Mile 21 Thinking: How to Enjoy Travel and Other Frustrating Experiences

by | Nov 12, 2018

April 10, 2011 – GO! St. Louis Marathon pre-race

In early April 2011 I ran the GO! St. Louis Marathon. It was unseasonably hot – over 70 degrees at the start and over 90 degrees at the finish. Brutal. At around mile 20, with runners cramping up and dropping out of the race all around me, I was really struggling and wondering if I could finish. I found myself thinking self-defeating thoughts such as “running sucks – why do I do this?” “what if I have heat-stroke and die?” “I can’t wait for this to be over – this is total hell.” I was miserable.

Around mile 21 I decided to experiment with a new line of thinking. I asked myself “what if this is the best moment of my life?” I told myself “there is no place I’d rather be than mile 21 of a marathon” and “this is quite an accomplishment – take it all in – experience every second of this.” I thought of the primary message of the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman which is: “There are No Ordinary Moments!” From that point on, I actually picked up my pace, stopped being miserable and finished strong.

Looking back, that moment of misery actually has turned out to be one of the best moments in my life due to what I learned. I have been able to apply this way of thinking  – which I have labeled as “Mile 21 Thinking” to many aspects of human experience which are frustrating or hard, a good example being travel.

I travel a lot. Some months I am traveling more than I am home. It can be rough – early flights, late flights, weather delays, intrusive people sitting next to you, etc. etc. We’ve all been there. I’ve applied my “Mile 21” lesson to travel and now I rather enjoy it.

Here is the key: tell yourself that there is no place you’d rather be than where you are. Put all thoughts of wanting to get to your destination out of your mind.

Your plane is delayed? Now you have additional time to read, watch a movie, interact with a co-worker, talk to a stranger or meditate. You have no demands on your time. No place you are supposed to be (that you can control). You have freedom to be yourself and be with yourself. What a luxury!

I make this sound easy. It’s not. It takes practice. Especially when you are sitting on a Southwest flight on the tarmac at LaGuardia where your plane is number 18 for take-off and time seems to stand still. But, if you tell yourself that this moment is special and you don’t want to be anywhere else but where you are, and repeat it and (try to) believe it – it can really help.

This “Mile 21 Thinking” obviously can apply to a lot more than just travel:

  • Waiting in line at the grocery store? Tell yourself there is no place you’d rather be. Stop wanting the line to move quickly.
  • Stuck in traffic? There is no place you’d rather be. How nice to a have some time to yourself to think or listen to a podcast.
  • Weeding the yard (which I hate) – there is no better place to be than outside in the sun tending to a plant bed.
  • And so on . . .

Remember: There are no ordinary moments!


  1. John:

    Retired Navy Seal Jocko Willink has the same thought…

    Such valuable advice that I often need to remember.

  2. Your post brings us back again to the value of humility. Life is good, even the annoying stuff. As Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”

  3. Mile 21 just sucks. I like your thinking. Mine, alternatively, was “every step past this can only be better than this absolutely miserable one!”

  4. Great approach. I have done this some instinctively, but it is good to use it very intentionally to alter your perspective. I’ll use it more purposefully going forward!

  5. Great reminder! “Reframe” is a one-word motto that I find helpful in staying positive.

  6. Great perspective….I try this a lot. My Mile 21 moments come from traffic problems….I hate traffic. I would rather take a longer route with less traffic….but when stuck in traffic I have practiced this basic technique. It works, most of the time.
    Really it all comes down to relativism. We bring all our expectations to an event or occurence and if it doesn’t meet our expectations some of us are trained to react negatively.
    I’m happy I didn’t have a Mile 21 experience reading the IFOD….see what I did there?
    PS What a nice facial expression you have in that pic….have you thought about putting that pic in the reception area at your office?

  7. Life is a gift. Every moment is precious. Even the tough times are opportunities for growth. Good one Jennings!


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