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Doing hard things

The Self-Coaching Minute: doing hard things

Doing hard things

Cycle touring is how I have replenished and reset every year for more than a decade. Over the years, I have risen to the challenge of more elevation. During my last cycling tour this summer in the North of England I had plenty of time to ponder over the meaning of climbing. I travel with 2 paniers of food and camping equipment at the back of my bike, so even if I have good gears, climbing is always ‘interesting’.

While pedalling I was thinking of how riding uphill could be a useful metaphor for doing hard things in life. This is the inspiration for this series of Self-Coaching Minute on doing hard things.

When cycling, I feel that there are 3 kinds of hills:

  • False flats
  • Steep hills
  • Hike-a-bike hills (those that are so steep that you need to push your bike to reach to the top!)

Doing hard things Part I: False flats

Cyclist on bike in hilly landscape

Photo: David Marcu on Unplash

I see false flats as long, sluggish, hard and deceptive stretch of roads. Deceptive because the road in front of me seems flat, or even going slightly downhill, there are no major hills around, but my cadence is slow, I am in a very low gear, and I feel that I am carrying a container-worth of weight. It usually takes me some time to realise that I am riding on a false flat. Something that I cannot really see, but that I can feel all right. Something that doesn’t have a rewarding ending and that will give me no sense of achievement (no view at the top).

False flats make me doubt myself. Why is it so hard? It shouldn’t be, it’s flat! This feeling, and this judgement on myself, I recognise very well… Things in my life that I find hard to do and that ‘shouldn’t’ be hard. Pondering on the analogy with false flats, I found that noticing what was a little hard for me in life, acknowledging it and recognising it for what it was, a low-gradient climb, freed me of self-judgement and enabled me to get on with it.

Self-coaching questions:

Have you encountered ‘false flats’ in your life? Doing what?

How have you felt in those situations?

What have you told yourself?

How have you overcome false flats in the past?

How could you overcome false flats more easily in the future?

Doing hard things Part II: Steep hills

Touring bikes by side of road

Photo: Laetitia Antonowicz

Some steep hills are a delight to climb, when the gradient is such that you can be ‘in the zone’ and pedal hard for a few hours while also letting your mind wonder and generate ideas. These are my favourite hills.

When the gradient is too steep and does not allow me to reach this ‘flow’ state, I feel overwhelmed by just looking at the top, and am tempted to give up. One strategy I have used is to look at the road right in front of me to find a stone or a leaf on the road a few meters ahead and focus my attention and efforts on reaching that point. Then I repeat until the gradient is more forgiving for me to look at the top without feeling discouraged.

Transposing the situation to other areas of life, this illustrates the “how do you eat an elephant – a bite at a time” story. Breaking down a big task into smaller tasks to make it manageable, a steep hill into many small chunks. There is also something about wanting to do the climb and knowing that I can do it. A high level of challenge combined with confidence and ways of supporting myself through the effort it takes. The confidence is coming from having done similar climbs before and the support from having tried out different strategies until I found the ones that worked for me.

Transposing the climb metaphor to life, I felt that being conscious of what was happening in my mind and of the strategies I was using put me in an ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ mode, which generated motivation and endurance.

Self-coaching questions

Think about one hard thing that you did and achieved in your life or work. How did you feel and what were you telling yourself as you embarked on this journey?

What strategies did you use to tackle and complete it?

  While you were pushing ‘uphill’, what resources and strengths did you tap into?

  When and where else have you used those strengths and strategies in your life or work?

What does this tell you about how you tackle hard things in life?

Doing hard things Part iii: Hike-a-bike hills

Woman walking in forest with bagpack

Photo: Jake Melara on Unplash

What I learned from hiking my bike on top of some hills was that doing things differently could be an enabler when facing apparently insurmountable obstacles. Walking uphill with a loaded bike was not easier than cycling uphill, it just made the climb possible when it otherwise wouldn’t have been. The other take aways that I could apply to other areas of my life were (i) to find resources I could tap into to continue moving forward (what or who could help me in that situation), (ii) to take care of myself when running a marathon rather than a sprint (i.e. no need for an injury when there are many miles and more elevation ahead), and (iii) to look for the support of nature – by getting energised by the beauty of the landscape around me.

Self-coaching questions:

When you are doing a very hard things in life or work and you become genuinely stuck and cannot move forward…

What do you tell yourself? How do you feel? What do you do? How do these thoughts, feelings and actions serve you in the situation?

  What strategies do you use to get unstuck or to overcome these obstacles? Are there other strategies you could use?

How do you approach identifying what you need to get unstuck and looking for support? Are there other strategies you could use?

How do you take care of yourself during this process of doing a ‘hard thing’? How else could you take care of yourself in those situations?

How could nature support you (more) in those situations?

Walk Gently!

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