This is an inspiring and uplifting travel article. We don’t travel much where we just procrastinate and sit around. Mantality writer Amy Pickworth recently visited Miami, and here she shares with us exactly how her experience in the “Magic City” proved how a healthy mind and clear thinking can make the biggest difference.
Miami may not initially seem like a destination where you go to discover the profound- on first look it may seem like a party city of opulence and decadence. Maybe it is that, but like most places there are lots of things to be scratched below the surface. Lots to discover. Jewels to find… even ones about yourself.
Before I go any further, let me tell you I almost didn’t go to Miami. I missed my flight. I could say it was because traffic was bad on the M62, or some other event occurred that was beyond my control. But that would be nonsense. The truth was, I was so anxious about one thing and another in the few days before that I was frozen, questioning if everything I did was the right or wrong thing, and by the time I decided to pack my bags and set off, I just hadn’t left enough time.
This was a bit of a wakeup call…. Sometimes my thinking really does spoil things for me.
Luckily I was able to change my flight for the next morning, I had my Mum to call too, an unconditional supporter of me and my eccentricities. I was blessed with the kindness from two friends, who actually insisted on getting up at 5am, driving 12 miles, just to pick me up and take me to the airport.
I think the gesture of support was one of the things that opened my mind to being excited and pleased about what I was about to do, rather than focusing on what was wrong with my choices. So I sat on that plane feeling lucky.
The history of being anxious and doubting everything needs some explanation… (bear with me, I do go to Miami eventually on this trip).
Growing up, I have struggled with my mental attitude towards myself … I’ve been anxious, felt sad for reasons I can’t figure out and been stuck worrying about what I should do next, or what I shouldn’t do, or who I would offend. I’ve had periods of my life when I haven’t been on a path that felt fulfilling. I wanted to change, and often wondered why I was hard on myself- but thinking too much led to ruminating on where I went wrong, and could actually lead to blaming myself further and feeling worse.
So I sought change through action- I’ve always had reasonable willpower to get things done when I see them as important, and therefore it was easier for me to control my behaviors before my thoughts themselves. I’ve radiated towards things which I believe in, and make me feel more stronger and happier. Things like working hard at the gym, spending time with friends, making the effort to talk to new people, eating well, travelling alone even if I was scared to, and practicing yoga.
I’m not saying it was always easy to pick up new habits and behaviors, but I believed in them, and soon began to enjoy the benefit the hard work it self supplied, and through consistency these things became parts of my life I love. Good things often have a way of spreading too. For example, training hard at the gym led me to meet other people who were also in the business of making themselves better. I’m not denying these things have improved my self confidence and mental toughness generally – I’m a million miles further forward with the way I think about myself than I was, say 5 years ago.
However, the problem can still come when I’m not doing those things. When the gym is closed… when it rains…when I’ve finished everything for the day… when I’m just thinking. My internal dialogue at times is pretty negative. It can be filled with things like ‘that’s good, but not for people like me’ or ‘I can’t, ‘shouldn’t,’ or ‘not good enough’ and I try to stop it, but the harder I try the bigger knot it becomes. It’s like saying don’t push that big red button. My brain wants to push it harder. It makes me feel frozen…stuck…. paralyzed with the type of data analysis that would make this mac computer I’m using right now go into shut down mode.
My weapons against this are to do something that stops the thinking completely, go and train, take the dog out, meet up with someone. Basically some activity genre that in it’s active nature forces mindfulness. But I want to better control the thoughts themselves without always needing an action. I also know from the good thinking days, that I would get more out of my actions too, if positive thinking resided more consistently.
It’s the two steps forward, one step back syndrome. The contrast. I can be the girl who does her back squats at midnight, does 5 sets instead of 4 and the girl who can travel alone to a place she’s never been and make friends. I can also be the girl who worries for weeks, going around in circles, but actually leaves her 4000-word university assignment until the night before. I want to give the squatting girl a better chance of winning more often.
I considered the great feelings I’ve had, and things I’ve surprised myself by achieving so far, directly resulting from my actions- despite the bouts of negative thoughts. Could these be amplified ten fold if only I could better control my thoughts independently of what I actually DO? That could be very powerful.
So I tried. I tried reading books on how to think better, tried replacing words like “Should” with ‘could.’ ’Can’t’ with ‘can.’ ‘Rubbish’ with ‘outstanding’. Changing the internal dialogue surrounding certain subjects. But honestly, it all sounded pretty unconvincing in my head, like cheap talk, like it was some great ideas that worked for other people… but not for…. wait for it….’PEOPLE LIKE ME.’
I know It was down to what I really believed, which was still the negative stuff. It was like being a spoon in a drawer with a big label on me saying ‘FORK,’ but still being a spoon. I just wasn’t. No one was buying it.
So I kept faith in doing the activities I radiated towards, and hoped the positive thinking I sometimes enjoyed would become more consistent in time.
Maybe I needed an example, one I could relate to, one in my realm.
One came from an article by Greg Everett on the Catalyst Athletics site. It was about programming accessory work within a weightlifting program, like abs and back at the end of a session.
I have always called exercises that aren’t snatch, clean and jerk or squat ‘accessory work.’ What does this word accessory imply? That the exercises are an add -on? An extra? Not the main event? Less important? Doesn’t moving the big bin out count as an accessory movement anyway? I used my abs to brace my core for that, it definitely counts.
Ok, so you get the picture. I do my snatch and clean exercises with vigour then plod through a few accessory movements while my mind is on dinner.
Greg talks about attributing importance to accessory work, and actually names it “Successory work.”
I like this. And I start thinking of the back and ab work I’m supposed to do as things I WANT to do, because they’re important, to my success. And guess what, I get more out of it, do more, and it feels more like a challenge than a drudge.
A simple change in language shifted my thinking, and changed my outlook, followed by my actions. Weightlifting and training is a domain I do have some confidence, so in terms of thinking, it’s always a good place to start for me.
Perhaps a seed was unknowingly planted right there, that it is possible to first change the language of my thoughts, to influence my action rather than only the other way around. Maybe I was primed to be more open.
Roll on a few weeks later, with actually much better core strength I might add. I do find myself in Miami for 10 days. Over the 10 days, I tried to explore as many different neighborhoods as possible, but found myself coming back to an area called Wynwood.
Maybe as people we feel good when surrounded by beauty, which is why we may choose to jog on a trail in the woods rather than around the edge of Aldi parking lot. There are a lot of seriously good looking places in Miami. Art deco architecture, exquisitely manicured beaches, pristine ocean scenes, yachts and malls.
Wynwood is actually not near the beach, there is no golf course and the architectural intricacy of the buildings there extends to concrete cubes and container buildings. The fences are not made from hand painted oak. They are made from wire. The train tracks cut through the middle of the area.
So why is it so beautiful?
Well Wynwood just happens to be home to some of the finest graffiti art in the world.
Historically, Wynwood was a deprived urban area of Miami. Renowned community revitalizer Tony Goldman (founder of Goldman properties, which has been the drive behind transforming other neighborhoods such as Soho in New York) had an idea to transform the district. He believed that the warehouse district, with its windowless concrete square buildings provided the perfect canvas to showcase the finest collection of urban graffiti art, all in one place. In 2009 the ‘Wynwood Walls’ was conceived.
Goldman believed that showcasing what he believed was an undervalued art form in such a way would lead to pedestrian traffic in the area, as people would gravitate towards something they may have not seen before, or at least not in such a celebrated way.
The Wynwood Walls has brought some of the world’s greatest artists working in the graffiti and street art genre to Miami. The community has grown and developed into a an exciting cultural mixing pot.
I had originally come near to Wynwood a few days previously, to train with my friend, at Iron Addicts gym, recently opened by Mike Rashid. I like this place because the philosophy here is about strengthening your mind. As well as your body. Which is why it is normal to do heavy back squats at midnight. Before this, a few people I’d bumped into had said I must see Wynwood Walls, and I’d thought maybe I would, but not for sure. At the gym there is actually a whole wall covered in graffiti art. There was murals of Mike and CT fletcher tearing things up in the gym like they do every day. It is unbelievable. The entire thing was done with a spray can, and when you see it, it looks like a photograph blown up and transferred onto the wall. After this, visiting Wynwood Walls became top of my list.
On a mission to see some more amazing things, a few days later, I began my morning in the main Wynwood Walls exhibit area, where different artists are showcased for periods of time. I’m going to let a few pictures speak for themselves.
After spending some time here, I ventured out around the streets nearby. I wanted to see more. I couldn’t believe how much it had captured me.
The buildings and walls are completely covered in art. You can walk around a new corner, turn left where you might normally feel you should turn right, just incase you get to find another surprise. Like an urban secret garden of art. There isn’t one style of art here either, each wall is very different from another. For some I would just stop and stare, amazed by the talent, wondering just how the person who painted it may have angled their spray can so precisely…to produce work so detailed.
I marveled at the imagination. And just when I thought maybe I’d seen my favorite one I’d find another I liked. I ended up going back and forth to see all of my favorites again. As I walked around I lost time, I moved away from my own thoughts absorbed in the atmosphere of the place. I also physically got lost… I wasn’t sure where my car was…but it didn’t really matter, it just meant I had more streets with their living walls to enjoy before I got back.
Tucked away in the neighborhood are quirky cafes, individually owned shops and bars, some of which you can’t tell are businesses because the doors become part of the canvas for the art. It made me curious to explore. To open the doors, find the esoteric. And indeed I did. Wynwood is home to so many things. Every Saturday there is a farmers market where local produce is sold, and food trucks park, music plays. Think the best mango you have ever eaten… or try food varying from homemade Cuban pastries to the freshest Hawaiian poke.
I also noticed lots of information about local charity being spread and shared, art projects, classes and education for kids and non-profit music events.
Indeed one of the clothing shops, the Nomad Tribe, sells fair trade clothing with a large percentage of profits going toward local charities. The focus seems very much about community here, and it feels like everyone is welcome.
The coffee shops and restaurants are places to hang out and spend a while. Forget inhaling your espresso while not looking up from your I phone… Although perhaps the coffee at Panther coffee where they grind their own beans right there is so good you can’t help but cherish it.
The mix of people is interesting; offices are also nearby. Offices decorated with local art I might add. I wondered what everyone was up to, what project they were plotting next or what the next innovation would be.
There are also lots of mini art galleries nestled within the buildings, and you are welcome to just wander in and look around for a while. You can even make your own art without needing to go to a class. One of the cafes, Dr Smood, a Scandinavian concept selling the finest organic fare, has a giant art pad you are free to sit at and make your own scribble. Or masterpiece, depending on your mood. At Miami café, customer’s art is pinned casually to a noticeboard, a nod towards celebrating things everyone has to offer. My favorite food was at a café called Green G. Think cold pressed juices, protein acai bowls, eggs anyway you want them, possibly topped with bee pollen or cacao nibs.
The mix of shops is interesting too. You can find high end hip brands like Aesop and Illesteva here, alongside eclectic home gift and clothing stores, or furniture design studios with pieces like bookcases that throw shapes to form polar bears.
You can also find Dinosaur bones for sale. Yes, Dinosaur bones for sale. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
If you want things to do then there are plenty of options. MADE is an art studio where you can take classes, I found an acting studio if you were interested in giving that a try, but also nearby is Margaret Pace park. It’s near the water, you can jog, take your dog, try the outdoor gym circuit, play a game of volleyball, football, basketball, or have a cook out and chill. The choice is yours.
Trio yoga studio has excellent yoga classes, with a variety of classes and teachers from across the globe. If you like MMA, there is a gym called Fight Club on your doorstop. Of course if you want to train weights check out Iron Addicts Gym, it is home to the best powerlifting and strength equipment available.
Wynwood is home to cool bars and music venues. Not massive clubs like in South Beach, more small and eclectic places where live bands showcase their latest music or DJ’s play their tracks till late.
You may not need to go inside to hear music however. One evening I was walking by, and in a parking lot nearby, a few cars were congregating. I wondered why, and wandered closer, to find a group of guys unload their speakers and mics and just start practicing their rap right there.
I loved the atmosphere here. The celebration of the up and coming, the ideas. Being creative.
Wynwood inspired me to think that I can do things, anything I would like to do in fact, because so many people there are doing just that. The place really is a hub of movement and forward thinking. It feels good to be there. But where did it hit my internal thoughts the hardest?
Some of the art includes inspirational quotes, painted on walls and on the pavements. Ok, so inspirational quotes are not a new discovery, but when somebody has spent hours painting the words so carefully to share it with you, they must have felt the meaning. It is therefore hard not to let your heart move somewhere. Not only that, the community around the corner gives truth and example to the sentiment.
One of the inspirational quotes I stumbled upon (quite literally, because it was painted on a loose paving stone on the sidewalk) disturbed a big wedge somewhere inside of me, and got it moving. It said:
“To find yourself, sometimes you have to let go.”
I’ve read this somewhere before, but it never really changed anything. Apart from thinking it was maybe a good idea, if only I knew what on earth to let go of, and how. Reinvented on a whim kind of stuff doesn’t work for me, I can’t fake it. The cynic inside of me keeps reminding me that I’m a Spoon, and all the labels that I’ve ever tried to stick on myself saying ‘Fork’, lose their stick faster than the re-sealable tab on a packet of brown sugar.
That said, this time the words produced a huge realization. Maybe I was just lucky to read it at the right time, and in the right context.
The negative language of my thoughts comes from an outdated textbook. It does not come from the most innovative up to date research about myself. If you used the type of evidence I do to define myself in a scholarly paper, you’d be called a dinosaur and sent away, along with your crusty old yellow -papered textbook you found in the charity shop. I’m judging myself based on things or experiences I call mistakes in the past, even if they were 20 years ago.
At one point in my life I always had to kiss each soft toy in my room before bed so it was fair, and none got left out. I knew teddies were not actually alive, so I started to wonder if other innominate objects had feelings too. The lampshade. Did it have feelings too? Was it fair on the radiator to be left out?? You can maybe see where that went.
Do I beat myself up for how unnecessary this particular behavior or worry was 30 years later? No. So why should I judge myself today based on anything else I’ve ever chosen or felt? I must have had reasons at the time. Most of the negativity and fear is actually completely irrelevant to anything I actually do or don’t do these days. So that’s what I need to let go of.
It suddenly seemed borderline ridiculous. I don’t apply this judgmental thinking to anyone else. Could I not start to appreciate everything I’ve done and chosen, or not chosen, as gifts, educational resources that have enriched who I am today or can be tomorrow?
Imagine if Goldman properties continuously coined Wynwood as “A depressed urban area with ugly concrete where gangs hang out.’ Would holding itself to that definition spark innovation and change? Would anyone want to invest time in Wynwood? I doubt it.
Instead, they saw the beauty in a place where it wasn’t always easy to see, and made that beauty the very heart of the move forward.
The art. The passion behind the art. They didn’t wipe out the soul of the place and drown it with money and quick fix content, they let the art do the talking and the right people and companies were drawn here and inspired also to think bigger. The authenticity makes the place all the more beautiful.
And I would like my mental attitude towards myself to be like that. The place and the people in it inspired me to think that it’s possible. I also felt a new appreciation and gratitude for the actions I am already taking. Take Weightlifting, for example. If I hadn’t have kept up with that, would I have met the friends I have made? Would I have dared travel alone without it as a base for structure? Would I have come to Miami? Wynwood? Would I have met the people who started Mantality magazine?
I don’t think I would have. It is nice to reflect on the amazing things a pursuit has brought.
Maybe I can be free to move away from cranky thoughts of self -doubt and warnings that hold me back… Now I see them as obsolete and irrelevant. I don’t need to chuck everything away, either. I can keep all the funny things I did or didn’t do, and see the beauty in my choices. It is there, it is just less obvious to a perfectionist like me than what could have been better.
But as I found in Miami, I’m rather fond of the less obvious. The jewels at the far side of the fence are my favorite…. Because maybe the fun part in finding them is actually in the climbing of the fence….