So, we are well into the 99th edition of the greatest bike race in the world – The Tour de France. Here in the U.K. it is an event that is relegated to coverage by obscure sports channels and a quick mention at the end of sports bulletins (if you’re lucky). Last year’s race garnered more coverage than usual in the media since Mark Cavendish became the first British rider to win the Green Jersey (the sprinters’ competition). This time round the coverage, while still not headline news is getting much more coverage thanks to a British rider, Bradley Wiggins, being one of the favorites to win the Yellow Jersey.
I am writing this on the first of a couple of rest days in the Tour, sandwiched between yesterday’s time trial, and tomorrow’s ascent into the first of the gruesome mountain stages. Bradley Wiggins is wearing the Yellow jersey and pundits are already talking about him being in pole position to win overall.
While the press clamour for quotes from Wiggins that they can quote back to their readers if he fails to fulfil expectations, the man in yellow has remained sanguine about the road ahead and the enormous challenges, both mental and physical that he, along with all the riders, face.
Bradley is managing expectations. And that is something that I find a constant strain and effort to do.
No one is thinking of me as wearing the Yellow jersey. But expectations that I put on myself can weigh me down just as surely as full saddle bags and a pair of leaden legs. And I’m not the only one with expectations of myself. Lots of other people have expectations of me, as well.
No pressure, then.
The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius was a philosophical kinda guy. I have written about him in a previous edition of this blog, and I want to return to him again today. He was a Stoic philosopher. By this I do not mean that he believed that one should have a Stiff Upper Lip. He, and others of this school of thought, believed in managing expectations. In short, don’t put pressure on yourself by putting unreasonable expectations upon yourself. we cannot do that, if they are persistent, obtrusive, we can
‘Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts’. What he is getting at is we put pressure on ourselves, give ourselves expectations, and we do so out of habit. And further more, our thoughts, the ones we are used to entertaining, tend to rule us by embedding themselves in our psyche ( a modern term for ‘soul’). What he is saying is that control your thoughts, and you control your feelings; control your feelings and you can choose how to react to circumstances outside your control. Sound like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? I think so. What the Stoics were all about – and there are many contemporary Stoics, too – is about understanding one’s place in the whole scheme of things – I’ll come back to that another time. What I want to get across this time is that if we decide to believe that we can change how we behave, and thus how we feel, we can adjust our expectations. Adjusting expectations down – as Bradley Wiggins has been doing recently. If we can learn to adjust the expectations we have of ourselves we will be less prone to disappointment, pressure and anxiety.
A state you must dare not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all
the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exist.
But there it is, as promised,
with its perfect bridge above
and its doors forever open.
Stephen Dunn (1939 – )