Sunday, 15 May 2016

Cycling, unhelpful thoughts & Mr Bean!

This is a sister post to my previous one where I described my values led action and how I'd found additional inspiration to get on my bike from my friend Dan. This post describes my unhelpful thoughts in relation to my cycling and how these thoughts have the potential to divert me from my valued activity.

In considering values led behaviour we know that there is always the potential for our attention and energy to be hi-jacked by our unhelpful thoughts. As Russ Harris puts it:
"All to often we react to our unhelpful thoughts as if they are the absolute truth, or as if we must give them our full attention"
Once I'd identified cycling as the activity in the service of my values, my mind was quick to generate a range of unhelpful thoughts which included:
  • I'll be too wobbly.
  • I'm no good at sport (This one is very deeply rooted in my past. Consider the boy who was always picked last for the football team and was called "crystaltips" by the PE teacher!)
  • What will people think?
  • I can't cycle up a slight incline never mind a proper hill.
  • I'll fail.
  • I'll fall off.
  • People will laugh at me.
On my second ride out - as I reached Brighton Pier I had to dismount to walk around a group of Spanish schoolkids. As this was my second ride I was feeling pretty cool. I was wearing a pair of old shorts and a t-shirt and pulling off a vintage velo look. I heard one of the schoolkids saying "MIra, mira Pablo - esta chico parece Mr Bean." Now Pablo's mate didn't know I spoke Spanish, I'd love to have responded with a witty retort but the truth was it did deflate me and echoed my thoughts. As I got back on my bike I thought, "F*** You Chico - I'm enjoying myself", and went on my way. I also discovered that it can help change our relationship with these thoughts by sharing them, which in my experience, we don't often do. I've had some great conversations with Manel, Ali, Melinda and Dan about my unhelpful thoughts, which frequently gave me a new perspective and invariably made me laugh. These conversations also made me realise how these thoughts showed up in other areas of my life.

ON Wednesday I was travelling to Bristol and there was time to fit in an early morning ride. When the alarm went off my mind generated the following thoughts:
  • I think it might be raining - best not to go. 
  • What if I fall off and can't go to Bristol.
I recognised these as products of my mind and thought about how useful they were to me. I knew that if I invested my energy and attention in my unhelpful thoughts I'd probably stay in bed. I knew I had a choice between using my unhelpful thoughts as a guide to my behaviour or my chosen values of fitness, fun and courage. On this occasion I chose the latter and went our for a bike ride in the mist and rain. It's important to point out, it's not always easy to take values led action, there are often difficult thoughts and emotions associated with a direction that has meaning for us. From the action I had already taken I also had the evidence of the joy and vitality I experience when I'm on my bike. Strava tells me I've cycled 234km since 16 April which makes me extremely chuffed. 

There will be further posts linking my cycling to behavioural science as my action continues! Thanks for reading, Ross


Monday, 2 May 2016

I'm a cyclist! Who knew?!

I seemed to spend a large proportion of the first three months of this year with some form of cold. Just as I thought I'd shaken off one I seemed to catch another. I put it down to lowered resistance from my hectic activity as I built my new career and also the joys of commuting. There was something at the back of my mind saying "you're not getting any younger McIntosh, you really should be taking some exercise and looking after of your health".

At the moment a lot of my work is built upon the psychological foundation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. One of the key processes of ACT is the concept of values led action which is the topic of this post.

I took some time to consider my values in relation to my health and leisure time and identified fitness, fun and courage as values that I could use as a guide which could provide a direction for my actions. One activity that came to mind was cycling. I've had a couple of different bikes over the years but I never really re-ignited my commitment, despite really enjoying the idea of being a cyclist. My various bicycles had typically become guilty reminders of my inactivity. Cycling had never become part of my life like it was when I was at primary school, fleeing around the village and nailing my Cycling Proficiency Test.

My inner thoughts and emotions in response to the prospect of getting on my bike were typically negative and cautious. How we relate to our internal world is another important process of ACT which will be the subject of another post in the next week or so. The idea that cycling could be an activity in the service of my chosen values of fitness, fun and courage was pretty compelling. Luckily for me, I had an additional source of inspiration. I'd been chatting to a friend at work, Dan, a cycling fanatic, his enthusiasm and energy were infectious. Not only that, but Dan was also taking action and embarking upon an exciting cycling venture with the creation of some some top notch, Dartmoor inspired cycling jerseys and a local virtual cycling community. You can check out his website here and the photos of the jerseys are at the end of this post. With my mind focussed on cycling I began to notice all the other velo enthusiasts in my daily life. These additional environmental cues meant that in quite a short space of time I reached a point where I woke up one morning and decided it was time to go for a bike ride - that was on 16 April.  It's now 2 May and in the intervening time period I've cycled 124km. Even just typing that makes me smile, I'm so blooming chuffed. 

The activity of cycling most definitely serves my values of fitness, fun and courage. The sheer joy of being on two wheels and tonking it along the seafront is superb and I've even begun to tackle some hills. My next post will cover the multitude of unhelpful thoughts and emotions I've experienced (and am still experiencing) that could prevent me from taking action. What I'd recommend is that when you choose some values to act as a guide for your behaviour, don't forget to look to those around you, there may be a source of personal inspiration much nearer than you think!

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