am making progress!

I also asked you guys what inspires you and what you aspire to do this year. Scott Williams commented that he plans to be even more purposeful with his goals and actions in 2018, focusing his efforts in ways to help other people. I think that is fantastic! Making strides to be better in whatever area of life that you choose to advance is great. If you can tie that to your desire to work with or help someone, it gives you additional motivation to meet your goals and achieve your dreams. Good job Scott!

One of my goals this year is to be better read and I have made good on that by spending 30 minutes every day reading. I have chosen to make the subject matter of the books I read something that enriches me in some way. Thus far the books I have read have been non-fiction and would fall in the self-help category, but I am not opposed to fiction. As one of my very good friends put it eloquently, many times fiction is more real than non-fiction, offering timeless lessons. I couldn’t agree more. We will have to see what books end up on my nightstand over the course of the year. I will certainly keep you informed.

As of late, I am reading a book by Shawn Achor titled The Happiness Advantage. Shawn grew up in Waco, TX. As a young man and high school student, Shawn expected to stay in Texas and applied to Harvard on a dare. Much to his surprise he was accepted. Upon going to Harvard to study psychology, he fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. He did his undergraduate, then decided to stay for his graduate studies, taking on teaching duties to pay his way through. He also proctored young students and had the opportunity to help some 1600 young men and women as they navigated the waters of an institution that would give them an education few get to experience.

There are few places where the very best and brightest from around the world gather. Add in the ancient buildings and a deep history as an educational institution, Achor explains Harvard as being a very special place that reminded him of Hogwarts. One would think that this magical atmosphere would be an academic heaven of sorts, where young bright minds would not just go to learn, but flourish. The reality he found was that despite the one of a kind education experience and promise of high success that such a prestigious degree as one can earn at Harvard offers, many students find themselves struggling with depression.

Why would these kids be depressed? Imagine the competitive nature of an institution where everyone is from the top of his or her high school class. Imagine being THAT kid in high school- top of your class, excellent academic marks, great expectations of yourself and exceeding the expectations of faculty and family. Then transport that kid to the beginning of their freshman year at Harvard. Immediately 50% of all those 1%’ers are below average. After a lifetime of being at the top, these kids now have to learn to deal with emotions that they don’t know how to process.

Watching these great young minds deal with the rigors of a highly competitive environment in which everyone is the best, Achor wanted to make a difference. Why shouldn’t these kids be happy? That question fueled his research and subsequent work, propelling him to make the conclusion that the old adage of “work hard to succeed” is bunk. Maybe some of you are rolling your eyes at that. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, let me explain.

I was taught from a very young age that the key to success was hard work. Work hard and one day you will find that you succeed. This comes with the overlying idea that as that hard work pays off, you will be happy. What Achor’s research found was the opposite- happy people become successful people. Chase happiness and you will likely find success.

The book goes on to give some basic principles and ideas to put into action and work toward finding happiness in your life. I must say, I don’t feel like I am short on happiness in any way, but it is always a good idea to make strides at improvement. Currently I am only about half way through the book, but I am confident in my recommendation.  If you are looking for a good read, pick it up! You can get it on Amazon by clicking HERE.

This year I will be going through books and am always looking for suggestions. I read The Magic of Thinking Big earlier this year. Do you have any suggested reads? Comment below!!!

 

Plans and Goals for 2018

2017 was a great year. Good and bad happened, but I have to label it great. I didn’t reach all my fitness goals in the last year. In fact, I didn’t reach many of my goals, but I still choose to say it was a great year. I rode part of Tunnel Hill Trail with my wife in May, toured from Chicago to the Missouri boot heel on our way to Memphis with my friend Nathan in June and rode the length of Tunnel Hill both directions with Nathan in October. I had a DNF at the Ozark Trail 100 mile MTB race and stopped 6 hours into the Wolf Creek 12HR MTB race. I ended the year with 1661 miles of cycling, well short of the totals of any of the last 6 years since I started riding a bike.

There have been times that I have found myself feeling dissatisfied with 2017, but I am choosing to look at it as a year of rest, recovery and reflection. Miles and fitness were low, weight was high,  but I really enjoyed the times I spent on the bike. That is worth a ton. I also spent a lot of time focusing on family and relationships with friends, which made me happy. I went back to school. I got intentional about finding peace within myself and working to avoid some of the pitfalls that have traditionally led me to depressive episodes. Goals met or no, some great things happened in 2017.

On the down side, my biggest problem as I look back at 2017 was a lack of focus. My goals in the past have been somewhat ambiguous and general. Things like “lose weight”, “make better choices eating” and “increase savings” are nice statements, but without actionable items and specific, quantifiable marks, the objectives had no teeth. I didn’t have something to break down to the month or week, so I didn’t keep track of what I was doing. When I got to the end of the year, I looked back at my goals in my journal and realized that if those things were actually important to me, I needed to make some changes.

When goal setting for this year, I got numeric and, in some instances, a bit crazy with what I want to accomplish. For 2018 I am going for trackable items and the end targets are BIG!

I set specific goals for the amount of weight I want to lose and in what timeframe I want that to happen. I outlined exactly how many miles I would like to ride at a minimum and what events I plan to do. I set a goal to start a morning routine of exercise, meditation, reading and studying Spanish. I could go on, but I think you get the point. In 2018 I will be tracking my progress and making adjustments so that I reach my goals or adjust expectations as need be. Instead of stopping at the end of the year, looking back and wishing I had done different, I am going to make those small adjustments needed to stay on course (or adjustments to the course itself) all along the way.

So what has happened so far? I’ve been doing Couch to 5K three days a week and yoga twice a week. I am down 7.9 lbs and making healthier choices with my eating habits. I’ve meditated for 10 minutes 13 of the 18 days so far this month, read for 30 minutes 12 days and practiced Spanish for about 20 minutes the last 15 days in a row.

I have many other pieces of the puzzle of my life that I am working on this year as well. I will graduate with my associates degree in May and I have set some aggressive goals for my work and income. I have specific items planned for volunteering, teaching, improving our finances, family trips, home maintenance and plans for our future. With all that, I believe that 2018 will be a fantastic year!

Have you set any goals for the coming year? I know it is mid-January and most people have stopped talking about their resolutions, but it isn’t too late to dream about what you want for 2018, make plans and make it happen. In fact, now may be the perfect time to take specific steps to make your 2018 amazing. What inspires you? What do you aspire to do or be? Leave a comment and let’s chat about it!

A Life Well Lived

Life

If you are reading these words, you have it. We sleep, wake, eat, work and play. Life is what we know, how we experience the world and what we give when we help another person. It is the thing we treasure and cultivate. It is what separates us from things like rocks, dirt and water. It is precious.

One definition I found for life is “the experience of being alive”. This experience is unique for every person, but the funny thing is, most of us take that experience for granted very often. Because we are inside the experience of the day-to-day, things begin to run together. Before we realize it, days, weeks, even years go by and we find ourselves asking where the time has gone. It can be difficult to step back, take a minute and see that regardless of our circumstances, whether good or bad, up or down, fortunate or not, we are all living.

My experience has shown me that it is the things that are out of the norm, the peaks and valleys of life, that make me recognize I’m living. Experiencing something out of the ordinary makes ripples in the flat calm of the day-to-day. Stepping even further and getting out of your comfort zone makes those ripples turn to waves. It is a volatile and turbulent way of life with many high highs and low lows, but the experience is rich, vibrant and fulfilling. Don’t take me to say it is all pie in the sky and rosy. That same volatility that creates astronomical heights will also bring giant abyss-like lows. It takes both to be fully alive I believe. The perspective of a deep low accentuates the mountaintops and makes them all the more grand.

I have had the pleasure of doing life this way, particularly over the course of the last 6-7 years. The bicycle has been my primary tool for getting into these rich experiences and it is by bike that I have met some absolutely amazing individuals.

In June of 2014, as I watched the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race begin to unfold out west, I sat at home watching dots on Trackleaders. I found myself completely enthralled in the process and fascinated by the folks who were racing. I had toured the Trans Am in 2011 and felt like I had some semblance of an idea of how the racers felt as they traveled quickly across the map. I couldn’t wait to have a chance to meet these curious folk racing bikes across America.

I made every attempt to meet as many racers as I could that year. Of the 25 finishers, I went out to at least cheer on if not meet 22 of them over the course of about 2 months. It was uplifting to see them fully embracing life and it inspired me to want to embrace it the same way. None of the racers inspired me more than the man in first place at the time, Mike Hall.

Mike was from England and in 2014, had already assembled a monster endurance racing resume. He had raced Tour Divide as a rookie in 2011 finishing 10th. Tour Divide is a 2745 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM roughly along the continental divide. In 2012, Mike took on the World Cycle Race, racing a bike around the globe, covering ~18,000 unsupported miles finishing 1st. In 2013, Mike came back to North America to tackle Tour Divide again, crushing the fastest finish of the race at that time, although he wasn’t given the record due to mandated course re-routes in New Mexico to avoid wild fires.

As Mike’s dot neared my hometown of Farmington, MO during Trans Am Bike Race in 2014, I was star struck and eager to go out and meet the man. I rode my bike to the edge of town and waited. When he appeared coming into town, I rode up to meet him and was surprised with the experience that followed. Here was a man who had done some amazing things, yet he was quiet and humble like none I had ever met. I rode and chatted with him as we made our way  downtown to our local bike shop. He purchased a few items and set out to head east again. I rode with him and chatted more on the way out of town. I mentioned that I was inspired by him and I planned to race TABR the next year. He was encouraging and thoughtful. He offered that I could reach out to him via social media if I needed any help getting started. I also expressed an interest in racing Tour Divide. I told him maybe in 2016. He said that he planned to do the Divide again 2016 as well.

After only 5 short miles or so, I had to turn back. I didn’t want to, but work beckoned. As I slowed down, I wished him luck and let him know I would be cheering for him. The last words he said to me were, “Hope to see you on the Divide sometime!” as he smiled, waved and rode away.

Mike went on to win TABR14 in impressive fashion, setting a time that has yet to be eclipsed. Although I did race TABR in 2015, I DNF’ed, pulling out in Colorado. With unfinished business to attend to, I went back for another go at TABR in 2016 instead of doing the Divide. Mike did race the Divide that year, finishing first again and absolutely destroying the time record, setting a bar that many think will be difficult to reach.

In March of 2017, Mike took part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a 3400 mile self supported race across Australia. Tragically, on March 31st, he was killed while racing when a vehicle along the route hit him.

Despite the very short time I was given to spend with Mike, we became friends on social media and I followed his pursuits. We would chat a bit about gear and whatnot as I prepared for TABR. What I saw of him in June of 2014 was confirmed over and over with the interactions I saw him have with people online and countless others who have spoken in the name of his character- Mike was genuinely humble, graceful in his approach with people and charitable to those in need. Along with those traits, he was a fierce competitor and never settled for less than his best. He poured himself into his dreams and lived life to the full. I looked up to him and view him as a hero.

On May 2nd there was a memorial service for Mike in Harrogate, Yorkshire. I couldn’t make the trip to England, but Mike was in my thoughts. I have been thinking since I heard of Mike’s passing that I would like to do some sort of memorial of my own- something fitting. A few weeks ago I realized what it was and have since began preparing.

In tribute to the first self-supported endurance racer I ever met and the inspiration that I received from him, I am going to make good, albeit late, on the last physical conversation I had with the legendary Mike Hall. I will be in Banff on the second Friday in June 2018 for the Grand Depart. I will race the Divide.

Mike, I hate that I will miss seeing you, but somehow I think you might be watching. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for living. I imagine this song was about you. Cheers and ride peacefully my friend.

I’m a quitter

So I figured that today deserved two blog entries. Not because I went over 1000 miles or any other reason like that referring to this trip. Today is a special day. Today I am 2 years tobacco free.

Two years ago, I had been smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes and chewing a can of skoal each day. I was heavier and had some really bad eating habits. I drank an enormous amount of soda. In general, I was really just unhealthy.

On September 2, 2009 I decided I was done with tobacco. I had quit many times before, but this time was different. I really wanted to quit. So I did. No weening myself off or drugs or hypnosis. I decided I was done and quit. And that is the reason I am sitting in Lowell, ID right now on a cross-country cycling trip.

You see, if I hadn’t quit, I wouldn’t have gotten into running the way I did. Which lead me to make healthier eating choices. It also lead me to look for something to do on the days I wasn’t running. That lead me to buy a bike, which opened up a great love of cycling. That in turn brought me to want to cross the country on the saddle of a bike, and here I am.

Two years. I’m not as skinny as I want to be and I don’t eat the heathiest things always. I also drink a soda once in awhile. (more as of late on this trip. I think my body wants the sugar!) I’m not in the best shape of my life…yet. But I don’t smoke anymore and I don’t chew. And stopping those bad habits has opened me up to an adventure that is more amazing than this silly blog can describe. I’m a quitter and proud of it!

To be inspired is to feel alive!

As I continue preparations for my trip, I have been talking to anyone I see and telling them of my upcoming journey.  Of course there are those occasional folks who think I’m nuts for even thinking about riding a bicycle across the country and that’s OK.  The uncertainty of not really knowing where you are going to get your next meal or where you will sleep the next night is just too much for some.  They need the comfort of the known and that is just fine.  For them anyway!

Then there are those of us who live the everyday life, but wish for something much more.  An adventure like nothing else.  I am one of those people.  As I meet and talk with folks in and around my life, more often than not, I see a sense of awe and inspiration in there eyes when I tell them what I am about to embark on.  Several have just came out and said that I am an inspiration to them.  That is really cool.  I’m not the kind of guy that needs to be validated by other peoples views, but it’s refreshing to be told when you are making a positive impact on someone.

That being said, I am feeling inspired by humankind.  The excitement I am seeing in my friends and family is amazing!  I guess inspiration breeds inspiration and so on.  We inspire each other and now I want to reciprocate a bit more.

Here is a link to a video that went viral not long ago.  Thanks Bruce Marler for the link.  This kid has got to have really supportive family around him to have these wise words at such a young age.  Good parenting works!  I hope you find the video interesting and inspiring.  The premise is that you might go out and ride a bike.  Or learn to ride a bike.  But if not, I hope you find the inspiration to do whatever it is that you are feeling compelled to do to better yourself and/or your situation.  In the words of the late MJ, make that change.  Shammon!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE0muwQHMdI&feature=player_embedded