I had waited six months for this day.
The weather was perfect and it was time to take the my road bike out for it’s first official ride in preparation for Ironman 70.3. I got off to a great start as I headed downhill toward the river to an eight mile loop of road that was closed to traffic. I’d never ridden a road bike like this and I was excited to see what it would feel like. The first 9.00 miles were smooth. I felt fast and I felt good. The sun was shining, the road was open and I could see the outline of downtown Philadelphia in front of me as I listened to the river flow beside me. There were moments where it felt like I could go forever.
That feeling didn’t last long.
That feeling came to an abrupt end when I shifted gears, heard a clunk and realized that the pedals wouldn’t budge. I was fortunate enough to gain control of the bike and pull off to the side of the road without falling. I stepped off of the bike and looked down at the back tire. I had no idea what had happened, I don’t know much about bikes, but I knew it wasn’t good.
It appeared as if the gear shifter somehow got caught up in the spokes of the rear tire. The first thought that popped into my head was to try and fix it (needless to say, that didn’t work). So there I stood, four miles from home with a broken bike and an important decision to make. The first (and easier) option was to let these circumstances derail the day, falling victim to frustration and wallowing in self-pity. The second (and more difficult) option was to move on and control the things that I could control; attitude (perspective) and actions (effort).
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
In that moment, I realized that I was in “the space” between stimulus (broken bike) and response. I understood that both options were conscious choices that I had to make and take ownership of. I couldn’t shift gears, but I could shift perspective. With that awareness, I chose option number two.
I chose to control what I could control in that moment and nothing else.
I began to walk home and I couldn’t help but think of a piece of running advice that I had received earlier in the week. Someone had told me that while running, when his knees hurt, he would just think about how great his hips felt. I figured that the same logic could transfer to this situation and so I tried it. While I walked, I thought about everything that I had to be grateful for (great health, excellent weather, a wedding in two weeks, etc.). The more that I chose gratitude, the less that it bothered me to be walking my broken bike back home, four miles, uphill. To be more accurate, the back wheel locked up so I carried the back home, almost four miles, all uphill.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
The weather was beautiful and aside from being tiring and far from ideal, the walk was nice. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do, so I stopped along the way home to take some pictures and soak in the sun.
Despite the disappointment of walking uphill (with a bike on my back) for twice as long as I got to bike (for the first time with this bike), I had a good day. Call me crazy, but when I was done walking home, I felt grateful. I didn’t feel frustrated, I didn’t feel upset, I didn’t even feel sorry for myself. I just felt grateful. I realized that this morning was a lesson in attitude and gratitude. While life might not be in our control, our response to life is. Much like my younger self would have told me, life’s not fair, but it could always be worse.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl
The next time that life seems unfair, I want to encourage you to stop and realize that you’re in “the space” between stimulus and response. The next time that something doesn’t go your way, start thinking of everything that is going your way (I promise, there’s a lot). You might be surprised just how much an intentional shift in attention can impact a set of seemingly bad circumstances. Like Thoreau said, “it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Choose to see the good.
Thank you for reading.
Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT