Why would anyone undertake a painful exercise or task? Jim Price, Director of Consulting for MadAbout gives an insight into the pain-filled world of cycling, how it relates to our every day tasks, the choices we make and how we can improve …

“Cyclists live with pain.  If you can’t handle it you will win nothing” – Eddy Merckx (amongst other things – he won the World Championship thrice, the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia five times each)

The familiar squeal of my back brakes stopped just before I entered the steeply banked corner.  The line I had decided to take was all wrong.  I could get away with it if only I could scrub some more speed.  Without thinking – I touched the front brake, just a bit…

The physics of gyroscopes were now too far from my mind to reach for an understanding of what I had done.  It all boiled down to a single thought “shouldn’t have done that!”  As the bike and I wobbled, bucked and suddenly became free of each other’s company, that thought was replaced with another: “how much will this hurt?”  Now, lying face-up on the dirt track I gazed at the sky through the trees, waiting for the familiar and inevitable onset of pain as it coursed its way through my body.  Oh yeah, this one was gonna hurt – a lot.

 “Cycling is suffering” – Fausto Coppi (was the dominant international cyclist of the years each side of the Second World War.)

I don’t like pain.  I don’t especially like fear either, but I do respect their presence and what they mean to me.  Direct pain caused by something like a bike crash provides a huge amount of value.  I will now study the effect of ‘front braking in mid-corner’ and how to get around a steeply sided corner (or berm) in one piece.  In return for this improvement I will be rewarded with ‘less pain’ and ‘faster riding’.  I suppose the question I should ask is: “had I managed to fumble, squeal and grunt my way through the corner without crashing, would I now be pursuing improvement so vehemently?”

So that’s downhill cycling covered: get better, get faster and feel less pain.  But what about downhill’s less-loved identical twin – uphill?  You see, I love cycling uphill too and that hurts as much, if not more.  So why do I do that?  There’s the obvious reward of looking back down a long or steep hill and thinking ‘I did that’, but I also love being in the moment on a long steady climb, sweat dripping onto the road, breathing hard, legs screaming for me to stop.  Where’s the fun in that?

Central to Buddhist thought is the principle of dukkha.  Buddhists, of course don’t have the monopoly of pain-based religion, but they do seem to have it nailed as neither pessimistic nor optimistic but as a realistic practical assessment of the human condition.  Dukkha (roughly translated to English as suffering, anxiety, stress or discontentment) is one of the four Noble Truths and without wishing to nutshell Buddhism too broadly – the key is not in avoiding the things that cause it, but to understand that they happen, how to cope with them and how to improve yourself as a result.

Jens Voigt (German professional road bicycle racer for UCI ProTeam Trek Factory Racing) was famed for being an outspoken and attacking cycle racer.  His response to the interview question “how do you cope with the pain you inflict on your self?” Voigt replied “I say to my legs – SHUT UP LEGS

It’s time to consider the element of choice; what psychologists call the locus of control.  This is part of how we are able to feel pleasure through suffering, where we might unlock a rudimentary discovery about ourselves.  Like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone they have the deep belief that each chip is a step closer to their masterpiece.  Each chip takes them one step closer to the image that currently resides only in their head.

Each pedal turn against the gradient takes me closer to person I want to be.  This brief moment of suffering will subside and I will be left better for having been through it.  The risk is in allowing the suffering of the moment to cloud my vision of the ‘masterpiece’.

“It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster” – Greg LeMond (he won the World Championship twice and the Tour de France three times)

Suffering is therefore inevitable and a life spent trying to avoid it would be futile.  But suffering without reward is fruitless and pointless  (oh no – I feel a ‘no pain, no gain’ quote coming on…) I’m certainly not going to go looking for another berm to plant my face into any time soon – that leaves a scar!  But I can’t see any harm from finding a big hill to ride up… And I can see a whole lot of gain.

So, the cycling action brings with it a whole bunch of elements, exertion, fitness, pain, relief. In essence that action of cycling is a behaviour, the things that come from it are a consequence. Whilst the pain exists, it is temporary, the elation, the increased fitness, the congratulations of peers and oneself are the positive reward for the behaviour, all of which make you want to do it again.

As much as I didn’t wish to nutshell Buddhism I don’t want to do the same with the hugely complex field of human behaviours, but in essence positive rewards can elicit certain behaviours across all fields. At MadAbout that is an essential belief that forms one of the core values of what we do. If you would like to see how it could work in your business then feel free to contact us here or via any of our social media channels, we can even take you cycling!