Jeni presenting positive psychology for Trek in Shrewsbury

Ride your bike – the positive psychology way…

I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Trek Store in Shrewsbury a couple of weeks ago as part of my Trek Ambassador role. 

The great thing about working with Trek is not only do I get to ride their awesome kit, but I also get to share my passion and knowledge for positive psychology and relate it to cycling. I have so much love for those who want to get more out of their cycling and so I presented a couple of tips backed by some funky science to hopefully inspire a few of the ladies who attended to try something a little different when out on the bike next time. 
Around 40 women turned up for the event, tempted by free booze and pizza and of course to listen to both speakers – another Jenny who shared some rather impressive experience of bike packing and bike touring, including how to use a condom for treating road rash and of course, the usual argument of whether a bigger pump is better than a little pump – I’ll let you make your own minds up. 

By the time I got to present, I think the ladies were already starting to plan their next adventures, so I began by telling Jenny I thought she was a nutter as I tend to top my rides out at a max of 60 miles! But of course, being me – I ‘caveated’ that with a nice little anecdote I like to share – especially with female cyclists; always choose ‘Smiles over Miles‘. I wrote a long blog post earlier in the year about this one for the lovely Velovixen community after getting caught up with the feeling of having to put the miles in to maintain fitness or face for my cycling and starting to lose the love. Smiles over Miles doesn’t mean you choose the short route, it means you wake up in the morning and choose the route/bike/people that will give you the most of amount of smiles that day. If that involves a pootle the pub, a hard training session or a 3000 mile bikepacking trek then that’s what you should do. Stop doing what you think is expected of you and choose what will make you smile. Surely that’s the main reason we all cycle in the first place right? To smile….

Definitely not talking about condoms at this point…

Anyway, that little nugget out the way and a few obligatory condom jokes, I introduced the crowd to positive psychology; now If this is your first visit to my blog, then the next couple of sentences are for you, if you’re already bored of me banging on about this, then you can skip to the next paragraph…

Positive Psychology is the science of human flourishing. So whereas in the past, psychology in general has looked at the deficit model of mental health – so mental illness and helping us to be ‘not ill’, positive psychology looks at what makes us really flourish in life and how can we tap into that more often to create joy and happiness. That’s a very simply explanation but one I think works nicely… 

PERMA – one of the models of wellbeing shared.

A few ears pricked up and some eye’s widened in front of me, I love that little intro because it’s usually quite new to people and many love the approach because it helps them to focus on what works rather than what doesn’t; so now I had their attention, I took them down the route of a little theory, before cracking on with my top ten tips to get a little more from your ride. 

When I’m working with people on improving wellbeing, I’m always clear that it’s the little things that count and finding small ways to improve your positive emotions and awareness of the world around are a great way to add to your daily happiness. When you build a toolkit of momentary actions you can deploy quickly you are able to make the most of a situation and improve your own response and actions to any given negative thought, time of adversity or even to help you anchor positive memories even further. 
So these top ten ideas are little ideas to deploy during your rides – to enhance your experience, improve your mood and help you be even more ready to tackle the world once you put your bike away. Let’s dive in….

  1. Be Super Social 
Be super social…

Did you know that as human beings we are literally wired to connect? Neuroscientists have discovered that in every moment, our brains are striving for human connection – so in order to promote positive wellbeing, we do need other people. OK, so not every moment of every day, but when it comes to our experiences of life, our strongest emotions are felt when we share time with others. So remember this for your next ride, sharing it with a friend will deepen the emotions you feel and therefore increase the likelihood of a more positive experience. Saying that, if you’ve been teetering on the edge of joining a new group ride full of people you don’t know, know that when you have positive interactions with strangers, it’s a great self-esteem boost. If you struggle a little with those new situations, then take heed of tip 2. 

2. Be Brave

Be Brave…

Bravery doesn’t come easy for everyone and each person has a different opinion of what constitutes being brave. Doing something outside of your comfort zone not only helps build personal and psychological growth but it also builds confidence, self-esteem and self-compassion – All things which leads to greater wellbeing. To be brave out on the bike, you don’t need to do something that terrify’s you – I’m not suggesting you try the superman pose or try and descend like the pro’s do on the crossbar – but little acts of courage, where you take yourself outside of that comfort zone can create the same effect. Simple things like choosing to explore a route you’ve never taken before, adding 500ft more climbing than you’re used to or simply riding a route you do often; backwards. (I mean the other way around, don’t try and actually ride it by cycling backwards – and if you do, please send me the photos) .

3. Be Kind

Be Kind…

Ahh, kindness – my favourite subject, Kindness can literally change the world. Kindness is such an undervalued trait and extremely powerful because it’s equally as good for the giver as it is for the receiver – because doing good feels good. Science has even shown us that kindness is good for you heart, improves relationships and slows ageing – so throw away the moisturiser and slap a little kindness on instead. So what’s this got to do with riding your bike? Well, simply, on your bike, lead with kindness, don’t shout at the drivers if they get too close – be kind. Don’t tell yourself off when you don’t hit the corner well or can’t keep up the pace, be kind to yourself and with other road users, say hello, ask them how their day is and buy the newbie’s coffee on the club run. Remember, by you being kind to others, they are likely to be kind to more people, so start a kindness ripple on your next ride and I promise you’ll come home buzzing. 

4. Be Curious

Be Curious…

How many times do we ride the same old routes out of habit? Whilst I’m guilty of this when training as I know the terrain and the time I have, we start to forget the beauty around us when we do the same thing too often. So, employ your curiosity; if not to find new routes then to take notice of the things around you on your ride – sights, smells, colours, sounds for example and be curious to see what interest there is around the corner. Being more aware of the beauty of the world around you and how it makes you feel is a very positive experience and will help you to remember the ride in a more pleasant way. A bit of science here, we have two selves – an experiencing self, which literally feels the moment and a remembering self which constructs the memories from the highs and lows of the experience; so anchoring positive feelings to physical sensations can give you longer lasting, positive memories of your ride that you can reflect on afterwards. 

5. Savour the moments

Savour the Moments…

Savouring brings a whole new level to taking notice and being curious and is all about noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life and giving conscious attention to the experience of pleasure. On your bike, it’s simply about filtering out the unnecessary elements of the world (and i don’t mean cars, junctions or hazards of course!). Simply being in awe of the world instead of looking at it as just your environment – be in awe of your surroundings, be in awe of your body and what it’s currently capable of doing and even be in awe of your decision to make the trip on your bike. Savouring these moments intensifies our positive emotions and allows the feelings to last longer. 

6. Set yourself a challenge each time

Set yourself a challenge each time…

Accomplishment is a big element to successful wellbeing – when we succeed at something we increase our positive emotions, boost our confidence and add to our self-esteem. We don’t even need this accomplishment to be huge, simply achieving something you have set out to do provides this response in our brain. So, every time you ride, set yourself some mini personal challenges. You can do it based on performance, so an average pace, beating a strava segment or hitting a power output; or you can make it more intriguing – find a new route, nail your gear changes or find the perfect line on a tough corner. Setting yourself a challenge taps into your own motivation and gives yo extra reasons to ride. Equally, the autonomy of creating that challenge is incredibly empowering and remember, we’re all just big kids who like to play and setting fun goal speaks to that inner child. 

7. Pick a Green route

Pick a Green Route…

We know there is a ton of research to tell us that exercise is great for our mood and emotional wellbeing. Well now there’s additional research that says if you pick a route where there’s a lot of green nature – it’s even more calming for our emotions. So when you need to stave off a bad day or bad mood, pick the greenest route you can find. Not only is it proven to emphasise the pleasurable elements of physical exercise but by doing so, it will promote further behavioural change by encouraging you to do more. Maybe it’s time to paint the turbo room grass green?

8. Be Strategic with timing

Be Strategic with Timing…

With every tip before, the plan has been to create stronger positive emotions and stronger ties to positive wellbeing during your ride. Increases to both of these lead to better productivity, higher creativity, more self-confidence and self-esteem and therefore if you are strategic with the timing of your ride, you can use the experience to take those feelings into other situations – such as an interview, presentation at work or when working towards a deadline. Don’t look at it as a distraction, use the ride to give your mental state a boost to be better when you get back. 

9. Keep Learning

Utilise Learning…

Personal growth is usually on everyone’s agenda and to be frank, if it’s not – it should be. We all always have something to learn and ways in which we can grow – but we don’t always recognise these learning opportunities if we’re not in the right frame of mind to learn. So, if cycling is a passion for you, then you can utilise your motivation to cycle as a way to ‘nudge’ your brain into a learning mode across the board. To tap into this, simply keep choosing something new you’d like to learn around your cycling – for me it was cyclocross and that has brought me a whole world’s worth of new skills and techniques to learn which has in turn made me more open to other learning opportunities in my work and home life. Try it, it works. 

So there’s 9 of my top tips, but if you’re bored by now and think that’s too much for one day; then promise me that if you do none of the above, you’ll take notice of the last one….. 

10. Be Thankful 

Be Thankful…

There is oooodles of research out there to show how practicing gratitude on a regular basis has a hugely positive effect on our wellbeing. Essentially, gratitude allows us to train our brains to recognise more of what we do have in life, rather than what we don’t have. It’s super powerful and one I recommend practicing in daily life not just cycling. But for the purpose of this article, I’m challenging you to think of 3 good things about the experience after EVERY ride… 


So there you have it, some tips to help you get more from each ride. Obviously you don’t need to deploy them all at the same time, but hopefully there are one or two in there to motivate you to try. 


I’ll leave you with this gem of a quote from Jim Rohn

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present”.

Jim Rohn.

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