Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Stressed? Remember the Secret of the Bicycle

Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race -- Photo by Greg Conderacci

            Wanna be stress-free?
Sorry. Not possible. On the other hand, there are many ways to reduce stress.  I’m not talking about the stress that motivates us; I’m talking about the wasteful stress that just consumes energy and throws us off balance. 
You’ve heard many ways to fight this worthless stress: meditation, exercise, getting more sleep, single malt scotch…
            Here is one of my favorites that you may not have heard about: The Secret of the Bicycle.  I don’t mean riding a bicycle (which does work for me); I mean thinking like you’re riding a bicycle.
            In his great new book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman writes, “There are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier…. We are all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”
            Standing still on a bike is possible.  It’s called a “track stand,” because bicycle racers on a track use it as a tactic in some circumstances.  But it’s not easy.  And going backwards, which is some folks’ solution to stress, is almost impossible. Do that, and you’re asking for a fall. 
Yet, rolling right down the road…no problem. In fact, the faster you go, the more stable the bike. It’s called “dynamic stability.”  As Friedman points out, we don’t teach people this. But we should.
            What does this have to do with wasteful stress?  My argument is that a major source of stress is that we are not ready to go fast.
            A blogger buddy just shared a story of one of his friends who had to evacuate, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night in the path of the California wild fires.  He had almost no time to respond. Unimaginable stress. He lost almost everything.  His story is heartbreaking.
            And it reminded me of all the stressful “fire drills” I go through (on a much lower level, of course).  Why do I experience the worthless stress?  Because I am not ready to “go.”   I’m “off balance” because I didn’t take the time to prepare for a faster world.
            Most of the time, I can see the challenges coming at a distance – unlike the raging wild fire. I know when I have to go fast.  To use a homey bike metaphor, why didn’t I “pump up my tires and oil my chain”?  It would have made going fast so much easier…and less stressful.
            Often, the world offers a simple trade: spend a little time preparing and you get back a more productive, less stressful life.  It’s what the fast people do.
            When you need to go fast…will you be ready?

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