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Enchanted Rock Run

Enchanted Rock State Park has a wonderful 4.87 mile loop trail running around the second largest granite dome in the United States, and is only a twenty minute drive from my house.  It’s a great trail for an afternoon hike or trail run.  A couple years ago my training program included running the loop trail on a regular basis; now I’m content to jog along for about ten minutes, walk a bit, and repeat.  Two Sundays ago, I decided to head out and try running it again, but on the drive there I started thinking about the parts of the park I hadn’t seen yet.  It’s a small park by state park standards, yet with all my explorations there are places I haven’t been.

And with these thoughts my agenda began to fade without me even realizing it.  As I parked and walked along the paved road to the trailhead, I thought my original agenda was still intact.  After all, the reason I went there in the first place was to run and test my current endurance level, wasn’t it?  As I began to run, I decided to head off-trail along a park ranger two-track which splits from the loop trail and quickly ends at the park boundary.  My new plan was to explore that corner of the park while picking my way along the border, before heading to the trail a few minutes later and continuing my run.  I was reasonably sure it would be a quick detour and I was right, but like an appetizer before dinner being off-trail for a few minutes simply enticed me for more.

Too quickly I was back on the loop trail, crumbling agenda figuratively in one hand while reaching for new experiences with the other, and before you knew it I changed my route to include a look-out point.  Upon arrival, I noticed it was only a slight slope down from the look-out point to the expansive view in front of me – and I just kept running.  As I jogged down the slope into a wide field of smooth granite and scrub bush, I no longer held an agenda or goal of any kind.  I simply ran.

Picking my way across boulders and around prickly pear and other thorny plants, I concentrated on my footing while simultaneously looking ahead.  The terrain soon changed and boulders forced me to redirect my course.  It was a beautiful, glorious day and exploring the park felt fantastic.  I jogged slowly and enjoyed being free of both the goal and time constraint of my earlier agenda. Then I jumped a narrow gap between boulders and felt soreness from a sprain in my foot injured a few weeks earlier.  This reminded me I was completely alone and off-trail in the late afternoon of a November day, wearing running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt.  No bandana, phone, water bottle, or any other extra item was on my person.

I decided hiking was safer, and besides I needed to catch my breath.  Then I laughed, remembering how my friend, Robert Deming, modeled a character in his book after me and described her wearing a water bottle fanny pack on her jog around the loop trail.  Right!  As if I would ever take a water bottle on run of under five miles.  Well, fanny pack contents and water might be handy if I managed to sprain my ankle again – or get lost.  I’m pretty good at getting lost, but wasn’t worried about it because the park is small and the setting sun gave an accurate gauge of the direction I was headed. Thinking of Robert’s books, I sincerely hoped the mountain lion featured in his second book, “Enchanted Rock Blue” wasn’t based on a recent sighting of a panther in the park.

This time the park boundary fence was high up a steep climb, so I changed course and headed out into a more open area.  Having no agenda freed me to go wherever I wanted without regard to reaching a particular place, while the slower pace of hiking allowed me to be curious about where I was in the park.  I really had no idea where I was, but knew the granite dome was between me and my car even though I couldn’t see the rock right then.

Nothing looked uniquely familiar, though it all looked the same:  granite expanses, boulders, scrubby trees, cacti everywhere, and a little bit of wildlife.  Whitetail deer and birds were plentiful.  I wondered which peak was Freshman Mountain and thought it might be the peak near Buzzard’s Roost.  I laughed again remembering a different character Robert created in his first book, “Enchanted Rock Red”, which he said was also inspired by me.  He didn’t tell me which character it was, because he thought it would be plain to me when I read it.  Well, he writes some of this book from the point of view of Clarice, a vulture, and for a short while I worried she was the character based on me.  Then I realized he liked the vulture too well to use her as a prank on me.  Unfortunately, the character I inspired through some tiny little personality trait wasn’t much more complimentary, but I still recommend his books.  Each is an adventure and a fun read.

By the time an hour had passed on this no-agenda sojourn, the sun was sinking lower and I had been steadily attempting to cut back toward the main dome of Enchanted Rock without any success.  Each time I was high enough to see the rock, I was just as far away as before and appearing to be heading in a wide arc around it.  Thick pockets of yucca and prickly pear blocked many routes as did thorny trees and boulders.  Then I spotted some odd looking boulders and knew I was very far from the loop trail.  Extremely large rectangular shaped pieces of granite along a fence could only mean I was looking at the quarry, a place usually seen in the very far distance from on top of the rock.  It also meant my wide arc had only brought me around the rock a little bit.  Then I reminded myself it didn’t matter how long or far I went because there was no agenda or timetable.

Knowing this let me relax a bit, but I started walking faster and more purposefully toward the big rock.  Once again, I didn’t realize my agenda was changing.  It was building and gaining importance each time I glimpsed the dome and found myself still no closer.  Soon enough I fully embraced my new agenda to find the loop trail again and finish jogging around it.

As I kept trying to hike straight to the rock, the topography continued to thwart me.  After crossing a dry riverbed four times, I began to wonder if I was simply going in a circle.  Possibly I had made a circle or two, because the setting sun I tried to keep more or less behind me kept popping up on my right or even directly in front of me.  I don’t know how it moved around like that so fast, but with my new motivation find the loop trail, I adjusted and kept moving.  No longer was I daydreaming or even exploring.  Now I was on a mission to find my way to a familiar place.  Nearly another hour passed before I saw a wooden post with an arrow on it, a trail marker leading to civilization.  I was relieved and glad to know my journey would soon end well.

Altogether, it was an enchanting afternoon.  My original agenda gave me the impetus to suit up and head out.  Dropping the agenda gave me a chance to be curious, explore, observe, and daydream, while creating a new agenda focused my attention and kept me from worrying about my choices.  Next time, I might pack my handheld GPS into a runner’s belt, which isn’t actually a fanny pack, but might be close.

If you are in the Texas Hill Country, you might throw out your agenda and spend a day at Enchanted Rock State Park, with a water bottle and picnic packed away for afterwards, and one of Robert’s books to round it all out.  See you off-trail and maybe just a little bit lost.

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All or Nothing

Have you ever been given a perspective that changed your life?  I have, and it’s time to share it with you.  In the past, I often started a new habit with enthusiasm and determination, only to have it fall apart after a few days.  Usually the new habit is two-fold:  lose weight and exercise more.  About three and a half years ago, I tried going for it one more time, and once again found myself off the exercise track within four days.  

In the past, I would have recommitted the next day, and quickly found myself in a pattern of doing well, then missing a day or two of exercise, trying again, then missing even more days until I was right back where I started.  Luckily, it all changed for me in November 2008 when my perspective shifted and a new strategy developed.  The result was a new habit, the habit of exercising every day for at least 30 minutes.  Today is my 772nd day in a row of exercising every day, and it’s all because of one small, powerful piece of insight gained while reading an article on the free fitness website www.sparkpeople.com.  The insight I gained can be applied to a lot more than exercise.   You can apply it to nearly any new behavior you want to put into your life.  It’s simple, reasonable, and most of all effective. 

Here is how it went for me:  I hadn’t really defined “regularly exercising”, but if I had it would be something more than once or twice a week and lasting at least thirty minutes a session.  In my zest to begin exercising regularly, I fell into an All or Nothing attitude of defining exercise by being at least moderately vigorous and for thirty minutes or longer.  I thought exercise and duration were what mattered, when really it was a new lifestyle I sought.   It’s easy to make that mistake, especially since we automatically look for ways to measure progress.  We measure the amount of money saved instead of the habit of saving, the intensity of the workout instead of the daily practice of exercise, or time spent in another’s presence instead of the attention we give that person.  I had made up rules about exercise that weren’t going to work for me, but I didn’t realize it at the time – even though I had experience failing with these rules before.  “All I need,” I thought, “is more discipline and determination.”

I was unmindfully missing the point in my new endeavor, but at least I started on my new path and all was well and good for four days.  Then I was busy and missed a day.  The following day I was perusing the SparkPeople website to stall a bit before deciding what type of sweat inducing, physically demanding and slightly painful exercise I could do that day to make up for missing the day before.  I had set up my SparkPeople account (My account is under user name Skoogygirl if you are on the site.) the week before, and been using the default tracker to keep a record of how often I exercised thirty minutes or more a day.  I saw a tab labeled SparkStreaks, and clicked on it.

It listed my current exercise streak as being “zero” days, with my longest streak ever as four days.  Four days!  Suddenly I felt challenged.  Four days was ridiculous.  I was annoyed and embarrassed by my statistics, even though it had been less than a week since I set up my account.  I immediately went out for a walk, then came back in and entered the time on my tracker.  My SparkStreak statistic now showed a current streak of one day, but the longest streak was still four days.  This gave me an impetus for change, but not the insight or new perspective I needed for making change.  The tip I needed came a few minutes later when I read an article on the website about the “All or Nothing” concept.  The tips and perspective of this article completely changed my ability to stick with an exercise habit. 

I learned that holding onto an All or Nothing belief is a great way to ruin a new habit.  For me, it meant failing to exercise if you don’t have time for a really good workout (whatever that means) or skipping exercise if  there is not enough time to shower afterwards.  It means not bothering on the nights when you’re very busy and just too tired.  All or Nothing means it is a task that must be surmounted, not away of living.

All or Nothing is a limiting belief often resulting in nothing– no new habit, no exercise, no lifestyle change.

What SparkPeople pointed out is exercise is good for you even in smaller, less strenuous doses.  Exercise can be done in ten minute increments instead of a continuous thirty.  Once you rid yourself of the All or Nothing idea, you are free to exercise any way you like.  You can walk fifteen minutes at lunch and weed your garden fifteen minutes after dinner.  You can play ping-pong with your kids.  You can walk ten minutes at each stop on a very long car drive.  You can take a twenty minute bike ride while waiting for your daughter’s soccer practice to finish.  You can walk from the hotel to the convention center instead of taking the shuttle.  You can develop the habit of looking for ways to be more fit.

After I lifted my self-imposed rule that exercise had to be at least thirty strenuous minutes, I found lots of ways to exercise.  Guess what happened?  I began exercising every day, building the habit of fitness into my every day routine.  That’s what made the difference.  It wasn’t how hard I pushed or how long I worked out at one time, but the habit of exercise.

It works with money too.  Instead of thinking there is no point in saving if you can’t put much aside, think of developing the habit of saving, no matter how little at first.  It isn’t how much more you can put against a debt, but how consistently you look for ways to pay it down.   It’s the habit that will take you where you want to go.  Windfalls and emergencies come and go, but habits lay the foundation for everything you want to build.  Exercise and money habits are easy ways to apply this strategy, and there are many more.  Think about the changes you are trying to make, or have tried and failed to make in the past.  How can discarding the All or Nothing belief work for you?

Who can you be through a daily habit of living the change you seek?

My SparkStreak keeps me motivated to continue exercising every day, but it’s the habit of incorporating fitness into my everyday routine that made me successful at changing my lifestyle.  I cannot tell you I’ve lost weight, but I am more fit.  Since putting exercise into my life every day, I built up a fitness habit averaging well over an hour per day – and I never miss having at least thirty total minutes of exercise in my day.  My new habit changed my life for the better and allowed me to set and reach goals I never had considered before.  

It has taken me on trail runs, mountain hikes, and weekend tennis tournaments.  It allowed me to coach my daughter and her friend on our first half-marathon together, took me up Mount Fuji with my son on his 18th birthday, and into the Grand Canyon and back with my husband on our first ever vacation with just the two of us. 

The last three plus years have been full of adventure I wouldn’t have had without a habit of exercise and fitness.  Dropping the All or Nothing belief took nothing and changed everything.  If you are struggling with a new habit, maybe it’s time to change your rules in order to change your life.  You might check out the free site www.sparkpeople.com while you are at it. 

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