Today’s Provision tells a story of hard work, exhaustion, and recovery with a surprising twist at the end. It’s not a story I copied from the Internet. It’s my story, and I hope you will find it both interesting and instructive. Only one set of those Ten New Commandments that I introduced last December talk about the importance of looking after the well-being of mind and body. The others are big on caring for children, orphans, parents, families, neighbors, friends, other living things, and the world in general. Apart from healthy rhythms of self-care, however, our caring for others will come up short. If you’ve been meaning to get around to taking some time for yourself, then perhaps my story will give you a little push to get started sooner rather than later.
Some people say I live a charmed life. So let me tell you about the past month, and you decide. In the USA you may well be reading this Provision on the morning of Valentine’s Day, a traditional time for love and romance. My wife and I had therefore planned a little getaway, to the great state of Texas where we were scheduled to visit old friends, meet new friends, and do something that I have done on 39 other occasions: run a marathon.
The marathon is taking place in Austin, the state capital. I was scheduled to run and my wife, as she has so often done in the past, was scheduled to cheer for me as well as the almost 5,000 other people running the race. Of the two tasks, I think cheering may be harder than running. She really gets into it, though, and many people are blessed by her enthusiastic encouragement. In my case, I tell people I run marathons because I can. It’s no more complicated than that.
The simplicity of that answer belies its profundity. There have been times in my life, either due to a lack of fitness (I was quite obese about 12 years ago) or due to injury, that I could not comfortably run at all, let alone run a marathon. So the fact that I can run marathons is, for me, a celebration of life. It’s not something I take credit for; it’s something I’m thankful for. For now, at this moment, my body, mind, and spirit enjoy the distance. There may come a time when that is no longer true; the mere thought of that already makes me feel sad. But I know I will find alternative engagements.
At this point in my life, however, running nurtures my well being. I do it most every day. And I was looking forward to the Austin marathon, allegedly one of the fastest courses in the country. Yet something unexpected happened on the way to the dance. Three weeks ago my wife and I received the Copy Edits back on our new book, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. The Copy Editor did a fantastic job, not only making minor changes but also suggesting major reorganizations and revisions. Her recommendations and questions helped us to see many new ways to substantially improve the book.
We’re very thankful that. But we’re also very tired. This was our last opportunity to dig into the text and make major changes, on a three-week timetable ending the day before we were scheduled to get on an airplane for the Austin marathon. For the better part of those three weeks we did little more with our free time other than to eat, sleep, and breathe those revisions. Thanks in part to two major snow storms that have immobilized the Mid-Atlantic region of the USA, I never left the house for ten straight days other than one time, in between the two snow storms, when I went on a ten-mile run. The rest of my running was done indoors, on a treadmill.
Ten straight days! Talk about cabin fever! Yet there was no other way. We had to roll up our sleeves and get to work, if we wanted to finish by our publisher’s deadline. We’re very proud of how it turned out and if we had it to do over, we’d do it all again. But that intense burst of activity took its toll. Although we managed to sneak in a few diversions, we were certainly no role models of life-work balance. Things were skewed radically towards work such that our daily routines of rest, recovery, relaxation, and renewal began to suffer.
Life is like that. There are busy times and there are slow times. That’s why I prefer the metaphor of a healthy rhythm to a healthy balance. We were definitely out of balance for those three weeks. But over the holidays we had three weeks skewed radically towards family and friends. Work was marginalized while relationships took priority. In the grand scheme of things, then, the pendulum swings back and forth in a healthy rhythm of pushing out and pulling back.
The key is to actually have a rhythm rather than to just talk about having a rhythm. Many of my clients live in constant overwhelm, and they often talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. Right now, they tell me, life is busy, busy, busy. But when they get this one project done, then things will get easier and they’ll take time to recover. There’s only one problem: the light usually turns out be a bend in the tunnel rather than at the end of the tunnel. This project ends and another project begins with no down time, no recovery, and no renewal.
No wonder people end up stressed out all the time! And no wonder they suffer the health consequences of constant stress, including hypertension, diabetes, arrhythmias, heart conditions, weight gain, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, asthma, suppression of the immune system, digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, ulcers, and acid reflex, as well as psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsiveness, and alcoholism. As one doctor put it, “Chronic stress clearly distorts the normal functioning and balance of the body systems.”
The key, then, is to develop healthy rhythms of work and rest, effort and play, industriousness and recreation. Such rhythms can happen in short, medium, and long chunks. When I get up from my desk, walk to another room, look out the window, roll back my shoulders, stand on a balance board, take a few deep breaths, and watch my amaryllis bulb come back to life, periodically throughout the day, those are short chunks. When I go for my daily run, curl up with a book, or meditate, those are medium chunks. When I get a good night’s sleep, that’s a long chunk. And when I travel to Austin, Texas with my wife to visit friends and run a marathon on Valentine’s Day, that’s an even longer chunk.
Unfortunately, some of those short and medium chunks were getting compromised during our three-week book blitz. I was still running, but for only 30-45 minutes instead of 60-90 minutes. I was still getting up from my desk, but not as frequently. I was still sleeping, but not as long. My brain was working overtime on all the new possibilities. Nothing excites me more than a new idea or a fresh way of putting thoughts together. That, indeed, has been the secret behind my weekly Provisions for more than ten years: I love to write.
But even I have my limits and the book blitz pushed both my wife and me beyond those limits. So we looked at each other about eight hours before our flight was scheduled to take off and had a heart-to-heart conversation about what would really bring us the most joy for Valentine’s Day weekend. Catching five hours of sleep before getting up to go to the airport, or cancelling our plans at the last minute even though our airplane tickets were nonrefundable and even though I was past the date for getting a refund of my marathon registration fee.
It didn’t take long before we concluded that our lives would be made more wonderful, with more rest, recovery, relaxation, and renewal, if we were to just stay home and chill out. So that’s what we did. For our own good healthy reasons we decided to sleep in and walk away from our long-planned trip to the Longhorn State.
Then, an amazing thing happened. Overnight, Dallas, Texas • our connecting airport • received 12 inches of snow. Now for those of you not familiar with the United States, that’s not supposed to happen. People go to Texas in the winter time, among other destinations, to get away from snow, not to make snow creatures and snow angels. 12 inches of snow in Dallas closed the airport and then proceeded to wreak havoc across the southeastern United States before hitting Atlanta and turning north. As ABC news noted during its evening broadcast, we ended the day with snow in 49 of the 50 United States of America (I’m guessing you can figure out which one was snow-free without me telling you.)
So I called the airline with a new question: now that our flight was canceled, what was the status of my nonrefundable airplane tickets? You guessed it: they indicated that they would issue a full refund back onto my credit card. And then I wrote the marathon director, who said he would be happy to either refund my registration fee or give me a free entry to next year’s race, since inclement weather prevented my arrival.
As the shirts say, “Life is good!” What started out as a decision to nurture our own well being by cancelling our trip, at some expense, ended up being an opportunity to do all that we wanted to do for ourselves and to not lose any money in the process. Talk about an amazing serendipity.
Now what would you say? Do I live a charmed life, or not? I guess it depends on your perspective. Our three-week book blitz, including ten days in which I was pretty much chained to a computer and never left the house, was an exhausting push. That probably doesn’t sound very charmed. And when we decided to cancel our trip, that also didn’t sound very charmed (at least not to us). We had been looking forward to going. But when the time came, it was just not in us to go.
Yet the universe somehow rewarded our wise decision. That part was indeed charmed. And if there is any lesson to be taken away from this story, it is simply this: Nurture well being. Tend to your body, mind, and soul. Don’t just talk about healthy rhythms, practice them. Focus on what would make life more wonderful. Then do the right thing, without worrying about whether or not it is appropriate, expected, or expensive. In the name of saving money or saving face, all kinds of miserable things get done. And that is not a good way to live.
Only one set of the Ten New Commandments, the one that Wikipedia identifies as coming from a pagan source, mentions the importance of “looking after the well-being of mind and body.” In my experience, however, that is an essential part of the equation. We cannot adequately and consistently care for others unless we adequately and consistently care for ourselves. Put on your oxygen mask first, as they tell us on airplanes, before assisting others to put on theirs.
Nutrition, fitness, and ease are three important parts of the equation. Chronic stress is no way to live. Rhythmic stress, offset by regular times of rest, relaxation, recreation, and reflection, is what makes life good. You can learn a lot more about all three by going to our companion website,www.CelebrateWellness.com. And don’t forget to contact us for coaching if you would like a partner to help you figure out how.
Coaching Inquiries: What assists you to recover from the stresses and strains of life? How often do you put yourself first, and how often do you sacrifice yourself on the altar of busyness? How would you describe your rhythms, in small, medium, and long chunks? What and who could assist you to make your rhythms more regular and consistent? What’s stopping you from taking a break, right now?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here. Top
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
After reading your Provision, Nurture Children, in which you write about being snowed in at just the right time to get your book done, I picture you and Megan curled up together in your sunny living room in front of the fireplace sifting through papers. Having been to your house, I bet it’s quite the vision looking out of your back windows at the “snow blanket” covering the frozen ground surrounding the lake? 🙂
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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