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Riding with an intention
The power of setting intentions
January may be the most common time to make resolutions, but intentions can be set—and reset—all year, day in, day out.
Intentions are a useful tool to explore what’s working and what isn’t working in your rides—and in your life—and provide a platform to find joy, make meaningful changes, and ultimately allow you the space to take on new challenges.
What is an intention?
An intention is different from a goal. A goal is usually a physical outcome—riding a certain distance or winning a race—that may or may not be completely within your control. An intention, on the other hand, is an opportunity to examine your mindset. If a goal is the destination, an intention is the road you take. Intentions encourage you to zero in on the journey as opposed to the result. Because intentions deal with your outlook, this is something that is within your control and can help you both on and off the bike.
Why set an intention?
Setting intentions leads to greater opportunities to find success and happiness on and off the bike. When you focus on the journey, you live in the moment and are more likely to notice what you may have otherwise overlooked. This resonates with Canadian rider Magdeleine Vallieres-Mills. “When you sit with your thoughts and you slow down, you can feel something you didn't know was there. This can help me get to the root of a problem instead of just dealing with the superficial layers. It helps me be ok with my thoughts.”
Intention setting can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. Slowing down, taking stock of what’s important to you, and drawing your attention to what is within your control are powerful reminders to be present and appreciate the moment. Because you spend more time appreciating the present moment, it becomes easier to let go of expectations which can be a source of stress and disappointment.
Tanja Erath found setting intentions to be helpful as she recovered from a season-ending crash at the 2021 Women’s Tour that required spinal surgery. Months later, when she was eventually able to resume light workouts, “training became totally different,” she says. “Every little step was an improvement and I learned to be happy about it even though it was frustrating from time to time. Intentions helped me find motivation in what usually would frustrate me. I’d think, ‘Am I happy with a 20 minute ride?’ and the answer would be, ‘Yes, I am!’ I would set intentions of being nice to myself and appreciating myself.”
Set your intention
Spend a little time thinking about what you want to get out of your ride. What are you looking for in this ride? Why are you riding? Be honest with yourself. Maybe you are looking to push yourself harder than usual, perhaps you want to enjoy every moment of your ride, or maybe you simply want to let go of stressful thoughts running through your head.
Once you know what you’re looking for, make your intention clear. Keep it simple. Pick a word or short phrase to use as a reminder during your ride and let it become a mantra. Try something like “push” or “enjoy” or “let go.” It can also be helpful to write down your intention—a piece of tape on your top tube works well.
At first it may feel awkward or strange to pay attention to your intention as opposed to thinking about hitting specific targets. Be patient with yourself as you make this mental adjustment. Repeat your word to yourself and let it inspire you. Consider pairing your word with your breath. If your mantra is “I push,” think “I” on the inhales and “push” on the exhales. Find what works for you.
Take some time to reflect on your intention after your ride. How did it feel? Did you stay in touch with your intention during your ride? Was your intention helpful? Will you keep the same intention or change it? What will you do differently next time? What will you do the same? How can this intention serve you off the bike? Do you feel a deeper sense of satisfaction with this ride than usual?
As is the case with any new endeavor, repetition is essential. With a little practice, your intentions will evolve over time and can become powerful, allowing you to tackle new challenges with fresh enthusiasm. Make intention setting become a habit and see where it takes you.