Play to your strengths

Provence Bike Tour - Day 6 - Bedouin to Mont V...

Everyone has their strengths. Maybe they’re physiological, maybe they are aspects of your character. Some are obvious, like speed or intelligence, others might not even be apparent as strengths until you find yourself in a situation where you find you have what it takes not merely to get by but to excel. This is where it starts to get exciting I think, and it points to a couple of other things to do with the importance of finding the environment, the context in which we blossom.

A few months ago I got hooked on Strava, a highly addictive program that tracks your performance on the bike against other riders who have covered the same stretch of road, or segment. Segments are created by users and can be as short or as long as you like. If you have even the smallest competitive streak in you this will bring it out. Of course you can just use it to monitor your own performance, to go for PBs, but it’s also tempting to take on the riders who dominate the leaderboard.

The riding that I’m doing at the moment is all about the hills. The rides aren’t super long or short, often around 60k on average, but they involve lots of climbing. I’ve written enough about this in earlier posts so I won’t bore you with more on this. All I will say is that it’s a bit of a revelation – I’ve found an environment where I’m succeeding far beyond my expectations. I mean, a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed that I would be able to do any of these rides.

With the aid of Strava, and my admittedly strong competitive streak, I’m refining the way I’m riding to improve my performances. At school I was a decent sprinter, and on the bike also it’s one of my strengths. So I’m focussing on delivering bursts of speed, especially on the short sharp climbs. The hills are usually where you lose time so this is also improving overall times as well.

The interesting thing is that this is not just true for cycling. In work and study situations I’ve also found that I’ve been well suited to bursts of intense effort, maybe over days or weeks. On a climb or a project, there is the satisfaction of the reward coming soon. Having the end in sight makes it much easier, in a way, to sustain the effort to the top, to push through the pain one revolution at a time.

Looking forward then, if you haven’t already discovered them, I encourage you to play to your strengths. Have a think about the times you really enjoyed your work, your sport, or anything else. It doesn’t have to be easy. When I’m sprinting up a hill, my body is being pushed to the extreme, but I’m getting a good result from it. Often, too I’ll get home thinking my times are going to be down just because I wasn’t feeling good only to find that I had smashed my own best times. This happens a lot, so I’ve started to stop expecting good performances to feel easy. Maybe this expectation comes from watching professionals, who rarely show the pain they are in for tactical reasons.

At the beginning I mentioned the role of context. This is really key. We are all drawn to different environments. Some love kitchens or theatres, others might love the racetrack or a mechanic’s garage. In a way I like to think that maybe the calling reflects seeds within us and underlying desire to express our strengths, our gifts – to experience what we are capable of becoming, to feel like heroes once more – no less.

PS. take the free Signature Strengths survey from the University of Pennsylvania, and then look at how you can build these into your life even more.

PPS. You’re welcome to check out or even follow my rides on Strava. You can also give me kudos points if you’re feeling inclined 🙂

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