5 min read

From Pedals to Post-its

From Pedals to Post-its

"What an accomplishment," "You must be proud of yourself," were the reactions I received after people heard that I cycled from Stockholm to Rotterdam. Yes, I am proud of myself, but the paradox of this adventure is that I find life here in my own cozy apartment much more complicated on a day-to-day basis than on the bike. I feel more restless at home. I've been back for almost a month now, and it's time for some reflection. What did I learn on the bike that I want to translate to daily life, and where does this restlessness come from?

My own analysis is that two major factors are at play when it comes to feeling restless:

1. I want to feel useful.

Currently, I'm not working. I've given myself time to think about my next steps. It is a luxury that I was able to afford through savings. Questions like "What do you do all day?" or "You have all the time in the world now, don't you?" are triggers every time. I'm realising that I've tied a part of my self-worth to the work I do and the income I generate. The irony is that even now when writing this blog, I feel the need to explain that I do spend my days productively, but that's not the point. I don't have to make my days productive, nor do I need to justify myself; this is my contemplative time. This need won't be resolved in a blink of an eye; it's a deep-seated belief. However, by becoming aware of it, I can play with it. This week, I started sticking three tasks I want to accomplish each day on post-its on the refrigerator. For the last couple of days it has been writing, doing yoga and researching my next trip. When I complete them, I move them from left to right. It's as easy as it gets – a tip from Celine Charlotte – but it ensures that I do the things I find most important at the moment and can relax better when those tasks are done.

Note to self: I'll also think about how to set up a 'contemplation experiment' for myself.

2. The abundance of choices.

On the bike, I had a simple routine: I woke up in my tent, had a moment for myself, packed up, had my overnight oats for breakfast, put on one of the two cycling outfits, and went cycling. Cycling alternated with eating until I needed to find a new place to camp (the only time I had to think a bit longer about a choice), and then I set up camp again. It was almost a Spartan routine, but I now realise it gave me a lot of peace. Having few possessions, making few choices in a day, and simply knowing which direction to go in made the flow easy. Now there are limitless opportunities again, but it comes with an overload of choices. Don't get me wrong, these are often fun and luxurious choices – people to see, things to do, clothes to wear, food to prepare in various ways. However, I now notice that these choices also lead to restlessness. There has been a lot of research on the impact of choices on happiness and, for example, on purchases, and it often turns out that people with too many choices, choice overload, are less satisfied. [1]

What are the positive and practical lessons I learned and wanted to bring with me:

Being outdoors more.

Being in nature for almost 24 hours a day was wonderful, of course there were exceptions, because I wouldn't describe cycling for hours in the rain as wonderful, but the fresh air, the sun on your face, the birds, and the green of the trees had a noticeably positive and calming effect. Obviously, I'm outdoors less than I was, but I consciously try to spend more time outside. Every time I have a full head, going outside and taking a walk makes me feel better afterwards.

Note to self: keep doing this!

Being kind to people, also to those you don't know (well).

What stuck with me the most from the trip is how kind people were and the impact it had on my experience. As I also wrote in the blog about giving and receiving, I am convinced that happiness then spreads through the ripple effect. How does that work now that I'm back in Rotterdam, where the crowd is anonymous to each other? I say hello to people on the street more often – this might sound logical, but it's not in the city. Try it yourself and you'll be surprised how uncommon it actually is. If one of the neighbours asks for help or seems to need it, I make time for that, and I try to express my gratitude more to the people close to me. But there is still room for improvement here, maybe strike up a conversation with the old man on the corner of the street or surprise a stranger with a kind gesture.

Being more in the moment and observing what's happening around you.

It was in these simple moments that I could experience pure happiness. I try to create these moments throughout the day now. A coffee on the balcony, a dance in the living room, or cuddling with Sebas or with Vlekje (the dog). Focusing on one thing, in the here and now. To be honest, I often find myself doing 100 things at once. Sometimes, I walk into the living room to grab something, get distracted by an open door, and end up starting the laundry and forgetting what I initially was going to the living room for. As I write this, I think, "Yes, obviously this creates restlessness," it opens tabs in the background of your mind which remind you of what you still need to do.

The gift of introspection

When I was thinking about a new weekly blog topic - yes I want to write weekly! - I checked in with myself. I experienced this restlessness and by sitting down and writing, analysing where it comes from, I can now draw lessons from it. If I translate this into practical tips that I will apply or continue to apply:

  1. Choose three tasks per day and make them visible. Not only will this enhance the feeling of usefulness, but it will also reduce my choices and increase focus.
  2. When your mind is busy, go outside, take a walk, ride a bike, go horseback riding.
  3. Create enough moments where you are consciously engaged in an action, smile, and share your happiness with others.

I'm now making this agreement with myself again, if I could sign this blogpost I would have done it, and who knows, it might inspire you today to take a closer look at what makes you feel good and how you can incorporate that into your daily life.

Cuddling with Vlekje in the moment on our small little balcony