I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.
I used to ride my bike almost every day in the summer when I was a kid. Once I got my driver’s license I rode a lot less. When adulthood hit in earnest with all of the responsibilities of marriage and children, I almost never hit the road on two wheels. My bike traveled with us to the various homes we’ve inhabited over the past 20 years, collecting cob webs and getting cleaned up once in a while – often when we cleaned out the garage, which usually happened when we moved.
Once the kids got a little older and we thought we could ride together more often, I got a new bike. We went for a few rides, but as the kids grew, they were less interested in riding with Mom and Dad and more interested in hanging out with friends. Sometimes I just couldn’t find the motivation. More cob webs. Then, last year, another move.
Our new home happens to be surrounded by trails that stretch for kilometres on end in just about all directions. There are beautiful forests and more varieties of plants and flowers than I could ever hope to enumerate. There are ponds and streams inhabited by goodness knows how many wonderful creatures. I know we have rabbits, toads, chipmunks, deer, and even beavers for neighbours.
To be honest, we didn’t have any idea that our new home resided in such a rich environment. By the time we bought it, we were tired of searching and were just happy to have found something that suited us. Only gradually did we come to realize that we had the makings of wonderful daily walks and bike rides right outside our front door.
Still, I didn’t even think about using my bike at all for fitness or for fun until an unseasonably warm spring arrived, bringing with it the waves of rejuvenation that wash over any forested area at that time of year – and sometimes sweep up the humans who live nearby. One day, I was swept up too. A good bike ride would be just the thing to get me back on track with my 2012 resolution to lose 10 pounds. Right. We need to keep moving toward those goals, don’t we?
The funny thing is, the summertime bike rides of my youth had nothing to do with setting goals, sticking to them, or burning calories. Sure, I enjoyed feeling fit. But really, they were nothing more than a time-filler for a gloriously languid stream of summer hours. I rode – sometimes for hours, sometimes less, sometimes two or three times a day – for the pure enjoyment of it. I didn’t need a particular destination. I wandered on two wheels. My mind wandered too.
This summer, I rediscovered that wandering feeling. After years of feeling pressured to live with purpose and keep moving toward goals, I remembered what it was like to let go of purpose, pressure, and goals, if only for a few precious minutes. I didn’t make any effort to mentally sort out meal plans, grocery lists, work schedules, kids’ problems, or any other adult responsibilities. I just rode.
And guess what? Some really interesting ideas came into my mind – just because I allowed it to wander. I call it accidental pondering. It’s pondering without the purpose – like thoughtlessly throwing everything you can into a pool of water and just waiting to see what comes to the top.
One of the ideas that floated to the top was how much like personal finance – and life itself – a good bike ride can be. Here are a few bits of insight that popped into my head on my bike rides this summer:
1. Nature Heals
It can be hard to believe until you’ve tried it, but spending even a little time in nature is tremendously beneficial. In fact, research cited in The Wall Street Journal shows that “untamed landscapes have a restorative effect, calming our frazzled nerves and refreshing the tired cortex. After a brief exposure to the outdoors, people are more creative, happier and better able to focus. If there were a pill that delivered these same results, we’d all be popping it.”
2. Don’t Give Up: Give Yourself Time to Become Familiar with New Terrain
My first bike ride was with my youngest son. He was more familiar with the paths and wanted to show me around a bit. Much to his embarrassment, I couldn’t make it up the hills at first. I asked him to ease up on the face-palming and give me some time to learn the terrain. Within a few bike rides, I was able to anticipate the twists and turns, making for a much smoother ride as I adjusted my speed accordingly. I even made it up all of the hills!
I’ve had similar experiences with money and life. It took time to develop good saving habits. The financial terrain was foreign to me at first, but now I can speak quite fluently about money and investing. It’s not like I never make a mistake, but I don’t make those rookie errors anymore.
3. Be Ready for Anything
I try to anticipate twists and turns as best I can, but you never know what might be around the next bend in the trail. Someone walking their dog might materialize around a corner, or a little chipmunk will run in front of you without warning. Similarly, life can change on a dime with an untimely death, illness, divorce, job loss, promotion, wedding, or birth. Plan what you can, but be ready for anything. Make sure you have an emergency fund and ample insurance.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Shift Gears
I was able to get up some of those steep hills by making more effective use of my gears. In life, we don’t always have the strength to surmount those tough challenges. Sometimes, you just have to gear down and go at it again. If you didn’t save as much as you wanted this year, maybe it’s time to think about earning more instead. If you’re not achieving a goal, perhaps you need to figure out why. Or maybe you just need to take a break for a while and try again with a fresh attitude.
5. Break Big Tasks Into Smaller Ones
I’ve read this advice so many times, but I’m still amazed at how often I ignore it – and how well it works when I don’t! I find that looking at my watch or anticipating the end of my bike ride sucks all of the enjoyment out of it for me. It’s better if I just look ahead to the next leg of the trail rather than the finish line. That way, I get lost in the sights and sounds of my journey. Before I know it, I’ve cleared my mind, burned a few calories and reached the end of my ride. It’s the same for any large, complex task. Take it one step at a time, but do take that first step.
6. Pace Yourself
Pedalling as hard as you can to beat your last time is a good way to land yourself in the ER or the psych ward. Pushing yourself too hard for too long isn’t healthy in any arena. It will catch up with you. Mind you, taking the easy way every time doesn’t provide you with the fitness benefits you need. I try to know my limits, but I’m not afraid to push them a little – especially on a good day.
7. Seize the Day
Not every day is a good day. Some days it’s raining or cold. Some days you’re just beat. That’s why it’s best to get on that bike while the summer sun is still shining. When you’re not sure you feel like it, do it anyway. When you think you don’t have the time, make the time. You may not have the best ride ever in terms of fitness or enjoyment, but at least you’ll have accomplished something. And who knows? Maybe you’ll climb a new hill or find a new path – or even have the best ride ever.
8. Celebrate Every Victory
When you’ve pushed your limits a little – and maybe even managed to expand them permanently – it’s time for a victory lap. No matter how small your accomplishment seems, a proper celebration makes it more likely you’ll be ready take on that next challenge with confidence.
I’m sure I could go on, but you get the idea. And to think all of this occurred to me because I allowed myself some accidental pondering. To any of you frazzled, jaded adults out there who think you have forgotten how to do it, give it a try. It’s just like riding a bike.
Any lessons to add to the bike analogy?