• Mary Kate McGowan

Lessons from the Road: Mindset and Motivation

Updated: Nov 17


A trail marker along the Cathedral Rock trail.

My legs were shaking, and I was hugging a giant rock as if it were my mom.


Every step took a pep talk, and looking down was not an option.


I was one-third of the way up Cathedral Rock, and all I wanted to do was slide down to safety. As one of the most popular hikes in the Sedona, Arizona, area, we had parked our rental car at the Cathedral Rock trailhead at about 7 a.m.


By 7:30 a.m., I was seriously questioning my life decisions.


How did I, a non-morning person scared of heights, end up climbing a mountain at daybreak?

A view from the bottom of Cathedral Rock

I was not happy. I was scared, and I wanted to turn around. I didn’t care how good of a view it from on top of that big rock. At that point, the view from inside the rental car was my prime destination.


While hugging Cathedral Rock that morning, a stranger reminded me of the importance of mindset and motivation.


The stranger came my way when I was about one-third of the way up Cathedral Rock. Setting out from the trailhead, I was expecting a slightly challenging hike. I have little experience with bouldering or intense hikes, so I was expecting to push myself that morning.


But not like this. One-third the way up for boulder, I did not know where to put my hands or my feet. Or how to get my right foot from point A to point B without cracking my head open. I was losing it.

This is the second part of my two-part “Lessons from the Road” series. Check out my first post about tips for writing on the go.

That’s when the helpful stranger arrived. With a chipper (but not annoying) morning-loving personality, this stranger greeted me with a joke about how much I was hugging the rock.


Yes, it was basically a bear hug.


She saw that I was terrified, and she understood why. She said she struggled and hugged the mountain during his first climb up Cathedral Rock. This stranger talked me through the footholds and handholds for that next section.


Her advice was simple but powerful:

  • Be mindful: tell yourself you can do.

  • Use momentum: it is easier to keep going when you’re moving.

  • Slice the climb: do not look too far ahead. Take it section by section.

  • When you are stressing, breathe.


After finally coaxing myself to move and listening to her advice, I slowly climbed that section of the rock.


And then I climbed the next section. And the next one. And the next one.


When I surfaced on top of a small mesa, I thought I was done.


This kind stranger told me otherwise. We were about halfway through the hike.


There was more climbing to go. But now that I was halfway through, I should finish. No matter how scared I was, I had started a climb that I should finish.


So I took the last half section-by-section. I did some breathing exercises and even accidentally high-fived a prickly pear cactus.


But I made it.


I told myself I could. I used the momentum to propel me forward. I took it by sections. I breathed.


And guess what? The view was worth it.

Celebrating at the top

Sometimes I am amazed by how simple coping skills for life, business and wherever are. They’re simple enough to work—if you remember to do them.


One strategy to maintain mindfulness and avoid overwhelm is to prioritize the simple things:

While these are important, the kind stranger embodied two more lessons:

  1. When you need help, ask for it. Someone will be kind enough to help.

  2. The kindness of people can surprise, but it is also one of the purest human attributes.

Have questions or comments? I want your feedback!

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