Impatience

I had been thinking a lot about impatience, even before I broke my collarbone and found myself relegated to couch and sling. I am an endurance athlete, although since my kids came along I’ve had less and less time to endure. But let’s set that aside for a minute. Even an hour’s ride might require endurance depending on where you are in your life.

My younger self viewed the job of building endurance as a simple series of efforts in which I pushed through my physical limits as far as I could go. This jibed fairly well with my bull-headed, brute force approach to most problems. By reducing the project to my willingness to hurt, over-and-over, I removed much of the nuance from what really goes on in an athlete’s head. Maybe that’s just a luxury of youth, and as we age, we have to get more and more clever, to stalk fitness like a skittish deer and leap onto its back only when it passes close by, nibbling at youth’s tender tendrils.

What I have come to see recently is that there is an intermediary stage between the beginning of a ride, when my energy is still fresh, and the part where it gets hard. Let’s call that stage ‘familiarity’ for now.

Once your body becomes familiar with the work you get settled in, get a little comfortable, and maybe, just maybe a little bored. The work is neither easy nor hard. You are, unless you can distract yourself, just sitting in the effort. This strikes me as the actual beginning of endurance. Of late, I reach this point, and the first flickers of ‘maybe this is enough,’ start to cross my mind, even though I haven’t actually done much riding yet. I’m just impatient.

Once things get hard, impatience remains present, but most of my mental energy is devoted to resource management. One thing I notice as a ‘tell’ when I’m moving out of impatience and into resource management is irritation. Suddenly I’m mad about things outside my control. Maybe I’m put off by something a ride partner is doing. Maybe I’m agitated about the weather or traffic. I have to believe that this is simple projection, trying to assign some sort of blame for my suffering on someone or something else. We get petty when we’re uncomfortable, don’t we?

Fortunately, I’m more, ahem, mature now, and I’ve had the privilege of dealing with my kids’ impatience. What I understand about impatience is that it’s basically a failure of noticing. What I mean is that I’m fixated on one thing, a thing I’m bored with, and oblivious to all the other things, the potentially interesting things, like the wind, weather, trees, sounds of my wheels, etc. My strategy for overcoming impatience is to recognize it and refocus on noticing.

Once I’m noticing things, I’m much more likely to find a way to accept the work and find the flow.

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