Shortly after being introduced to various NGO’s in Pune we met a bubbly young man who runs an own tourism business linked to wildlife photography and tiger tours together with his father Mr. Mahajan Senior who started the business. A website written in lush figurative speech invites anyone to come along and find the tiger in India. “You cannot know the feeling of seeing a tiger until you do” is all Mihir reveals. What I wonder – similar to Sven Riesbecks story: How do you decide at the age of 17 to dedicate your life to a particular passion? To find out more about tigers and the outdoors, I agreed to take Mihir up on the offer to ride the bicycle from Pune all the way to the coast of the Arabian Sea.
The Tour to Ladakh is my favorite of all of my Himalayan trips. The enchanting mountains devoid of any vegetation whatsoever, every now and then adorned by a sea of green, the sparkling blue lakes which put you in a trance, the crisp air and the warm Ladakhi people all make it an experience of a lifetime
What does not hit you like a truck is most dangerous
Sometimes we encounter the most inciting questions when least asking them. What I learnt this week: Sometimes I forget to ask myself new questions because of resting comfortably on newly reached shores. It tends to happen especially right after the impacting moment of putting behind the distance between Germany and India. I am content to have reached India by bike. To surprisingly discover again what Guts for Change is about through Mihir.
The following questions awoke:
- First, how can you feed of other people’s adventures and turn them into your own adventure, your motivation and own learning?
- Second, how can I successfully handle minor setbacks?
For answers I turned my focus to Mihirs mindset. Being excited and the ability of keeping up a certain level of excitement is the distinguishing factor when it comes to achieving goals. It helped me to think of keeping excitement up as a skill I can acquire, no magic, no personal talent. Let me show you in a little story what I mean.
Mihir himself surprised me with the news that he had picked up a “cycle” (Hindi for bike) right after the Darewadi Rally on the 14th of October. He liked it so much that his enthusiasms took him out of his bed early on 4 or 5 days that week. On the following Saturday he invited Thomas and me to cycle 40 Km to Lake Mulshi. After breakfast, amazing Aloo Paratha and the second 40 K’s we returned to Pune by 1 o’clock. Exhausted but happy we split apart joking about a cycle tour to the coast.
Guts For Change is exactly about that: Getting excited about something and adapting it to your life
Tuesday I got an text saying “How abt biking to the coast on Wednesday?” I liked the idea of seeing less crowded beaches than the usual Goa. So we met that same evening, discussed some of the things we would bring along. The idea was to travel light weight, bring only a mattrass to sleep on the sand and some extra clothing. And the usual quick fix up tool bag. An extra tube etc.
We set out the route to surpass the mountain guards west of Pune followed by the slope declines towards Mangaon and ending the ride through a hilly coast area towards Diveagar. Until that point the amount of Kilometers Mihir had cycled amounts to 150 Km for 5 days. They are his total. Now the claim was set out at 160 Km for a single day. “His day will be long” I thought and forgot that his day would also be my day.
Mihir turned out to be a great teacher to my mind set. Being not very trained for cycling, his caves rather small and formed like straight poles. His built rather bulky, not lean like a biker. It was obvious he was hurting and struggling through the ride and yet there was something that kept a tiring body alive. I think it were his thoughts which proved to be the fittest.
In the following I describe some of the mental techniques I believe to have observed. Naming them proposes a chance to act upon them
Did you ever catch your mind spinning in repeating circles? In endless fashion it then ponders the same issue over and over. “What if the results of my work will not be accepted, what if the crowd does not catch my joke at a presentation?” Sentences like those are a good teacher about why things often do not pan out the way we would like them to. But why repeat saying how beautiful the sun set is at the beach if there are still 30 Km ahead when Walt Disney taught us that “the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing”?
The reason is this: Emotional thinking has a greater effect on success in life than largely recognized. Leafing through the book Emotional Intelligence by Goleman there are different approaches to be found of how wide a definition of intelligence can range. What struck me as cool is how much the factor of knowing my own feelings and treating them makes the difference in creating better more favourable outcomes. Through talking we access our thoughts which in turn can guide our emotions.
It was around 5-6 p.m. and the sun was about to set. There was no way we could make it to the beach by sun down as we had originally planned. Still we kept cheering about how beautiful a sun down swim would be. And how rewarding the sand would crunch under our foot balms. What made Mihir keep going when we could just have stopped then? Is the positive and so often hyped optimism which annoys the heck out of me sometimes actually what successful minds are made of? We were sure about reaching the coast at some point.
On the other hand, the circles of our thoughts seldom spin around exclusively positive content. We hardly ever think “Man I can really punch that bag hard – I should slow down training or else I’ll become too good at this” or “This girl really likes me, I should take her on a date. How many babies will we make?” Or “This mountain is a cake walk. I should cycle down a bit just to make it really interesting”. You might object now that these thoughts belong to people who already know their success is certain in a particular field. What I mean in this case is that when facing adversities it is unlikely that these types of sentences occur in the mind.
Unlikely but not impossible. The reason why people say these silly things (listed above) is because they have come to know their thoughts as a tool to affect their emotions. And emotions affect how well our body operates. I think the word emotion stems from E (inner) and motions (the move of a thing). Which proves nothing. More interesting, fear or anxiety can disturb our thinking while being at ease “enhances the ability to think flexible and with more complexity” (Goleman 1996: 86). What to make of this? The choice lays indirectly within ourselves. Give up. Go on?
Mihir was no cyclist. He said so himself. But he wanted to achieve what in his vision was shaping up to be a great adventure. To him, merely reaching the coast was not it. Telling friends about that he had done it and receiving the respect for it made the hardship of endless kilometers in the dark worth the while. The mountains became a means to an end. According to Goleman, how well people envision an outcome and its rewards has a large say in their success. The central ability successful people master is to postpone gratification and exercise impulse control on themselves.
Every single cell in my body wants me to stop moving
What happens when facing the mountain? Our lungs whistle, thighs burn and a monologue starts. The mind can be a masters of conviction. It want the pains to end and our body to stop moving. To put things off and give in to a current state of mind suddenly makes sense. The current desire to give up is strong and the reward which attaining a future goal can offer fades away.
When the last kilometers got tough my mind came up with appealing alternatives like “oh well, sleeping at the side of the road is not such a bad thing after all”. While the plan was to reach the sand by sun set. The immediate desire created by the situation is to get off the bike and lay on the street under the warm moon light. Which we eventually did for 4 minutes. But shortly the original desire kicked the momentary desire from its physical prison and back on the bikes we were.
Maybe some people can envision the outcome of a project with more sensual richness. They hear the approving laughter when telling others about their achievements in a future conversation. Maybe in more rigid detail they can draw out all the benefits which achieving this particular goal will add to their life.
Re- emphasizing the possible
Having faith in your capabilities is a difference maker but when overused they just sound like a corny line in an American Movie. “You can do this you just have to believe in yourself” – Yeah right. Even if your quality has never been tested in a certain regard. To have never cycled 160 Km is a high aim especially when being aware of what 40 K’s feel like. Knowing that you can do it in the face of never having done it before is a skill. And a paradox. Because how can you know what you do not know?
The skill is rooted in biological potential which should in itself give reason for optimism. The human body has an enormous depth in terms of what it is capable of. We often don’t know it and seldom enjoy the luxury of testing it. Whether it is 72 continuous hours of dismounting a injured man from the K2 Mountain in Pakistan in snow and under malnourishment as described in the book Three Cups of Tea.
Emphasizing what you have accomplished until now is a good start. Maybe reminding yourself of the 30 Kilometers left behind is motivating to some. When it isn’t – there are always the negative approaches to make sure to keep on track.
Power of Numbers
Did the number 160 loom over Mihirs head? With Thomas in Iran and Pakistan, I had covered that distance no more than 10 times. 201 Km in one day is the most kilometers we have managed during our entire cycle tour from Berlin to India. The current world record holder in cycling the globe averaged 200 Miles per day. Which equals 322 Kilometers. With a smile I now remember Thomas asking me one day “the 300 Kilometers should be possible, or?”
With numbers it is similar as with mountains or shortage of food or drinking. Your mind has a chance to use those concepts in favor or against its succeeding. When 201 is all you see in front of you and your brain sends out chemicals which your mind calls excitement then you have managed to develop a technique to transfer a hurdle into a bridge.
We planned to reach the coast at sun set. In reality we reached the sand at around 11:30. The ocean was breathing our deep motivation of spending the night at the beach. Even though through the dense strip of jungle concealing the Arabic sea we could hear it inhaling us from 30 Kilometers away. At one point Mihir said he could smell the sea. I smelled and noticed no change. Was it a further trick to submerge the body to the last 10 K’s?
What to do with all this
The purpose of this article was to get an insight how other people manage their perception of reality. I have not proven that it is possible to alter one’s own perception of the outside world. However, what Golemans book on mind research suggests is the very same assumption. Like Maushai put it:
Burn your Totems. You are what you think you are!
What struck me about Mihir is is willingness to keep himself going and motivated when adversity seemed to face up. It interested me how much a postponed goal could motivate someone to cycle on. Also allowing momentary satisfaction with what was achieved and maintaining a positive tone all times. I was impressed. I could really tell that he was tired out of his ears. At one point he actually said his legs were not moving anymore. The nerves were sending signals but the muscles weren’t executing. He got off the bike. The moon shone bright. And we paused for a minute. Then we continued …
In case you like to Go Wild on Facebook here you can …