What’s your sixth gear?

“OMG, I just realized this car has a sixth gear.”

I voice-texted this to Susan last weekend, after having driven my brand new car nearly 700 km. It took that long to actually LOOK at the gear shift. And once I found it, traveling on the highway was just… easier. D’uh.

I was thinking about why I hadn’t twigged to the actual full function of my car, despite driving on the highway several times. In my last car with a manual transmission, the highest gear was 5th. I just assumed this one (12 years newer) was the same. I did wonder why the engine wasn’t purring the way I expected it to at 120km/hr… but it wasn’t until I had a bit of an issue downshifting into 4th and looked down that I noticed.

As Susan said, it was like finding a secret room in my house. Or more literally, like finding I had more capacity than I knew I had. Which, you know, metaphor for 2020.

So — for the non-manual-car-drivers (most of the world), a car with six gears means that the transmission is designed for greater efficiency in every gear — and when you shift into sixth, a higher speeds, you have an “overdrive” mode that allows the car to operate at lower RPMs and save fuel.

This is a super useful metaphor for me right now. What IS my sixth gear? What am I doing that’s allowing me to keep moving without wearing myself out?

One of the things that’s been so trying about the Covid Times is how much effort it takes to do the simplest things. One silly example — we’re on lockdown, so I ordered holiday cards from Indigo a couple of weeks ago. They shipped them via a courier who didn’t bother to buzz in to try to get into my building (even though I was home — it’s lockdown!), and left a slip saying “you weren’t home.” (I was). “Here’s your tracking number.” The tracking number takes me to a site where every option for “where is my package?” takes me to a “this option not available” screen. The chat is overburdened. So I trot over to Indigo, who tell me I can’t claim a parcel is lost until 30 days after it’s shipped.

In the Before Times, I would have sauntered into a local shop and picked up three boxes of cards and sent them out.

So much for holiday cards.

So much effort, so much palaver. And every day seems to have something like this, some small irritant that takes up an unreasonable amount of energy, leaving aside the constant Groundhog Day of zoom meetings, the constant navigation of virtual and simulated spaces. I know I’m not alone in feeling an edge of burnout. December is often exhausting — but this time, I have no enticing, enlivening travel to look forward to.

Even my FakeTravel is not enlivening. When it was PouringNovember and 1° C outside in real life on Monday, Zwift decided it should also be pouring and dark in my FakeLondon ride. It felt like… too much.

As we head into the year end holiday time that doesn’t look like any other year, it’s helpful for me to reflect on what my metaphorical sixth gear is. How can I structure my life so I can purr along just slightly more easily, with just a little less effort?

For me, the first thing is my habit of movement. Movement is, for me, absolutely essential to my wellbeing. Like many others who write for and read the blog, I’ve been doing the “220 in 2020” group for a few years now, aiming at a yearly total of workouts. I’ve written before about how I worked hard to get to just over 217 my first year — and yesterday I logged my 410th for 2020. For me, the *habit* is that sixth gear. I don’t question where I need to move my body every day, I just do it, once or twice a day. Sometimes it’s an intense day where I do a virtual superhero workout in the morning and a ride in the afternoon — and sometimes it’s just a walk or a quick yoga. But I move every day — and the habit, the lack of negotiation about it, has kept me in way more harmony with my physical and emotional wellbeing this year than I could have expected.

A close second Sixth Gear is the investment I’ve made in making it easy to work out at home. The Bowflex spin bike, mats and weights (though I’m still waiting for the kettlebells I ordered in August), subscriptions to Alex’ Virtual Superhero classes, a subscription to Zwift, a subscription to my spinning studio’s library of virtual classes. Routines and equipment inside my house make it much easier to do that movement. I could run — I know that — but for me, putting in the effort to clothe myself and actually get outside is more like gearing down to climb a big hill. I can too easily talk myself out of it. My sixth gear mode is just hopping on the bowflex, firing up the playlist my niece made me and riding in a fake world.

A third thing that’s keeping me in flow is a direct parallel to Marjorie’s post about make ahead breakfast. I do that too. This month it’s a blueberry apple oatmeal bake. I make it with oatmilk and add granola and walnuts, then heat it up with a banana. I wake up to a gastronomical hug.

Finally, the fourth thing — and the biggest — is to just not do some things. To let go of the non-essential. See: holiday cards. And, apparently, underwear and hair product. But it’s also not adding things to my schedule, even if they seem fun, saying no to some work things, making a meal and eating it three nights in a row. Being okay with just lying around and watching The Crown and the baking shows in the evening. Being here, on the other end, for the people who need me, but minimizing the outlay.

When I minimize the effort on the simpler things, I have more energy for the bigger stuff — the work, fretting about everyone’s health, having space for the relationships and human contact possible in this strange times. And the little furls on the world that make life a bit more beautiful. Like hanging holiday lights for the first time in my six years in this condo.

What about you? What helps you shift into sixth gear, to move along with less effort?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who loves her new Subaru Crosstrek.

5 thoughts on “What’s your sixth gear?

  1. Like you, it’s movement and good food and gratitude. But also a brand new thing is reaching out to a larger online community. I’ve been loving my Zwift bike team and my cycling connections across the globe. My international book group is the same. So while I am grounded here in Guelph and seeing fewer people (in person) I’m also connecting globally in ways that are new. Whether that’s riding with European woman on Zwift, talking books with new friends in India, or attending virtual Philosophy talks hosted by departments here there and everywhere. All of this is helping me keep things in perspective and seeing new things on the horizon, keeping me excited about life. It gives me extra bursts of energy when the everyday is so energy zapping.

  2. First off–a fellow standard shift driver–I get such pleasure from shifting gears, something about the metaphorical made literal. I have 1999 Toyota Tacoma truck with reverse where 6th gear is on our 16-year-old Audi (well, that can create some confusion). Second–I’m with you. Movement. Good food. Gratitude. And I don’t miss bras (except running bras, which still figure prominently in my life). I haven’t completely given up underwear yet.

  3. I get the same pleasure from shifting gears — I hemmed and hawed on choosing a manual for this car because so few people can drive it — and decided screw it, it may be my last gas powered vehicle, I’m going for it. And it gives me pure pleasure.

  4. My sixth gear is planning but not too much. I realized early in this pandemic that I was burdened with decision fatigue. When to do stuff, with whom, where, how, why … all useful questions but there were too many. Making space for movement, making space for sleep, and writing down my plans for the day (work) week (food) month (environment) has been working well. It reduced the stress of deciding a bunch of small things and made space for the big things.

  5. Running was a big sixth gear for me earlier this year – but right now I’m recovering from an overuse injury and am avoiding it. So I’m still working out what to do for exercise and fun, since some of my other hobbies are on hold right now for pandemic reasons.

    Side note: I love my manual transmission car! Mine only has five gears, but I can see where a sixth would be nice. I don’t know whether my next car will be a manual transmission, since they seem to be getting less and less common in the United States, but for now I am enjoying driving this one. (The one downside I’ve found: I really need all of my limbs to be functioning in order to drive it, whereas there’s a little more leeway in an automatic.)

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