Saddle up!

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For the first time in my life, I went to a Rodeo. It was not any Rodeo it was the Pendleton Round-up! After 105 years the Pendleton round-up is still very popular with a crowd of 16 000 on the last day. The participation and involvement of the Native-Americans (Indians) emphasised the respect for tradition and different cultures that was evident throughout the rodeo. A rodeo is a sporting event in which cowboys show their various skills such as roping calves, riding bulls, riding broncos (wild horses that habitually buck).

As a South African the Cowboy culture is something we only see on the movies. I’m used to farmers (‘boere’ as we call them in Afrikaans) who wear two-tone khaki shirts, Hi-Tech boots and drive in their Toyota ‘bakkie’ (the Afrikaans word for a pick-up). So, when we entered Pendleton and saw Cowboys riding on their horses with their Cowboy hats, long-sleeved check shirts, jeans and genuine Cowboy boots, it was like stepping into a movie scene. The difference was that it was authentic.

The Rodeo opens with the Round-up Queen and Princesses (cowgirls) riding in with their horses and ended with cowgirl barrel racing. Seeing them riding so freely on their horses touched me deeply and stirred something inside me. I could sense the connection and companionship that they had with their horses. The nurturing partnership between the cowboy and his horse was ever present.

I was quite surprised by my emotional reaction. After some reflection I came to the conclusion that we all have a cowgirl or cowboy inside of us. Most young boys dream of becoming cowboys. I also recall fond childhood memories of horse riding with a close friend on their farm. Horses draw us into a relationship with them. Riding them symbolises freedom, courage and a mysterious union with nature.

Throughout most of human history our relationship with horses is a particular close one. The sight of the interaction between horse and man riding together was enough to activate this affection that lies deep within me. Winston Churchill described it best when he said ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man’. Nowadays, for most of us, our interaction with horses is limited. Yet the horse remains ever waiting…

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Trail running in Yosemite

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This week my husband and I did some trail running and hiking in the Yosemite National Park and the mountains of South Lake Tahoe. We camped at Curry Village in Yosemite for three nights and spent two days running and hiking in the mountain and in the meadows of Sierra Nevada. After that we drove to South Lake Tahoe to run a section of the Tahoe rim trail. It was an amazing and fulfilling experience!

California is currently experiencing a severe drought. In the park one could see that the water levels were low and the rivers were not flowing as strongly as it is customary. Nevertheless, the view of the soaring cliffs remained spectacular. As I took in the beauty of nature I could understand why John Muir stated that;

‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.’

The first day of our trail run we climbed 3 200 feet to Glacier Point. The higher I ran up the mountain, the deeper I connected with my body and the calmer my mind became. I tried to be mindful of what nature had to offer every step of the way. From the smallest ground squirrel, autumn coloured leaves, moss on the trees, different bird species and the granite boulders. There were wildfires burning near Yosemite Village that influenced the air quality. When we reached the summit we could not take the postcard picture photo due to poor visibility. I was surprised that it did not upset me, even after I had had to put in hard work to get to the summit. It made me wonder what was different? I realized that it was because I was appreciating the journey.

It reminded me of life. We tend to focus on the big goal, the peak of the mountain. But when you get there you usually don’t feel as content or happy as you thought you would feel. However, if you are mindful on the journey and allow yourself to experience the beauty of the small and mundane things, even the parts where you get bored or impatient when the road becomes long or tough, then reaching the summit of the mountain is just another step.

Life is not about racing from one breath-taking moment to another but about breathing and taking in the moment, every moment.

What is courage?

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Courage is…choosing to

…become aware of your fears and still move forward even if it frightens you.

…take time, breathe, create a clearer state of mind and then speak up with integrity.

…say no with respect and dignity.

…stop fighting the way things are and realise you don’t need to solve every problem.

…let go of the things you cling on to.

Courage is…accepting

…wins and losses with compassion.

…that you made a mistake and apologise for it.

…an apology from someone that hurt you and work on rebuilding the relationship.

…that your point of view is not the only truth.

…that all you have control over is this moment, right now, and to make that count.

Courage is…allowing you to

…explore the beliefs that hold you back and limit you.

…feel your feelings without judging them as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

…listen to your true (inner) self.

…be kind to others and yourself.

…be vulnerable and ask for support.

Courage is a choice you make to take action and accept the outcome.

Change is difficult

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Let’s face it! Change is difficult. Research shows that the odds are nine to one against you if you want to change old habits. It further indicates that you can never truly terminate an old, bad habit you can only change it.

In his book ‘The power of Habit’ Charles Duhigg explains that habits consist of a three-step loop – the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the feeling or thought that triggers the habitual behaviour. The routine is the response to the feeling and the reward is what you craved for. In order to change a habit the cue and reward must stay the same but you change the routine. For example when you get sad (cue) you crave for comfort (reward). In order to satisfy your craving you eat a chocolate (routine). The reward you are seeking is comfort and not a satisfaction of hunger. So, when you get sad (cue) you can change your routine of eating a chocolate to phoning a friend and also feel comforted (reward) without gaining weight.

It sounds so simple but why is it so hard? Why after actively trying to change routines I stepped back into the old habit and caused suffering to those around me after knowing that it would be the outcome if I stuck to the old habit? After the incident I went to a yoga class, and as I was lying in the half-pigeon pose, the song ‘Chasing Cars of Snow Patrol’ played in the background. The phrase ‘ If I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world…’ resonated with me and I found myself wishing that if I just lay there the pain would go away.

I realised that this type of behaviour is what is preventing us to change. We are all excited to change but after the first failure we feel so sorry for ourselves and return to the old habit, as it is a comfortable place – like a couch that has already taken the shape of our body – you just snugly fit into it. To get up from that couch (or yoga mat) and face change takes effort. I started to wander what would motivate me to get up from the couch and try once again to change the old habit?

After reading about change and habits I found that the following seven essential elements need to be in place in order to change habits:

  1. Awareness is necessary for change. In the book ‘Leadership Embodiment’ by Wendy Palmer and Janet Crawford they indicate that you need to recognize your habits and triggers before you can choose to change it.
  2. Strong positive emotions are necessary for change. Positive thoughts alone are not enough. A study done by Dr Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins University found that 90% of people that had undergone bypass heart surgery had not changed their lifestyle two years after the operation. Even though they had been told that life-style changes could decrease pain and having another operation. This shows that knowing that your habit is not serving you in a positive way is not enough to change it. A study done by Dr Dean Ornish from the University of California that did report healthy behavioural change in 77% of their participants indicate that the ‘joy of living’ needs to be stronger than the ‘fear of dying’. Janet Crawford explains that our brain needs emotions to move into action. Taking all this into account it seems as if the reward associated with changing the behaviour needs to be associated with a strong positive feeling and image.
  3. Take mall steps. Andrea Shaw, a Master Coach with 18 years experience in coaching, indicates that small steps lead to big change. Celebrating the small victories can bring a sense of empowerment.
  4. Feelings of discomfort are normal. The brain prefers the known to the unknown. Janet Crawford writes that ‘to change our personality patterns brings into question everything that we know about ourselves and how to function with others.’ It is normal that these types of changes will bring about feelings of frustration and unease. These feelings tend to drive us back to our old habits. The trick is to acknowledge that it is normal to feel this way and to re-engage.
  5. A consistent practice is crucial for change. Research indicates that you need to practice the new routine over and over. There are different statistics on the amount of practice it takes to change. Wendy Palmer indicates in her book that a minimum of 500 practice repetitions is necessary to gain a new skill. In his book ‘The Talent Code’ Daniel Coyle reports that 10 000 hours of deep practice is necessary to obtain world-class skills. The take home message is that in order to shift behaviour it is necessary to practise your response or new routine daily over a period of time.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Now that you know it is normal to backslide, to become irritated in the process and that change takes time it is important to engage with yourself with kindness and compassion. When we become angry with ourselves for failing we engage the threat mechanisms of the brain that hindergrowth. On the journey of changing habits it is important to remain curious, be mindful and take care of our bodies.
  7. Support from community. Charles Duhigg indicates that we need to believe that we can change and that things will get better. A community of support can maintain that belief even if things get really tense and we want to fall back on old habits. It is important to share your vision of changing your habit with people who know you and care about you. So that they can support you when you fall back into the couch and need to get up again.

It’s important to note that these are just my thoughts. Studies indicate that there are not one-size-fits all when it comes to changing habits. What we do know is that a habit can be replaced. Change is difficult but it’s not impossible.