September 17, 30 degree heat, Akropolis in sight. The culmination of seven months’ hard preparation and two months’ hard riding.
It was a spectacular summer, filled to the brim with vivid experiences and vital friendships. But, as I reluctantly turned my handlebars back northwest, I felt pretty empty.
So, as our ferry chugged inexorably across the Channel, I started a list of things to get excited about this winter.
When your whole being has been consumed by one or two projects and both those projects come to an abrupt end at the same time, it takes a force of will to step outside once more and rediscover, or reaffirm, who you are or who you aspire to be.
If I were an athlete, this winter would be my ‘off-season’, an opportunity to focus again on the basics, the training and training ground routines, rather than the exhilaration and exhaustion of competitive matchplay.
What do I want to learn? Where do I want to stretch myself? Who do I want to become for next season?
I won’t jinx the entire list by sharing it here, but here are a few winter wins that give you an insight into three areas where I want to grow.
Leadership & Communication
The nine months I have spent this year helping to steer Thighs of Steel have taught me a lot about myself and particularly about how I respond under pressure and time stress.
The main thing I have learnt is how important it is to keep lines of communication open, be honest about my feelings and needs, and make sure that empathy is flowing in both directions, between myself and the rest of the team (and, well, anyone else too!).
As Ernest Hemingway once wrote to F Scott Fitzgerald: grace under pressure.
With that in mind, I have signed up to an introductory course in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a technique developed in the 1960s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg.
I’ve also resumed my counselling sessions and (excitingly) joined a Men’s Circle here in Bournemouth (thanks LH!).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: winter is the finest time to explore outdoor adventures in the UK.
Shorter days mean we can not only catch both sunrise and sunset at a reasonable hour, but also spend long evenings with the stars.
Out of season hotspots, like Dartmoor, the Lakes, North Pennines, Wales or the Highlands, are empty. The views, like the shadows, are long and clear and the weather is either exactly as expected or surprisingly delightful – no possible disappointment.
So, in late November, I’m travelling up to Scotland to cycle another leg of my Round Britain ride.
Since 2020, I’ve cycled about 4,500km of the coastline and now I’m eyeing up the 650km from Edinburgh to Inverness.
This’ll be the first time I’ve done a serious cycle tour in the UK in winter. I’m curious. And foolhardy. And optimistic.
I’m also mushroom picking in the Brecon Beacons and, with my intrepid mum, going on an unexpected tea room of an adventure to Little Gidding, the fourth of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.
Learning forces us to remember that we’re not dead yet.
It reminds us that our brains are plastic (the good kind of plastic) and that we are very much unfinished animals.
Whether teaching your old self a new trick or honing a dulled blade, learning shows us that, in spite of everything, we are making headway.
A great winter win to have in your back pocket.
This year, as well as the NVC course I mentioned, I’m learning how to make sourdough from the delicious bakers at Bakehouse 24, getting guitar lessons from a chap who works for Specsavers (thanks again LH!), and building a FREAKIN SAUNA with a carpenter friend of mine.
I’ve also enrolled in a four-month Zoe Personalised Nutrition programme that involves a continuous blood sugar sensor, gut health and blood fat tests… and loads of muffins. Can’t wait!
I’m not usually one for bucket lists, but I really needed this.
I know that I can’t do everything on my list, but just knowing that I’m already doing some of the things, even if only the small things, will give me enough momentum to carry me through the dark days.
Cornell University professor Karl Weick introduced the concept of small wins in a 1984 paper about redefining the scale of social problems.
‘Once a small win has been accomplished,’ Weick wrote, ‘forces are set in motion that favour another small win.’
What one small, good thing can you do today that will set you up for another small, good thing tomorrow?
Yesterday, for example, I asked a friend whether she knew anyone who taught guitar. Today, she sent over the number of that guy from Specsavers who teaches guitar on the side. Tomorrow, when I’m back in the library, I’ll message him to set up a lesson.
And in one year’s time? I’ll be opening the London Palladium!
Or maybe I’ll just be a little better at making music. Either way, I’m happy: I have sustainable momentum in the direction I want to travel.
And if, at any point over the coming months, I feel myself drifting or dissatisfied, then I can come back to this list, remind myself of why I’m here, and do one small thing to regain that momentum.
Winter wins. What are yours?