Believing vs. Deciding by Marc Purslow

As a child I learned that while “talent,” and opportunity can reduce the effort necessary to attain a goal, they are not requirements. Later in life I learned that while hard work can get you there, real breakthroughs require absolute commitment. Believing you can makes your goal an option. Deciding you will makes your goal a commitment.  I have experienced this phenomenon many times, and no example illustrates the concept better than a grand prix motorcycle road race I competed in at the Grattan Speedway in 2011.

After road racing motorcycles for four years, I decided I would win a national championship. In the first half of the season I focused on all the aspects of my riding which needed improvement: my technique, strategy, fitness, and mental concentration. I became faster and secured the championship points lead, but hadn’t achieved the breakthrough I was looking for. When I arrived at the Grattan Speedway I learned that a fast local racer was in attendance, all but guaranteeing that I wouldn’t win. In the practice sessions my pace was respectable, but I was four seconds per lap slower than him. At an average speed of 100 miles per hour, this difference in pace meant that the gap between us would increase by almost 600 feet per lap, and by the end of the eight lap race would grow to 4,700 feet!

I approached the first race focused on minimizing the damage to my lead in the championship, mentally committing to defeat. As I predicted, I crossed the finish line nearly a mile behind the leader. The next day just before the second race began, I felt a surge of genuine confidence and blurted out to my team-mate, “I’m going to win.” He looked back at me and said “do it.” I didn’t just think I could win, I decided. The flag dropped and I was the racer I always wanted to be; confident, decisive, and fast. I finished less than 4 feet behind the leader, dropped a full 4 seconds off my lap times, and narrowly missed breaking the lap record! While I didn’t actually win, the lesson here is clear: There is a huge difference between saying “I think I can” and saying “I will.” After this event I went on to win multiple races, post multiple fastest laps, and win the 2011 AHRMA National Championship.

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© 2015 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Doing Something New - Part 3: Lose the "But!" by Marc Purslow

In my previous blog post Doing Something New - Part 2: Why You Should Love to Fail, I discussed the difference between failure and disinterest, and stated that when we mistake failure for disinterest we risk dealing an unnecessary blow to our self-esteem. Creating a life consisting only of things we are truly interested in is a worthy goal; however, it may be challenging to eliminate some things we’d rather avoid doing (shoveling snow, paying utility bills, etc). That said, most people don’t significantly link their self-worth with such things. Usually, the things that affect us are “bigger,” such as our work, relationships, and other significant activities.

But wouldn’t we know if we weren’t interested in doing something? Wouldn’t it be obvious? Maybe not. A whole host of influences can “drive” us towards something that may not be our true interest, while simultaneously fooling us into believing that we’ve been behind the wheel the whole time. The real or perceived opinions of our family, peers, and society as a whole can be quite powerful and can often feel like a hard set of rules. When we view these “rules” as a framework within which we must operate, we can significantly limit our options – and we may not even be aware that we’re doing it! We may then forget that there are other things outside of our “framework.” This can become a real problem when that’s where one or more of our true desires lives.

Consider this example: At a young age Jake was “directed” towards being a doctor by his parents and siblings who were all doctors. As a result, the medical profession became Jake’s framework. Jake chose pediatrics, thinking it was his choice entirely. But here’s the catch: deep down, Jake didn’t want to be a doctor. He wanted to be a musician.  Jake tried hard to get through medical school, but it was against the grain of his true desire, so he never benefited from the unwavering motivation that passion creates. Jake felt depressed, unfulfilled, and confused because he thought he wanted to be a doctor. Because Jake’s framework was so engrained, he wasn’t consciously aware that he didn’t.

So how do we “trick” ourselves into thinking outside of our framework? Here’s an exercise called Lose the "But!” which can help:

  1. List 3 things you’d love to do that you think are impossible on a sheet of paper in this format:
    I want to (write the “crazy” idea here) but (write the reason it would never work here).
    To make step 2 easier, make sure you put all the “buts” in the same horizontal location. The goal is to keep all your ideas on the left side and all the "buts" on the right side. Click here for a printable page.
  2. Fold the sheet of paper in half vertically, just to the left of the “buts” and cut it in half along the folded line. Put the right half away - it will be useful later.
  3. Hang your “No Buts” list somewhere that you will see it often.

This list should give you a glimpse of the things you want to do, even if they don’t fit within your current framework. Seeing these things in writing often will help them “soak in,” and after time you will stop seeing them as unreachable. But hold on! As much as we’d like to, we can’t just ignore the “buts.” Once your list doesn’t seem so crazy, and you feel courageous enough to give one of your ideas a go, you need to come up with a plan. In Doing Something New – Part 1: Believing in the Future You, I outline a method by which you can use precedence to create a focused approach to eliminating the "but(s)."

I use the Lose the "But!” method often, and writing it out in the way I’ve described really helps expedite the process. It’s how I convinced myself I could win motorcycle races, become a motivational speaker for kids, and ride my bicycle across the country!

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© 2015 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Doing Something New - Part 2: Why You Should Love to Fail by Marc Purslow

I first learned to love failure through skateboarding. To be a great skater you have to be willing to fall, and to fall a lot. Even the most skilled skaters fall. The harder the trick, the harder the fall is likely to be. Another interesting thing is that aborting a trick often results in a more painful fall than if you completely committed. In many cases there is no way to perform a trick without serious risk of falling, so total commitment in the face of near certain failure is key. Here’s the interesting part: Skateboarders respect fellow skaters who fall hard and keep trying. Consciously or subconsciously, they recognize that a hard fall is usually the result of total commitment, and that commitment is something to be respected. Looking back on my many years of skating, I can remember countless times where I repeatedly fell hard and never actually landed the trick, but felt great satisfaction nonetheless. In fact, I actually enjoyed falling regardless of countless cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Was I crazy? Did I like hurting myself? No, I just intuitively understood that commitment is something to be proud of, regardless of the outcome.

It’s important to note the difference between failure with commitment and failure without commitment. It’s equally important to recognize the difference between failure and disinterest. I recently gave a talk to a group of high school students and asked for an example of a time they had failed. One student raised her hand and said “I failed at running.” She explained that she was required to run in gym class and that every time the teacher would turn his back, she would stop running and walk. When he turned around, she would resume running. She explained that since she wasn’t trying to improve as a runner, she had failed. I then asked her “do you want to become a better runner?” As I suspected, she didn’t. This is not failure, this is disinterest. When we mistake disinterest for failure, we do ourselves a disservice and risk dealing a crippling blow to our self-esteem. Few people truly excel at things that don’t interest them. When you don’t achieve a goal, it’s important to differentiate between disinterest and failure, and to be honest about whether you really gave it your all. You can do this by asking yourself a few questions, and answering them honestly.

failure flow.png

Most of us see failure as a bad thing, as something to avoid at all costs; however, per our new line of thinking, we can attach a new meaning which serves us better and builds us up instead of tearing us down. We can develop this new meaning by recognizing that failure means that
   • You committed
   • You were brave
   • You tried do something difficult
   • You’ll probably do it better next time

By combining these statements, we can now state that when you fail, you are a brave person who committed to learning to do something difficult. This sounds pretty good to me, and certainly sounds like something to be proud of. Now when you fail hold your head high, because failure due to commitment is worthy of respect.

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© 2015 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Doing Something New - Part 1: Believing in the Future You by Marc Purslow

We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to doing something new, difficult, or adventurous. We are often adept at listing scores of reasons not to try; I’m too old, I’m not talented enough, I don’t have time or money, etc. When it comes down to it, these are derivatives of three fundamental and common excuses:

1.  I don’t believe in myself.

2. I’m afraid to fail.

3. I don’t really want it.

Here we’ll talk about fundamental excuse #1. I’m hardly unique for thinking that self-belief is important. That much is considered common sense. But simply saying you should believe in your self is like saying you should just start being happier just because I said so. The question here is “what/who exactly are you believing in?” If you’ve done things you’re proud of, this may be less of a problem - your life experience has shown you that you are someone who deserves to be believed in. But what if you want to do something that’s completely beyond your current abilities, or worse yet, what if you’ve never done anything you’re proud of? While I would argue that the latter is more a matter of one’s own negative self-perception or an overly self-critical evaluation, we need to be able to believe in our own potential. I prefer to use the term “The Future You.”

To an incredible degree, you can either empower the Future You to do great things, or to set up a roadblock every bit as effective as a brick wall. Your brain is an amazing thing, and when it’s on your “side,” it can make some pretty incredible things happen. The opposite is also true. So how do you get your own brain on your side? Easy – you tell it who the future you is and what he or she can do. OK, maybe it isn’t quite that easy. You need some sort of plan and you need to do some work, but compared to getting your brain on your side, those are just details. But to get your brain on your side, you need to believe completely in the Future You. One way to do this is to determine if there is any precedent for what you want to do. If someone has done it before then in most cases so can you.  

Here’s a technique I use. I think of a person that has done the thing I want to do. I then make a list of all the ways we are the same and a list of all the ways that we are different. I then look at the list of the ways in which we are different and ask myself two questions. First, is this an important difference? If not, I cross it off. Second, I ask “how I can overcome the difference?” Can I train harder, work smarter, or come up with a different solution? This is where you need to become a creative problem solver. I then come up with a plan on how to cross these things off the “different” list and decide that there’s no reason I can’t do the same.

A great example of using a precedent to decide that you can do something is the “Kill the Bear” scene in the movie The Edge If you haven’t seen the movie, all you need to know is that Anthony Hopkin’s character has used precedent to decide what’s possible, and persuades Alec Baldwin to believe the same. When I fall into a moment of self-doubt, I say out loud “what one man can do, another can do” to remind myself to believe in the Future Me.

In a future post I’ll talk about fundamental excuse #2 and will describe why you should love to fail.

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© 2015 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

How Do You Roll? by Marc Purslow

When I was a teenager I lived off Cool Ranch Doritos, Twizzlers, and grape soda, and made my fair share of bad life choices. In my late 20s I started to make some changes towards being a healthier, more balanced person. As I saw the results of these changes I became motivated to do more. In my early 30s I made the jump to full-on veganism. This change was inspired by both my reading of The China Study, which discussed the numerous long-term health benefits of a vegan diet, and my desire to stay as lean and strong as possible for motorcycle racing. In the years since, I have noticed an astounding change in my overall health, energy, outlook, and the way I take care of myself in general. Many people ask me about my plant-based diet and state that it must take a lot of willpower to resist the temptation of unhealthy food. The truth is that after enough time passed, it stopped taking any effort at all. I explain this phenomenon by something that I call the “Take Care of Yourself" Pyramid.

The idea is this: Whatever side of the pyramid you are on, the path of least resistance is to continue rolling down that incline. To get to the other side, you need roll uphill (do work) first. If you drink a lot of alcohol, eat poorly, and smoke, it’s easier to keep doing those things than to stop. This is why it typically takes something major (such as a health scare) to motivate a change. You have developed the habit, it feels natural, and this lifestyle now has momentum. Changing is hard because you have to “roll uphill.”

But here’s the good news: the same is true for the “healthy” side of the pyramid! If you develop a habit of healthy behavior, this lifestyle will also have momentum. Being healthy will then be easier than being unhealthy!  When you’re on the healthy side of the pyramid, rolling downhill is good, because it brings you farther to the healthy side of things. Once you’re rolling down the healthy side, there are few motivators that will cause you to do the “work” required to get back over to the unhealthy side. It’s not that such motivators don’t exist, but they certainly seem to be less effective than the analogous motivators from the unhealthy side (heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, etc.).

The pyramid illustrates another important concept; you need to change enough so you start rolling the other way if you want it to stop feeling like work. If you cut down from a pack of cigarettes a day to half a pack, you will undoubtedly be making a positive change, but you may have only rolled part way up the incline. It will take you constant “work” to stay higher up the incline than you were before, so you’ll always want to go back to that full pack and you’ll always feel like you’re sacrificing something. If you quit entirely and start to see the benefits of not smoking on your health, not many motivators will have the power to make you go back.

A final thought: The farther you go down one side of the incline, the more work you have to do to change it. This works against you on the “unhealthy” side, and for you (assuming that you want to be healthier) on the healthy side. The healthier you become, the easier it will be to stay that way!

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© 2015 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

But I worked hard to be here! by Marc Purslow

Few people climb to the peak of a mountain to remain there, and few come back down the mountain and say it was a waste of time because they’re back where they started. We understand that the point of the climb is the hike, the view, and the satisfaction of getting to the top. The experience makes us better, and we know that once we’ve reached our goal, we can move on to something else that excites us. So why don’t we take the same approach to our careers? Many people remain at a job simply because they worked hard to get it, whether they still want to be there or not. When we continue to do something we aren’t passionate about out of habit or fear of the unknown, we become unmotivated, frustrated, and even depressed. When this is the case, it’s time to take a leap and go climb another mountain.

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Where are All the Blogs?! by Marc Purslow

OK, so I’ve really been slacking on the blogs. In my defense I’ve been a bit busy. I’m not sure where to begin. This ride was by far the most difficult, satisfying, completely bewildering, soul-testing, grit-affirming, and inspiring thing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think my words will suffice but I’ll do my best.

Every day seemed like a week. It was as if my mind couldn’t understand how so many memorable happenings could be crammed into 1 day, so time was stretched like taffy in my memory. Many nights I couldn’t remember the beginning of the day or even what town I started in. Day one feels like years ago, and my memories feel like déjà vu. Without pictures I may not even believe it all actually happened. A hurricane and endless climbs in Maine, hundreds of miles of dirt and gravel roads in Missouri, hail storms in Arizona, a sand storm in California, packs of dogs giving chase in New Mexico, 105 degree heat in the desert, momentum-killing headwinds throughout the Midwest, and tagged by a truck as I looked upon the Pacific coast for the first time. Looking back all I can do is smile. It was a battle – every day. I felt like a machine. I was alone, but never alone. Everyday my family and friends pushed me along. I feel closer to the people who cared, who prayed, who hoped with me that this crazy “plan” would work. Even now I have a hard time believing that it did. When I threw leg over my bike that first day in Bar Harbor, Maine, I had NO IDEA what I was in for. In many ways I feel like a different person, like an unlocked version of myself. My heart feels different - bigger than before, and the world feels more open.

In the last week, people have been asking me for the #1 lesson from this journey. The answer is that it was all mental. I was amazed by what my body could do with “permission” from my mind. Riding a loaded bike alone for 8 to 12 hours every day sounds insane, until you decide it isn’t. How many things that we decide are a huge deal are only a huge deal in our minds? I argue that the answer is almost anything. For me this ride wasn’t just about riding a bike, it was a way to unlock my mind. A way to, in the words of life coach Tim Brownson, “Get Unstuck.” It was a way to fully realize that I alone determine what is possible, and that I alone dictate the path of my life. We are all immensely powerful once we believe it.

Be Relentless

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Be Relentless! by Marc Purslow

In the beginning stages of my quest to cycle cross-country to raise money for ASAS Ohio, I realized that one single trait will make the difference between success and failure. I must be relentless. Relentless in the face of all external and internal factors which could discourage me, knock me off course, or make me believe that it isn’t possible. I must go head-to-head with anything that gets in my way and keep pushing forward no matter how slow or difficult it may be for the time being. Flat tires, bent wheels, endless hills, wind, rain, and fatigue must never be stronger than my will to push on with the faith that I can overcome any momentary challenge. This is not entirely new - skateboarding taught me the power of never accepting that something can’t be done.

When I need to remind myself to stay relentless, I remember the words of Jason Lester, an incredible endurance athlete who happens to be disabled: “If you don’t stop, you can’t be stopped.” This phrase is as powerful as it is simple. When we have a goal we need to always keep working in that direction. We may need to take a quick break, we may need to slow down, we may need to re-plan, but we need to keep going no matter how hard it gets. This concept applies to anyone and to any dream. Remember, whatever your goal is, BE RELENTLESS.

To donate to support ASAS Ohio programs for at-risk youth, please visit the donate page.

Learn more about Jason Lester here:

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

I Love New York! by Marc Purslow

I Love New York!...

Because it’s significantly less hilly than New England! I’ve learned a lot in the last 7 days:

First, I’ve learned that cycling across the US alone is VERY physically demanding, but that isn’t a surprise. The first day felt normal, even though the rain and wind made for an interesting day. Day two was arguably the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Endless hills, a strong headwind, a quickly disappearing sun, and a significant energy drop with 35 miles to go forced me to dig deeper than I ever knew I could. Interestingly, the knowledge that I can get through a day like that has served me well since. It took a few days to recover and feel “normal” again. My body is now getting used to the constant riding, and I’m starting to get into a groove.

Second, I’ve learned that this journey is primarily a mental challenge. Managing the “what ifs,” being out of my comfort zone, being away from my family and friends has been far more of a challenge than I anticipated. The support I receive from all the people I love and respect is critical in getting me through this. In the middle of a tough day I often check Facebook to see what people have written. It really inspires me to see that so many people support and believe in me and helps “fill in the blanks” when I get overwhelmed. That said, please keep the positive vibes coming, they’re much appreciated!

Third, I’ve learned that after I ride 100 miles I tend to do some pretty silly things. For instance, 2 days ago, as I pulled up to my hotel and lifted the bike onto the curb, I tripped and fell onto my bike awkwardly, knocking it over. In the process I badly bent my rear wheel, and bent my rear rack. I fixed the wheel the best I could, with the advice of my friend William Cheramie (I’ve also learned that It doesn’t really bother me if my wheel isn’t straight!).

Finally, and most importantly, I’ve learned that my wife is the reason this is possible. Every night she helps me plan my route, book hotels, find food, and give me the necessary pep talks to get me ready for the next day. She also takes care of my beloved hairy son Al. This is not a one-man effort. Many people make this possible, but my wife deserves the lion’s share of the credit for all that she does to keep me pedaling with a smile on my face and the required nutrition in my body.

OK, that’s all for now. I need to rest, I have a bit of riding to do tomorrow…

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

Days 1 -3: My Date with Hurricane Arthur and the Many Hills of Maine by Marc Purslow

To all of you looking for a blog update-sorry for the delay! The first three days have been challenging to say the least. The beginning of day 1 was pretty epic, gale-force winds and torrential rain in Bar Harbor made for an interesting first few miles as the bike shimmied uncontrollably downhill and my brakes barely worked with all the added weight. I decided to find shelter to sort things out and walked 5 miles before coming across a suitable overhang. After some trial and error I discovered that my rear bags were loaded with too much weight towards the top. After repacking the bike handed a bit better. After 60 miles the rain stopped, but the wind kept blowing strong. I pulled into Rockport at around 8:30 and checked into my hotel to get cleaned up. By the time I walked to the center of town for some food but only 1 restaurant was open for drinks only. I was able to convince the bartender to serve me some beers (for the calories of course!), and three huge bowls of olives, potato chips, and strawberries (the only food they had left). Perfect after-workout meal!

Day two was tough. Very tough. Maine is not flat. 11.5 hours in the saddle, 105 miles, and 5,600 feet of climbing on a bike with 75 pounds of cargo. I don't have many anecdotes to report - all I can remember is eating energy bars and pedaling up endless hills. I again got into town too late for hot food, so I raided the nearby Rite-Aid for snacks. After a nice pep-talk from my wife I went to sleep.

Day three was better, namely because I rode fewer miles. I was able to eat some hot food (I don't think a vegan has ever been so happy to see an Applebee's!). It's been nice to rest a bit and recombobulate. My next blog post will include pictures. For now, I must sleep - tomorrow should be another good one! Thanks for reading and following along!

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved

How Much Vegan Beef Jerky Does it Take to Bicycle Across the Country? by Marc Purslow

A question for the ages to be sure. Well lucky for you, an engi-nerd friend of mine has figured it out. Some of the assumptions are a bit suspect, but it's close enough:

Since we know that you are hardcore, we can assume that you will probably do the maximum possible everyday, which should put you close to a daily ride of about 150 miles. This would put you in San Fran in a time period of just 24 days (according to the Google).  Assuming an average speed of about 20MPH, this equates to burning about 6500 calories per day. Given the fact that you are also vegan, you will undoubtedly want to take some vegan Jerky with you to make sure that you consume at least as many calories as you consume.

Since a 1-oz package contains just 74 calories, this means that you will want to make sure that you eat at least 100 packages of this stuff per day. 100 packages will weigh 100 ounces, or 6.25 lbs. So to go from Bar Harbor, Maine to San Francisco you will need to pack 100 packages of vegan jerky (there are multiple flavors, so you don’t need to worry about getting tired of eating just one food all of the time) per day, or 2400 packages for the whole trip. So by my calculation, you will need to start the trip with 150lbs of vegan jerky. No big deal.

Well there you have it. Please visit the donate page to help support the ASAS Cycle America Challenge, benefitting at-risk youth in Ohio. I promise I won't spend the money on vegan beef jerkey.

© 2014 Marc Purslow All Rights Reserved