50 Weeks of Change: A Year-Long Journey of Rediscovery, Renewal and Rededication

50. Me.

Fifty.

Fifty is… nifty? A round number? A milestone? Time for a change?

Next month I will turn 50 years old, a number that seems both monumental and no big deal at the same time, an achievement to have lived a half century but also not as earth shattering as it felt when I turned 27–the year it felt like I was old and my life was over.

Of course in hindsight, that overdramatic, “life is over” declaration now seems laughable, given how through experience I’ve learned to appreciate what I value in life–family, health, and the positive contributions I can make to the world.

So, if I’m more comfortable in my own skin on the edge of 50, why look at the year ahead in the context of change?

Turning 50 has gotten me thinking about all the ways my life is changing–my children need me in different ways, my marriage deserves renewed attention, my work takes on new importance, my health requires a new focus, and my soul understands what’s better for it. I’ve talked about this over the last year with my friends, my sister, my spin instructor, my colleagues, my hair colorist…everyone. I haven’t hit a mid-life crisis, I’ve hit a mid-life…metamorphosis.

To embrace my 50th birthday, I’m diving in headfirst. This week starts an experiment I’m calling, “50 Weeks of Change.” Each week I’m going to do something that takes me one step deeper in this process and chronicle it on GMW. I’m going to learn new things, challenge myself to undertake new experiences, and commit to changing and strengthening my life for the better in all the important areas–physical and mental health, nutrition, relationships, work, and community service. And I’m going to do it all with a distinct Wilton spin.

For instance, later this week you’ll hear about a Restart nutritional program I’ve begun with Wilton nutritionist Farrah Minnich of Food First Nutritional Therapy; later this year I’ll be taking a very unexpected class with Wilton Continuing Education; other weeks I’ll work with Wilton business owners to declutter, try acupuncture and learn about canning and food preserving; and I’ll interview other Wilton residents to learn from example about major changes they’ve made. And I’ll also feed my soul and find new ways to give back.

I hope you’ll follow along each week with whatever weekly “change challenge” I take, as I offer tips and share what I learn. I’ve also started a closed Facebook group, where there will be more resources to share and opportunities for a community participation. My hope is that readers will be inspired to do something similar, and make conscious choices about changing their own lives for the better.

What’s the big deal about “change”?

I mentioned my spin instructor above. For the last 18 months I’ve been taking spin classes at JoyRide Wilton, and it’s one of the few times in my life that I’ve consciously stuck with an athletic, physical activity on any consistent basis. (For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, spinning is a high-energy, indoor cycling fitness class in which riders combine speed and increasing resistance on specialized stationary bicycles as they follow an instructor through choreographed routines set to music.)

Part of its appeal has been my experience in class with one particular instructor, Cindy Tamburri, who leads her classes with motivational insights that resonate deeply. She has a way of encouraging her riders to push themselves, to dig down deep and tackle the most strenuous rides, getting better and better each time. Riding in Cindy’s class has become so valuable that I sometimes say, “I come for the spin, and stay for the therapy.”

It was in her class that my reflections on change took root. Cindy often encourages riders to increase the bike resistance not by asking us to make a quarter- or a half-turn on the resistance dial, but by saying, “Make a change.” She reminds us that there can be no change without change–that only by increasing the bike’s resistance will we finish stronger than we started, that we won’t get closer to our goals without doing something different from before. She puts the power of how much change we make in our own hands, with each one of us responsible for our own achievement and growth.

Among the major changes Cindy has navigated in her own life is a change from a career on Wall Street to being the head instructor at JoyRide. She’s also had a lot of practice helping people execute the changes they want to make in their own lives, not just as a spin instructor, but also as a motivational coach, a running coach and as the leader of a support group for women in recovery from addiction.

I asked Cindy to sit down with me outside of class to talk about the idea of change, and what is so meaningful about it–and how the concepts about change in fitness can have such meaning in the other parts of your life.

Heather:   Your class today was exactly what my “50 Weeks of Change” series is going to be. It’s not about a short-term, New Year’s resolution, but rather an examination of who I am, and what kind of person am I capable of being. You ran this “surge” exercise today and you said, “Imagine you’re in a pack of riders. Pick somebody ahead of you that you want to catch up to and pass.” I imagined my future self up there. All of that stuff you talk about, how you’re not competing against anybody else in here, except yourself.” 

Cindy:  The foundation to everything I talk about in the studio really comes down to the fact that the mind controls everything you do. If you can change the thought, you can change the feeling; the feeling then changes the action. It’s so similar to everything else in our life, in terms of, Can we change those thoughts? Can you change the thought to one that empowers you versus excludes you? Our thoughts can be our biggest fans or our worst enemies. I don’t want to stereotype women, but I think we very quickly can move from being egocentric to having low self-esteem. We beat ourselves up as we look around and see what we think appears to be what everybody else is doing.

You have choices. You can wake up in the morning and say, “I feel like sh*t, I want to go back to bed.” You can change that thought and say, “Boy, I feel really grateful that I woke up this morning, I have this beautiful home, I have these beautiful kids. What can I do to be of service to them and take care of myself?” That’s the combination of gratitude and thoughtfulness. The idea of changing thoughts is really very simple. You have a negative thought, you pause, and you think about what the alternative is.

What I bring to the studio is really wanting people to understand that fitness, happiness and joy are all things that are directly related to the way we think. Once we have that power, they say, “Change you thoughts, change your world.” It sounds crazy, but a lot of times I will say, even to my youngest child, who’s eight, “Change the thought. You get in this negative train of, ‘the glass is half empty.'” She stomps out of the room, but she comes back with a different thought. I think it’s very empowering to have that type of control over your thoughts.

Heather:  Growing up, I never did team sports and never had a coach to push me to push myself in that competitive athlete sort of way. There was something you said in the studio today about how easy it is to give up, but that we can go farther than we think we can in our minds. That our bodies are capable of lasting longer than our minds let us think we can.

It was the first time I realized, ‘This is where I’m going to want to give up. I always give up–but I can go further than I think I can.’ You planting that thought in my head today made me want to reach further, to break that habit, to change the thought of giving up. Learning how to change your thoughts long-term, takes practice. I talk about practice all the time with my kids in relation to, “You’re not going to go out on that mound and pitch a no-hitter your very first time. It takes practice. It takes learning the skill. It takes time.” It’s taken me 50 years to have this realization today of being able to change my thought to, “I’m not going to give up, because I’m doing it for me. I’m not going to quit.” 

Cindy:  I used to work for this woman years ago on Wall Street. Her motto was, “The hard makes the great.” I was always like, “Screw you. It ain’t going to be hard for me.” Then, over the years, I realized that having it be hard always gets you somewhere you don’t think you ever could have been.

Speaking to the practice piece of it, last night my son came to me in my office and said, “Why are you spending so much time on that playlist? You’re already so good at this.” I paused and said, “I only appear so good at it because I spend so much time behind the scenes.” The most successful people, you don’t really see all the hard work they do. It’s like the iceberg analogy:  you just see the tip, but if you were to look below the surface, there’s a huge massive piece of ice. Someone who’s very successful, I don’t think they’re lucky–usually there’s an iceberg underneath of practicing persistence, patience, and really the hardest is to just stay positive through it.

In the studio, I like the quote, “You can either have excuses or results,” and some days I can find a lot of excuses. But if I really focus on changing that thought to the point where this is my part of the day, I’m willing to work hard for me, and I deserve this … I deserve to be fit, I deserve at this point in my life to have what I want because I know how to work hard.

I was talking today about the 3 Cs of life–and also of fitness–the chances, the choices, and the changes. People always talk to me about, “This is what I want. How do I get there?” There’s no magic to it. I think your destiny, which sometimes people feel is quite magical, is really a combination of decisions and choices that you make, which result in changing your chances of getting what you want. That idea of just being very tactical about it is quite interesting. People sometimes say, “But I don’t have a choice.” Everyone has a choice. That’s really when I say, “You want to be fit? You choose.” It’s the same with our kids, the same with work. You choose what you’re willing to do, how far you’re willing to go to get what you want.

Heather:  You said something today in class about courage being the other side of fear.

Cindy:  I love that. I tend to talk about fear a lot because I use fear in my life like a compass. There’s a difference between being afraid and scared–like afraid of the dark–and fear. I just recently read that courage is the action for fear, courage is the cornerstone of confidence. I love the idea that courage … you can’t walk to success without stepping through vulnerability and fear. I always say, on the other side of fear is what you want.

If you are able to do the things that you’re afraid of, you will get more than you ever bargained for. Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but you get this path that changes the whole scope of things. By being vulnerable, by facing your fears and being courageous, it is the ultimate confidence you can accomplish. Whether you succeed in it or not, you are successful.

I recently heard about a rider up in Ridgefield, her daughter had a college interview. The girl had prepared for hours. The college interviewer’s first question, “What has been your greatest failure?” The girl was really stumped because we measure ourselves in successes. Talking about your greatest failure really talks about you stepping through something and what you do about it. What kind of resilience did you have? When you didn’t succeed, what’d you do about it? So many things end right there. I think if we talk about where we want to be, we talk a lot about our character. The character which I would hope to be would be one that did things even when I was afraid, and knowing that inevitably I would get something that I worked for.

In the studio or with my running team or with my women’s group, the concepts are pretty similar across the board. A lot more faith in yourself, a lot less fear, and your ability to really think about controlling your thoughts, because it does inevitably change the world you live in and the way you treat people, and the way you are perceived as an individual. At the end of the day, all these things kind of all mesh together and come back to the authentic me, which is kind of, when I struggle myself, being very vulnerable, being very honest, and I kind of share that truth all the time. I think where we live, people only put their best foot forward. They only want one part of their world to be seen.

Years ago, after I had my second son. I had terrible postpartum depression. I had never heard another woman talk about it. I started sharing my story about how hard it was, and really how mentally broken I was, bankrupt, and I was borderline suicidal. I tell that story probably once a week, to just spread the confidence that we’re not alone. What you see on social media and what you see when you walk into the department store, or wherever, it’s not really the real world. In general people really want that more authentic version of themselves, they just don’t know how to get there.

If I can be a resource in that way, I feel like that’s exciting, but it’s also like a boomerang. It comes right back at me. I share my story and someone else shares their story. It’s really what feeds me.