Granting the generality and universality of the question in the title, I have a very specific answer:
I participate in a weekly group ride with other cyclists. In the winter, we generally ride mountain bikes, equipped with lights, in the woods of New England if conditions allow for it. Winter mountain biking in the dark may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but with the wind chill one experiences on a road bike, the woods offer shelter. And the shorter days make lights necessary. Sometimes, the snow gets too deep to allow for a trail ride, but usually the trails get somewhat cleared by hikers and the occasional thaw.
On a recent ride, we rode dirt roads that had been plowed because the snow on the trails was too deep. It turned out the dirt roads were possibly as challenging as the woods, because — while they’d been plowed — there was a thin sheet of ice in various places where melted snow had refrozen.
I’ve done this weekly ride for a while now and though I can dread it, especially in the winter with the cold and the hazards of riding in the woods with lights, when I’m done, I’m always glad I went. It became clear to me after my most recent ride why.
The day had been a regular workday. Like many, I now work from home. I conducted and/or participated in many videoconference calls. I sorted, wrote, and responded to numerous emails. I prepared and edited numerous documents, spreadsheets, etc. All that work stuff and its implications began to build up in my head. On top of that, since I was at home, I had limited in-person human interaction. The office walls began to close in, and I developed a good case of cabin fever.
The mindful challenge of keeping the bike upright, struggling to keep up with the group, avoiding the occasional car, navigating, adjusting the headlight, staying warm, but also shedding a layer to avoid sweating, etc., makes all the frustrations of the day go away. Of course, I don’t recognize this as it’s happening. Throughout the ride, I’m just focused on all that survival stuff. Although it feels like survival, it’s just trying not to fall with an audience.
At the end of the ride, without previous mention of it, we set up our folding chairs and share beverages and snacks. Last night we had hot chocolate and brownies. The conversation has no agenda. We generally talk about the ride, the conditions, the pace, any unusual challenges. The conversation can go anywhere, but unlike all the earlier videoconferences, nothing must be achieved. With the same lack of planning that went into starting the gathering, we all seem to know when it’s time to go. We all pack up and say goodbye until next week.
The next morning, I was sitting at my desk with a full calendar of calls, lots of unread email, and several overdue tasks. But they all seemed less daunting. I was ready to attack it all with new energy. I’m not always the most self-aware person, but I put it together that this weekly refresh is helping me to maintain some form of mental health. I’ll probably still dread the ride occasionally, but at least now I’ve defined the purpose and have a better understanding of why I do it.
The point of my previous post on mountain biking was to link innovation to confidence developed through challenge, success, failure, and incremental gain. The point of this one is to understand your purpose.
Once you discover your purpose, you’ll be out of the woods.