In February, I posted a blog summarising 5 things I’ve learnt from the past 14 months (here). Since I only touched on each point briefly, I wrote that post thinking I may later expand on the nutrition and/or training aspects. I didn’t expect to dive deeper into points 3 and 4 – which centred around consistency and patience. However, several days ago, I stumbled across some things I wrote last year that I never published, and had completely forgotten about. One of the documents contained a few thousand words on the subject at hand. I never managed to arrive at a conclusion before – hence it previously remained unfinished. Having revisited it, I’ve hopefully managed to do that now.
To sum up the relevant points from February’s post:
– Overtraining and burnout are very real and very unproductive. Build [training] volume gradually.
– Results take time. Consistency over multiple years is key.
Basically – be, not only consistent, but patient.
It seems quite self-explanatory, but I’ve personally found implementing and executing these principles to be easier said than done. Assuming I’m not the only one with an impatient past, I figured it’d be good to elaborate on my current efforts to develop and practice patience, and share what I believe are the keys to getting it right.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that I necessarily get it right all the time now, I just know that I’m a great deal closer than I used to be.
Moving to Girona for the first time in October 2020 resulted in a significant shift in my mentality. I committed to training full-time, and devoted myself to the process, in pursuit of a long-term goal.
What is perhaps more interesting, is that this was something of a novelty for me. Prior to moving to Girona, I spent 5 years struggling to put together anything truly consistent, and very much lacking patience.
During my time at university, training represented a huge part of my life. However, I’d often bounce from one short sprint to another, with little substance in between. I’d go through waves of being fit and unfit (in a relative sense), but rarely breaking new ground and extending my abilities further. To do this required subjecting my body to hard stimulus over a long period of time – consistency and patience; both of which I seemed to have in short supply.
When I finally stumbled upon it, this realisation was surprising to me – given my background.
I’ve often said how the hardest part of cycling around the world was the distance… It sounds really obvious saying it like that – I mean it in the mental sense. 18,000 miles is such an impossibly long way, and I never managed to wrap my head around the size of that number. It doesn’t fit in my brain all in one piece, and I don’t think it ever will.
Whilst riding, I attacked the challenge day by day. That’s all that I could do. Although I’d often fantasise about the end goal, I couldn’t directly aim for it – it was too far out of reach. The whole thing was largely an exercise in patience, and one I embraced. I was perfectly happy to chip away at my lofty target.
Approaching the latter stages of the trip, I steadfastly refused to look beyond the day ahead, and refused to think about the finish – something that presented an interesting quandary on the final day.
In reality though, whilst patience was something I practiced quite effectively by the end, I don’t think it became an inherent habit, and it wasn’t something I ingrained into myself.
When I finished that little excursion and headed to university, I very quickly refocused and began targeting new goals. I viewed those new goals as stepping stones, and ones that I wanted to tick off quickly – not appreciating that I wasn’t yet at the required level. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared to put in the work, but more that I didn’t want to wait for the results. Consequently, I took it quite hard when those results didn’t come immediately.
Whilst the end goals I had in my head appealed to me, I was less enthused about the steps to achieving them. I remained extremely motivated to improve, but I lost sight of how one does that.
I think deep down, I wasn’t actually doing what I wanted. After cycling around the world, I still had a huge thirst for pushing myself in ways that other people weren’t. By targeting something more conventional in the form of competitive sport, I (wrongly) felt unambitious and didn’t satisfy some deeper desires.
Every now and then, I’d head out for a big ride, or take on a silly challenge that went some way to scratching that itch – in the process, straying further from the consistency I didn’t realise I was missing.
How did I get it right in 2015?
I think, by cycling around the world, I inadvertently ticked some very important boxes. Boxes that I started to tick once again when I moved to Catalunya.
First, I was working towards a goal that I genuinely wanted. I’m not sure if it matters where the aspiration comes from – for me it was purely intrinsic – but it does need to be real. I discussed in my book, how day-to-day motivation was largely irrelevant, and this I still believe to be true. I was committed to the end goal, and that was enough to carry me through when I wasn’t having a great time.
Secondly, the path towards that goal was one I wanted to walk… or, ride, I guess. I had a lot of miserable days on that trip, but ultimately, cycling was (and still is) a passion of mine. So, often, the end goal didn’t even matter. The process was everything I wanted. The process became the goal.
My current situation.
Right now, the specifics of the end goal are somewhat vague and fluid, but there is an underlying theme – to get better. And that’s something that excites me greatly. Even if I don’t know what the end result will be, I’m certain that I’m at least moving in the right direction, and towards something worthwhile.
In terms of the process; I absolutely love my life. I’m in a perpetual state of being tired and hungry, but I wake up excited every day. As before, the process itself has become the goal… it makes me happy, so why wouldn’t I take my time?
I’m loving the process. It’s going to take a while, but that’s true of everything worth doing. There are no shortcuts and I shouldn’t be looking for them.
(Turning this happy day-to-day life into something that’s sustainable long-term is a different challenge, and a discussion for another time.)
What went wrong before?
The more I think about the years between cycling around the world and moving to Girona, the more I realise that, perhaps I was just aiming for the wrong thing. When I wrote my book, I took my sweet time making sure I ended up with something I was proud of. Simultaneously, I had little trouble consistently working towards it each day for far too many hours.
So, for me going forward, if I’m struggling with consistency, I know I need to get my goals straight.
I think all this ultimately boils down to the following. It’s true for me, so hopefully it’s applicable to others too:
1. Target a goal that you genuinely want.
– It’s easy to fool yourself with this.
– There’s probably more than one single appropriate goal.
2. Ensure that your recurrent process takes you in the right direction towards that goal.
– For me, having a coach is key for this.
3. Make this process something you enjoy.
I think the above formula is primarily focused towards consistency, and consistency without patience can very easily take you the wrong way (burnout on one hand, frustration on the other). So, additionally:
– Accept that the process will take time. A lot of time.
– Accept that the path may take directions and dips you didn’t expect.
These final points are much easier when No. 3 is fulfilled.
I think these principles can apply to everything – they don’t necessarily have to be aimed at something as big as your career, you could just apply it to learning a language, or cooking, or something even smaller.
Furthermore, these guidelines aren’t requirements for success, they just help. I guess, the more you can apply, the better, and the easier things become…
A goal I want.
A process I enjoy.