For the last seven or eight years I have enjoyed a recreational activity that gives me exercise and satisfies my longing to be in nature. When I ride my bike on the mountain I feel exhilarated, refreshed and proud of myself. Putting on my biking clothes, oiling my bike and riding down the street are the beginning of a ritual that has evolved over time. Within 10 minutes, as I climb the trails of Mt Tam I feel transported to a different world, one in which I leave behind all of my worldly concerns. In this world I feast on the beauty and tranquility of nature with its wildlife, majestic redwoods, flowing streams and the smell of fresh air. As part of my ritual I end my ride at the health food store and enjoy a healthy drink.
It was there that I ran into my young friend Bobby who is an avid rider. He rides his bike daily to the college but isn’t familiar with some of the trails on the mountain. I offered to show him some of my favorites. Soon after we set a date for our ride I started thinking about what trails I could show him that would be challenging enough for him, but not too challenging for me.
A few days later we started on our ride. For the first part of the ride, we began climbing a trail which was part of my usual loop. Then there was that moment when I knew it was time for me to stretch and ride higher. As I looked up from the place on the trail where I usually stopped I wondered if I could climb higher. In my mind I surveyed the incline to be 25-30 degrees at its steepest point, which was much steeper than what I was used to.
My mind went to work. It’s amazing how changing our thinking changes our experience of almost anything. Let me share with you the thought process that led to my change in thinking. I knew that the steepest part of the climb was in the beginning. If I could climb beyond that phase then there was no reason I couldn’t climb all the way to the top of the ridge.
As I started climbing my focus shifted from the top of the ridge and how difficult the climb might be, to what was immediately in front of me. In the 2 or 3 yards directly in front of me I did not notice any slope at all even though I knew there had to be some. As I continued to climb in this manner, instead of feeling tired, I was able to maintain my energy and when I looked ahead I was almost at the top of the ridge.
Because I was able to climb higher than ever before I was able to see things for the first time. When I reached the pinnacle I was able to see for miles in every direction. The view had always been there but I had never put myself in a position to notice it. I felt the interconnectedness of my surroundings; an interconnectedness that was always present even if I wasn’t able to see it. And that’s the way our lives are. Unless we change our way of thinking, we won’t discover what is possible in our lives.
I like what Oprah Winfrey has to say about possibility:
“You have to move up to another level of thinking, which is true for me and everybody else. Everybody has to learn to think differently, bigger, to be open to possibilities.”
Were it not for my change in thinking and sense of adventure I would have stopped miles ago. And that’s what so many of us do—we stop when it begins to feel uncomfortable instead of continuing to explore the unknown.
Exploring the unknown does involve taking a risk. In my work with many of my coaching clients, I ask them what their biggest regret is. The most common response is that they didn’t risk enough. They never do find out what’s possible. Certainly that has been true for me at various times in my life.
As we expand our belief in self and become more confident, our sense of what is possible expands. Becoming more confident, doesn’t happen in a vacuum and is something that you have to develop. You develop this by taking risks. As you successfully take risks, you become more confident in what you can accomplish and what is possible. That’s when you find that you are more willing to get out of your comfort zone and explore new horizons. This expanded sense of exploration, extends to all aspects of your life including opening your heart and risking feeling more. That’s when you will feel most alive and fulfilled.
I am sure you have heard the phrase, change your thinking, change your life. Often it is the subtle shifts in thinking that make it possible to go to a higher level. That was certainly true for me. My shift from thinking about the difficult trail ahead to what was immediately in front of me, enabled me to reach the pinnacle.
I know that you have your own mountain to climb. Sometimes when you think of the big picture the task ahead seems daunting and you don’t know where to begin. You might feel that whatever you do will just be a drop in the bucket.
Here’s a suggestion that has worked for me, and many others that I work with. Start with just one change no matter how small, and then continue to make little changes consistently. Over time you will see a dramatic difference in the quality of your life.
I have a challenge for you. Do something new or different everyday for at least ten days. You could make it into a game. It could be as simple as taking a different route to work or getting up earlier and meditating. It could be listening to some new music. Or something as basic as brushing your teeth with your other hand. It definitely gets you thinking as to other things you do routinely and don’t pay attention to.
As you begin to make these changes on a regular basis you will notice that you become more comfortable with the concept of change. As this occurs, you wonder what else you can change. Your sense of what is possible keeps expanding and evolving. And that’s when you will be willing to risk exploring the unknown.
As the view from the mountain keeps expanding I have a greater sense that we are all interconnected. Reach out and enjoy the journey.
Mark Susnow, is an executive and life coach, who inspires others to believe in themselves. A former trial attorney for 30 years, he integrates what it takes to be successful in the world with the inner wisdom unfolded to him through years of yoga and meditation. He is the author of Dancing on the River…Navigating Life’s Changes.