What I learned about resilience from five days on a bike


Yes, I really do deserve this large glass of Chardonnay
Yes, I really do deserve this large glass of Chardonnay

Setting off on my very first cycling holiday this summer I knew that I was going to have to dig deep into my resilience reserves. And I wasn’t at all sure I had any. But I was heading off for five days of physical activity (something I’d never done before) and if I was to stay on friendly terms with my cycling mate I would have to find some tough ‘bouncing back’ stuff from somewhere inside.

Resilience at work

I get to spend time with some super resilient people in my coaching with leaders in the non-profit sector. People who bounce back from the big and small challenges of leading their organisations with energy and confidence. People who don’t take setbacks personally but who keep moving forwards to the big goal. It’s truly inspiring and I feel I learn from them all the time.

And now I’ve started to share with them the things I learned about resilience from my five days on a bike.

Here they are:

1. Don’t make decisions about what’s working when you’re going up a big hill

This is a really bad idea. Mid hill my muscles screeched. I couldn’t breathe, let alone talk. I lost my confidence. The whole idea of being on a cycling holiday seemed insane. Why wasn’t I just lying by a nice pool in the sun somewhere?  I was stopping at the next town and getting the train. I would never go on a cycling holiday again.

And then we started coming down the other side. The sun shone. The wind breezed through the trees around me and suddenly everything seemed perfectly lovely again. In an instant. Oh, this cycling holiday thing wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps we could even go again.

See how I could have made some really bad decisions about what I wanted and what was possible on the way up?

2. Keep the end goal in mind

resilience on a bike
On its own a bike can’t even stand up. Add another for mutual support and anything is possible.

I’ve noticed in the people I coach that the really resilient ones get through difficulties because they keep their sights firmly on the end goal. Little setbacks are just that, minor setbacks rather than evidence of huge inadequacy. They know were they are going and they know they can get there.

I made sure that every place we booked to stay had the most gorgeous stand alone bath. In fact, that was my main criteria for choosing! Now, I know you’ll have worthier goals in your work but the point is the same. When I was flagging I’d think about that glass of wine in the garden or relaxing in my deep bath and my resilience got super-charged.

It’s so important to keep going back to your big visions and goals and reminding yourself why you do what you do.

3. You always have a choice

This was an interesting one, and not something I’d really thought about before. I realised on my holiday that I always had a choice. If things really were getting too much, I could stop. If I was hating every second I could simply take a break. I could take the train to the next town. I could just not get on my bike in the first place. I could pack up and go home.

I didn’t have to keep going, whinging on about how tired I was, if I didn’t want to. It was bit of a revelation to me. When I saw I always had a choice I realised that I was choosing to push through whatever hiccup the holiday was presenting and come through the other side. I chose to enjoy it. To love it, in fact, despite, or maybe even because of, the occasional physical challenge. And it was liberating.

And it’s the same with work. It can be challenging to think that you have a choice. It’s somehow easier to imagine that this is just how things have to be – not enough people, time, resources etc. When you decide that actually you do have a choice, you take responsibility for what you can do – and you do it! It’s very powerful and a true sign of a resilient person

4. Be positive

Positivity is hugely important for developing resilience and truly resilient people tend to have a super positive attitude. Those who have coached with me know my passion for affirmative statements and oh, did I need those climbing slowly up the winding cliff road to Dover castle (those White Cliffs of Dover are famous for a reason, you know). I sang ‘The Grand old Duke of York’ on a loop and told myself I was feeling particularly awesome that day – and I did it. A moment of negative self-talk and absolutely know I’d have stalled.

It’s the same for you. You damage your ability to be resilient, to bounce back and reach your work goals when you put a negative, critical spin on things.

5. There are no failures

Sure, we made some mistakes. But if I’d beaten myself up over a squiffy bit of map reading here, a wrong turning there or my total failure to do any helpful pre-holiday exercise I’d have thoroughly undermined myself.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda. The fast track to demoralisation.

Resilience comes from seeing what went wrong, learning from it and moving on. There are no mistakes to wallow over – just an opportunity to grow.

Next time, I’ll know to get those padded shorts out for a test drive beforehand.

Over to you

I’d love to hear your experience of what makes you resilient or what you see others doing that helps them bounce back from setbacks. Do share by commenting in the box below.

What next?

If you want to explore how coaching can help you or colleagues to be more resilient at work drop me a line at katie@be-the-change.org.uk or give me a call on 0208 772 7808 or 07958 501 427 for a no-cost no-obligation phone chat.



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6 responses to “What I learned about resilience from five days on a bike”

  1. Helen avatar

    A lovely and inspiring post Katie. I am impressed to think of you getting to the top of the White Cliffs of Dover. Seeing the sparkling sea must have been another reward.

  2. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Ah, thanks Helen. I’m so glad you thought it was inspiring. A cycling holiday for you too next year?

  3. Helen Duckworth avatar
    Helen Duckworth

    My cycling holiday days are long gone. My head might want to be resilient but my back and knees have other ideas….!

  4. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Hah! Never say never…

  5. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thank you, Amanda. I’m so pleased you liked it and thanks for the shout out!

  6. Amanda Brook avatar
    Amanda Brook

    I loved this blog…

    And the Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda bit – well now that is the real killer in our inner lives…

    I have worked with Katie and she’s a super person – great coach and someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable… a quality I admire very much