(Bear with me, I’ll be getting to the hacks straightaway! But we’re going to use bicycling as an analogy.)
My sister, who is a year older than me, decided earlier this year that she was going to compete in mini-triathlons, also known as sprints.
We talked about doing a sprint together next year, but since I’m a very weak swimmer and my knees can’t tolerate running anymore, we’ve opted to do a relay where she will swim, I will bike, and another friend will run.
So, here I am, a middle-aged former athlete who hasn’t ridden a bike since she was a kid, out on the roads pedaling away trying to get back into shape.
And you know what?
It’s hard and it’s exhilarating and frustrating and invigorating. All in one package.
Just about every day that I ride now, I realize that my bicycle riding is very much like life can be when you’re trying to learn a new skill or break an old habit or just make it through a tough time.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
1. Don’t get discouraged when the flat road in front of you is hard to travel.
The very first day I went out on my bike, I decided to ride on a road near my house. It’s an extremely popular road for cycling and I thought it would be a great place to start because it’s completely flat.
So off I went, full of hope and enthusiasm.
But something wasn’t right.
I immediately was straining just to pedal enough to keep going. And I was already breathing hard only about 100 yards from my starting point.
At first I couldn’t believe I was so out of shape, but then I realized what the true issue was.
The road that had appeared perfectly flat when driving a car actually had a bit of a slope to it. I was riding uphill and not even realizing it.
So, rather than get discouraged, I just made a note to myself: Not all roads that appear flat and easy truly are the way they appear.
Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes? You’re trying to make a change and it seems like it won’t be that hard when you view it from a distance.
But then when you get into it, the change suddenly is tougher than you thought. You find yourself straining much more than you ever thought you would.
Instead of getting down on yourself for not being in better emotional or physical shape, just remember that there may be a bit of an upward slope that you weren’t prepared for when you started out.
2. There’s an easier way to get up the hill than to focus on the top.
We’ve all heard the sayings “Keep your eyes on the prize” and “Focus on the end result.”
It’s true that when we want to achieve a goal we must keep it in sight.
But, when I first started riding up challenging hills on my bike, I quickly found that focusing on the top of the hill only served to discourage and intimidate me.
Yes, my goal was the top, but it seemed a l-o-o-o-n-g way away when I kept looking at it as my legs ached and lungs burned.
Instead, I found that breaking the hill into smaller chunks worked much better for me.
I said to myself, “Just get to that sign post up there.” Then, once I reached the signpost, I said, “Just get to the end of the fence.” Then, “Just get to that tree,” and so on until I could finally say, “Now get to the top.”
By breaking up the daunting hill into smaller more doable pieces, I’ve learned that I can take on much bigger, steeper hills than I thought possible.
If you’re going through a change or trying to bounce back from something, try breaking up your path into smaller pieces. It will free you up to finally make it to the top of that hill.
3. Keep your eyes on what is in front of you.
This is the second technique I use on really difficult hills.
I keep my eyes locked about ten feet in front of me rather than looking further ahead. This way, I can focus on moving forward without getting distracted by how much further my next mini-goal is.
I’ve been learning this in my non-biking life, too.
I’m one of those people who, when faced with too many options, will freeze instead of doing any of them.
So, when I’m working and I feel myself starting to freeze because there are too many things to do and it’s overwhelming me, I’ve learned to say to myself, “Just do the thing that’s in front of you.”
I pick a task and just do it.
Then I do the next one without looking too far ahead at all of the other things that lie in front of me.
You can take this approach, too, whether it’s getting your body in shape or trying to recover from depression or making a big change in your life.
Although you know you have a goal further down the road, keep your eyes on what’s in front of you now.
Maybe that means just getting out of bed.
Maybe that means doing just one thing differently when you’re trying to break a habit.
Whatever it is, remember to keep your end goal in mind, but always just do the thing in front of you first.
You’ll be amazed at how much change can happen when you allow yourself to focus just a bit down the road rather than looking at the entire journey.
4. Remember this simple idea: Some days are better than others. Learn from the bad ones.
So, you’re trying to make a change or break a habit or recover from one of life’s sudden storms.
You’re doing well and making progress. Things are getting better every day.
Until they aren’t.
You have a bad day and it seems like you’re right back where you were before.
Suddenly, you get really discouraged and start thinking, “Why do I even try? I know I can’t do this, I’ve never been able to do this in the past.”
Here comes another bicycling analogy.
When I started cycling, I got progressively better every day. I felt stronger and went further on each ride.
Until one day when I had what I call an “epic fail.”
I was out of breath and tired almost from the moment I got on the bike.
Tiny slopes were killing me. I had to gear down to make any progress at all.
I cut my usual route in half and headed back home. I was shaky, out of breath, and exhausted. I had to walk my bike back for the last bit of my ride.
It didn’t feel good, but surprisingly, I wasn’t discouraged.
I say “surprisingly” because I’m the first one to criticize myself when I can’t do something I’ve been able to do before.
However, this time, I made a conscious decision: It was just a bad day. It didn’t have anything to do with me and my overall goal of getting in shape.
In fact, my “epic fail” gave me a ton of useful information for the future.
I learned that I had to eat more protein before I went on my ride.
I had changed my route that day to include some very steep hills at the beginning. I learned that I wasn’t ready for that yet.
I learned that I needed to ride in the morning when I have more energy as compared to this midday ride when it was hot and I was starting to tire.
While my body felt awful, I was inwardly very grateful for the “epic fail” and what it had taught me.
So when you have a bad day in the midst of your change or your recovery, just remember that bad days happen. Learn from them. And apply your lessons to the next day when you’re back on track again.
I have many more lessons I’m learning from my physical journey on my bike which I’m sure you’ll read about later! Tell me about some of the lessons you are learning on your own journey in the comments section.