Category Archives: Random

Motivation: Push vs. Pull

Motivation is a tricky business. Getting yourself started when there are other priorities or when doing those things isn’t an attractive or easy notion can be the hardest part of getting something done. What has helped me when I wanted to motivate myself are the concepts of “Pull” and “Push”. The concepts transfer well to many situations and define a style of leadership as well as a personal motivational tool. Push is a command. Pull is an incentive. Between the two, I prefer “pull”.  There is nothing you can do that doesn’t include a little bit of both, but the style of pull is a style with positive connotations. The more you use “pull” the less demanding you are.


A reward for reaching your goal is both a good feeling and incentive to keep going!

In many ways, Push is easier. We are all self contained individuals and since we are all at the center of our own awareness and direct our own actions, it can be very easy to make demands of ourselves and others. That isn’t to say it’s always wrong to push. There are times when it is the only option. The mistake that so many people make is that they leap to it as their FIRST option.  Given any kind of authority, a measure of push is implied, but the drawback of push is that eventually there is resistance to push that can overwhelm you. In short, the more push you use, the more push you need to use.

Pull is a far more interesting concept. Pull is an incentive to act – a reward that feeds back on the person who is “pulled”.  This is a positive experience. It takes more planning, more trust in yourself and others, and more commitment to the goal when you use a “pull” style.  It doesn’t always work, but it does make achieving a goal different by emphasizing the reward. For pull to work, the reward has to be realistic. A goal that moves is not achievable, no matter what the incentives are.

Part of pull is creating good habits. Those include good management of time and a good attention to detail. If you have a good plan and follow it, the goal can pull you along. If you fail to keep to your plan, often the only way to get back on track is to push. Flexibility in planning and reaching a goal is important. The better the plan, the less push is required to reach your goal.

Commitment is important. Pull isn’t possible without it. Keep the goal in focus. Constant pushing can lead to avoidance, which is self defeating. If you’re constantly nagging yourself to do something, that task will take on a very negative connotation, and nobody likes to be pushed constantly or can consistently push themselves. There are times when you have to build a rest or a change into your plans. That is part of pull.

Push and pull are evident in how we interact with other people.  Everyone has a personal style that they’ve learned over their lifetime.  Part of that is the language and tone you choose when you talk to others. Good leaders pull. They share positives. They welcome input and ideas. That’s pull. Bad leaders push. They are not open to new ideas, and they lean on procedures. It’s said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses.   I think much of that has to do with the overuse of push!

Sometimes you need to push, but in my opinion, the best way to move yourself forward is to employ incentives and goals and pull yourself along.  Often the good feelings you generate by achieving goals will feed back and make continuing that good behavior easier!

Slaying Dragons

Great narratives require obstacles and challenges.  We are all the heroes of our personal stories, and our lives are journeys that present us with problems and choices. I find myself thinking about choices, and the metaphor that occurs to me when I think of obstacles or goals is the dragon. As a metaphor, the dragon we picture from legend and story is  a powerful and dangerous thing. Dragons represent all kinds of things that have to be overcome as a part of the larger story that each of us are living through. Dragons are fearsome creatures. They embody raw power, and they inspire great fear. As the hero of your personal narrative, you have to overcome dragons to advance your story. When thinking about problems and goals, there are parallels to be drawn with these legendary monsters and real life problems. Metaphorical dragons can be found all around you. Choosing to confront a dragon is how a hero grows. Some dragons we must face in life, and some we choose to face, but dragons exist to challenge you. No matter what kind of dragon confronts you, there are things about dragons (and problems or challenges) that you must remember.


Dragons should not be ignored.
It’s out there. You can feel it. It might make you nervous or tense or anxious or even fearful. You recognize that something is waiting for you. It may even be a small or trivial thing, but it is a dragon. Once you know that a dragon is lurking, you have to recognize the dragon. They have a way of growing larger and more powerful if you ignore them. They consume resources. That dragon occupies your metaphorical space. If you ignore it, fear of the dragon can cause you to freeze or stagnate. There are many problems that only grow more complicated if you ignore them, or if you delay the journey to face them. As they grow, dragons only become harder to defeat. Problems have a way of growing if you don’t face them, and challenges ignored may become harder to face and overcome if you don’t recognize their nature.

Dragons test your resolve.
You know the dragon is there, and now you have to cope with it. Dragons are fearsome things. They have great claws and teeth. They fly and they breathe fire. Will you be able to overcome the dragon? There comes a point when you must make a decision. Dragons are stubborn and malicious. Confronting a dragon is a test. It can occur on many levels, because dragons come in all sizes. Dragons are things you don’t want to face, because facing them requires focus and effort and the character to accept the task of slaying them. Dragons test your resolve. Whether small or large, that dragon is a problem that won’t go away until you face it. The decision to face the dragon is a tipping point. Resolving to face the problem and fight the dragon is important. It may be a matter of responsibility, a matter of pride, or a matter of choice. Once you resolve to fight a dragon, a journey begins. That could be an exotic journey of discovery or a well known and well worn path, but you have to commit to traveling on it.

Dragons require a plan to face.
Dragons are formidable. Once you have committed to facing the dragon, you need the strength and skill to overcome the dragon. Facing a dragon unprepared is unwise. You need tools to defeat them, your metaphorical armor, shield and sword. You must learn how to use these tools. You need to know how to approach the dragon’s lair, and you must learn the weakness of the dragon. Every dragon of legend has a weak spot. As the hero you can overcome the dragon by your strength, your skill, your planning, and your knowledge. A journey is often required to gain the strength, skill and knowledge needed to slay the dragon. Heroes must learn and grow. The price of gaining knowledge is facing the dragon at the end of the journey.

Dragons hoard treasure.
There is a reward for slaying dragons. When the dragon is slain the dragon’s treasure belongs to you. Each dragon you face, big or small, guards a treasure proportionate to its size and power. As you face ever larger and more powerful dragons, you gain confidence and experience. You become more competent. The treasures you gain may be in the form of joy, relief, satisfaction or contentment, and sometimes even material gains. The dragon’s treasure makes the quest to slay the dragon worthwhile. You can’t receive the treasure without facing the difficult task of confronting a dragon. No treasure worth having is unguarded. You need to slay the dragon to appreciate the treasure you receive. Something you get for free is far less valuable than something you had to work for and overcome a dragon to possess.

Dragons in this context are metaphors for all kinds of tasks and goals. Your life is a narrative, and you are the hero of your own tale. The meaning of your life is bound up in the obstacles you have to overcome. Great narratives require obstacles and challenges. These are the dragons we must slay.  You get to choose the dragons you challenge. Part of that requires knowing yourself. What do you really want? That is a difficult question that will identify the dragon you choose to face.

The Joys of Autumn

My favorite season just may be autumn.  Autumn is the time of year that is perfect for getting outside. The start of September is the unofficial beginning, though Autumn officially begins 3 weeks into September, and as I write this, my calendar says Autumn is now official. I thought I’d list a few of the things that I look forward to as the season changes.

Cycling. This is “Century Season” for me, when event rides are commonly held. Autumn is when the combination of riding conditions and rider conditioning are the best. Riders like myself have spent the spring getting themselves into condition, and summer training in the heat. Summer rides tend to start early to keep you out of the heat. When the weather cools and the sun gets up later in the morning, the rides start a little later, and feel much more relaxed.  It’s still comfortable to ride without extra layers of clothing into November here. It feels great to ride in comfort.  After I ride my events, I’m still in good condition to ride. I can find my favorite local rides, include friends, and ride “for the soul”. Soul riding is important to me. I can enjoy the scenery more; I can take in the sights and smells of autumn, and share it in comfort with good friends.  If I want to go fast, it’s entirely on the spur of the moment. What I want is the pure enjoyment of cycling.  I remember Autumn rides more often than rides in any other season.

Beer.  I’ve been known to seek out a good brew and share with friends. (I do not drink alone. That is important.  Drinking to drink is not enjoyable to me.) Post ride beer has become a kind of tradition among my friends and I. Autumn seasonal brews are my favorites. he flavors come to the fore. The hoppy IPAs of summer give way to toasted malts, with richer and darker seasonal varieties.  In autumn, the brews tend to get more malty and dark and complex. They include ales and porters that agree with my palate. Even the trend to “pumpkin” ales isn’t a bad thing; if you find a good one, they can be a good change of pace. However, the “Octoberfest” traditions create the kinds of beer I look forward to.  Brew pubs are flush with dark and creamy varieties that don’t have a hoppy sting.  There are new beers to try and enjoy and pass around. Autumn and beer are a great combination.

Produce. Fall harvest produce is wonderful. Combined with the cool temperatures that make spending time in the kitchen less of a concern, autumn seasonal produce creates a new burst of flavors and colors and enjoyable mealtimes.

Whether cycling or walking or driving, autumn is the most interesting time of year. Regardless of where you are and what you’re doing, there is always something to see. While winter must eventually arrive and chase away this brief, colorful and enjoyable season, I treasure autumn days.

Cold and quiet time

It’s a mid January Sunday, 2018.  A little after 10am. It’s 18 degrees outside my windows.  I’ve already finished my daily workout. Arsenal and Bournemouth are finishing a game in the background as I write this. (Bournemouth won 2-1. David has beaten Goliath today.) I’ve run out of household jobs to do. If this were a perfect day (That is to say warm enough to ride any respectable distance even when wearing all the heavy bike clothing I have available to me), I’d be miles away on my bicycle.

So writing is my refuge for the moment. I’ll go to the bookstore and find something new to read perhaps, or I’ll get out for a walk later, but what my heart would have me do is not the least bit comfortable in sub freezing temperatures. Being single, I don’t have anyone else to make claims on my time. I don’t see that as a disadvantage. I’m not necessarily quiet, but I have some fairly quiet habits. People all over on this cold day have the same problems that I do.  So I’m even done paying bills, and I’m thinking about what else to do, and I’m happy that I’m in a place in my life where my biggest worry is what to write today.

I’ve got a little bike maintenance I can do, but what I really need to do is take my bike to the shop and get a yearly service.  I’ll get the cables replaced, re-tape the bars, get the drivetrain adjusted, and probably replace the chain.  For now, here at home, the best I can do is keep the bike clean and the drivetrain in good condition. It’s days like this that make me think of things to do.  Chores get put off when the weather allows me to be more active. So this is the kind of cold, antiseptic day that makes chores interesting.


Another year, another set of resolutions. It’s very cold outside on New Year’s Day, and despite this, I’ve already started thinking about resolutions. Yes, they involve cycling. That’s because it has a direct effect on my health. The older I get, the more I think that the time I spend on the road cycling with my friends is an investment in a long and healthy life.  As it is, I’m working out in the gym, but eventually the thaw will come, and I’ll be back on the roads, where I feel the most free.

Since life is a precious thing, I’m going to do what I can to improve the quality of my life. So my goal is to continue to ride and celebrate with my cycling friends.  I’d also like to ride at least half a dozen Century rides – and I’m already signed up for the first of them! I’m also going to see if I can find a ride that I haven’t done before to try out this year.

These are modest goals, but they’re achievable, and they’re things I believe in. They’re the kinds of resolutions that make sense to me, and they’re an integral part of the quality of life that I look for.  2018 will be another joyful year if I keep them.

Quality of Life

As I write this, I’ve been unable to ride for nearly two weeks. My last substantial ride was the 6 Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland last week. It was a great ride, despite what I would describe as a lack of good preparation. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when your mind is in trim.  Having done that, the following Tuesday I went in for surgery on my deviated septum.

In the end, I had my sinuses opened, my septum straightened, and a benign blockage removed. Breathing hasn’t been my strong suit for years. Despite the pain, as soon as the swelling started to go down, I began to breathe better.  I sleep better.  I’m sure that as soon as I’m cleared to cycle again, and I regain some of the form I’ve lost, I’ll cycle better as a result.

I’ve been dealing with my poor airflow for a long time, and I didn’t have to. I made a decision for my quality of life.  Even though I’m not nearly healed yet, I already feel better. I can tell the difference, and I’m told that things will only get better still.  If you have to make a choice that can improve your quality of life, it’s certainly worth doing.

It’s the only life you get.  Do what you can to make the most of it.

A Morning Pause

I just finished a workout in the little gym where I live.  It’s still early, and before I left for the gym I turned on the coffee maker. It’s my reward for suffering before the sun rises.

Despite the aerobic workouts I can still afford to lose weight and get in better condition.  It’s not that I’m a lost cause, but like most people there is a gap between what I look like and what I’d prefer to look like.  So if I can’t get out and ride, I get into the gym and fight against the forces of age and complacency.

The real benefit of working out is getting home and taking a moment to drink a cup of coffee or two.  On a nice morning like this it feels like a luxury. The workout is complete; I have plenty of time to get out the door and over to my office, and this time in between belongs to me.

I’m sure everyone has a point in their day that they can look forward to.  Some people are clever enough to actually plan time to pause and soak in the quiet.  For me this time just popped up as a result of the need to find workout time. I can think back to a lot of moments like this. They all share the same things.  The stillness, the quiet and the feeling of being in the now.  Time won’t matter for a little while. Until it intrudes, I can bask in the stillness.

In Defense of Bad Coffee

I admit this freely – I’m a connoisseur of bad coffee. Something about bad coffee stirs my imagination. Something in the stinging shock and realization implied in the phrase “Dear GOD, what am I drinking!?” speaks to the awesome power of bad coffee, particularly when it’s a phrase that you’ve repeated many times over the course of your life. I’ve had so much bad coffee that I’ve begun to appreciate it.  Make no mistake, I’ve had good coffee too. I appreciate good coffee, but there is something about bad coffee that fires the imagination at the same time that it assaults your taste buds. There is an entire culture built around bad coffee, and in response, the clamor for good coffee has created marketing opportunities as well. However, these are entirely different things, and without bad coffee, there would be no market for good coffee.  I think a celebration of bad coffee is long overdue. In this fast paced, overworked, sleep deprived culture that we live in, bad coffee keeps society moving.

We all know what good coffee is. Good coffee is an experience. You seek it out with delight. It can be made at home, according to your own exacting standards. It can also be made by highly skilled and cheerful young men and women whose skill turns a bitter caffeinated beverage into something sublime. Good coffee is a subtle balance of factors and flavors, lovingly blended into a taste worthy of calling an “experience”.  It has taste, presentation, and even anticipation going for it. Good coffee takes TIME. When you have good coffee, the world awakens around you. You don’t mind waiting for good coffee. Or paying a higher price for it. Good coffee is the stuff of dreams.

So let us ignore good coffee and extoll the virtues of bad coffee. Now I know that there are people who will tell you that there are no virtues associated with bad coffee – but I’m here to tell you they’re wrong. Bad coffee does have virtue, you simply need to be in the right frame of mind to recognize it. The universal truth about bad coffee is that bad coffee is cheap, simple to brew, available immediately when you need it, is hot, distracts you from dealing with other problems, and best of all, will keep you alert and functional.  Bad coffee has drawbacks, and most people can name one or two without thinking too much, but bad coffee serves a purpose. In many ways, it’s like a bad drug.  You know the long term effects are dangerous, but you don’t particularly care about that when your need is prodding you RIGHT NOW.  Bad coffee isn’t inspiring.  It won’t move you. It will get you moving though.  That can be a virtue.

Bad coffee can be found almost anywhere.  Convenience stores, gas stations, diners, the continental breakfast at affordable hotels, and even in some places where drinking bad coffee is counter intuitive, such as most kinds of waiting rooms. It is supplied in many businesses as a courtesy to the employees, and is always the kind of coffee dispensed from public vending machines. You cannot get good coffee from a public vending machine. It simply isn’t possible, for reasons that will become apparent as we explore the topic.

It is widely known that bad coffee, shared among friends in the right conditions, doesn’t actually feel like it’s BAD.  Particularly if you don’t know the difference between a really good cup of coffee and a bad one. However, the key point in this situation is that the focus is on the friends and conditions, which distracts the drinker from the realization that the coffee is in fact bad.  This might be the only time when bad coffee and good coffee have overlapping experiences.  However, the realities of bad coffee will always apply – it is hot, cheap, simple and immediate.  Bad coffee can be sophistication for people who lack the time and resources to be truly sophisticated.  That is a wonderful thing, and I applaud it.

Putting that aside, bad coffee can be defined as a virtual need. Bad coffee does not require context like good coffee does. Bad coffee hits you like a lead pipe to the back of your head and makes you alert. Bad coffee transitions you from a sleep deprived, fatigued and potentially dangerous individual to a functional individual. (Though perhaps with a few uncontrollable tics or twitches that are usually just harmless side effects. Your experience may vary.)

Good coffee requires care in preparation.  Bad coffee just seems to happen to you.  It is prepared quickly, often in large quantities. You can add sugar or milk or creamer to it.  Often the creamer is powdered. Usually that doesn’t matter though.  The intent of bad coffee additives is not necessarily to add flavors; in fact many purveyors of bad coffee provide flavored creamer for just that reason, but that isn’t important. Bad coffee additives are there to make bad coffee drinkable to each individual. Bad coffee is dangerous in its unaltered form. Even decaf.  Most people use these taste buffering additives to personalize the cruel shock that they’re actually looking for when they seek out bad coffee. It is sometimes offered in a way that gives you choices other than simply regular or decaf, but in the end no matter what flavors are bound up in the beans and the brewing, no matter where bad coffee is sourced from, the effect is the same, because the process of delivering it to the consumer is similar.  Coffee that is delivered with care is done where maintenance and care actually HAPPEN.  Not so with bad coffee.  Speed requires shortcuts.  Cleaning drip baskets or carafes takes time. Time that isn’t available to the consumer of bad coffee, and to keep up with demand, the tar buildup in bad coffee delivery systems is often extreme. This is why you can’t get good coffee from a public vending machine.  Bad coffee is quick. It includes various things that won’t be delivered with good coffee due to speed, including whatever falls from the beard of the guy preparing it into the filter before the coffee is brewed.  Bad coffee is not for the weak.

Bad coffee is certainly corrosive to the digestive tract, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were found to be corrosive to everything else as well. Most bad coffee comes in paper or Styrofoam cups for convenience. (Remember –cheap, fast and hot are the benefits.) When cooled, bad coffee will leave a ring of sludge in the cup. (Probably in your esophagus as well.) This leads me to believe that in time, bad coffee would dissolve a paper cup. This is why it is stored in more durable containers that are highly corrosion resistant, such as ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Thankfully the benefit of bad coffee is such that you’ll finish the coffee before the coffee can destroy a paper cup.

What bad coffee will do for you is get you moving when nothing else will.  It will keep you alert when you need to be alert. It will do so quickly and cheaply. Who could ask for more?  I have a variety of ratings for bad coffee, from the highly rated selections in the unfortunately named Wawa convenience stores, to the extremely bad offerings in waiting areas at tire shops.  They’re all bad, but they all fill a need.

So the next time you finish a cup of coffee, purchased in haste, which renewed your will to live while mugging your taste buds and scouring your esophagus, and think “what an awful cup of coffee” please remember to smile.  That bad coffee just did exactly what it was intended to do. Don’t forget to appreciate it.