09 Oct

Resilience – 5 ways how to handle tough situations – Lessons from setting a world record

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It is stage 9 of the 21-stage cycling challenge. I am in the midst of setting a world record. As the first female in history I am cycling the same course as the professionals of one of the toughest cycling races in the world – the 3300km Vuelta a España.

Today will be one of the toughest stages of this challenge. I am not exactly fresh anymore having cycled 1200km over the last 9 days. And today will be one of the biggest stages: 200km and 4000m of climbing. It will take me around 9 hours to complete it.

But the difficulty is not only the stage itself but a lot of unfortunate factors that came together.

A seemingly small problem turned big when the air conditioning during the hot night didn’t work so I barely slept in a room of 36 degrees. And today I would ride alone without any cycling companions. Previously I always had friends join me. Not today. The next 9 hours would be fighting alone with the physical and mental fatigue.

Looking at my situation, I realized that this was a key moment that would define me and my project.

Would this tough situation affect my goal to set a world record?

It was a time I could complain about, all the misfortune giving me perfect excuses to give up confirming what 80% of the people – who have been following this journey – predicted. It would be an easy way out of sleep deprivation, physical and mental fatigue.

But I didn’t give up. It was a matter of resilience that was compromised of attitude, preparation and action.

These are the five ways how I get through tough situations:


Hours of physical and mental training prepared me for this situation. Before the start of this challenge, I went through worst-case scenarios that could affect me and how I would deal with them. I trained in these conditions so I knew how to handle the situation. Preparation is also key to build up self-confidence and knowing what I can do.

Think big.

Is sleepiness really a reason to give up on a world record? Comparing the current problematic situation with the bigger objective often diminishes how problematic it really is. 4 hours sleep, riding alone and the accumulating exhaustion is not a reason to give up! During tough situations, instead of focusing on the here and now, think about the bigger picture and the end goal. It will keep your energy focused on a positive outcome.

Create a short-term reward.

I knew the next nine hours will be tough but during those 9 hours I was already thinking about what I would do afterwards. I would treat myself to my favorite meal and get a massage. Imagining the smell of a good pizza gave me a warm fuzzy feeling which made me forget that I was currently in a tough situation.

Use it as a chance to show yourself what you are made of.

I aim to use tough situations to excel in them. Those situations enable us to grow as a person. See it as a challenge by destiny and excel on it. Not often do we get chances to show what we are really made of. So instead of “declining” it, use this chance to show yourself who you are.

Make immediate changes.

Sometimes all the bad things come together but if they can be avoided in the future, then now is the time to make the change. To avoid any future problems, I made sure that I would never stay in a hotel without air conditioning anymore and invited more friends along so I would have company. Every small step helps to avoid the same situation twice.

After nine hours on the bike, I finally had my Barbeque chicken pizza that I was dreaming of the last nine hours. But I not only mastered this stage, it made me mentally ready for stages that were a lot harder. I felt mentally stronger and stronger because with every resilient move I gained more self-confidence.

We have all been in tough situations. We all have those small external factors like the non-functioning air conditioning that add misfortune to an already big project. But reminding ourselves to focus on the bigger picture will put the small hiccups into perspective.

Creating a rewarding experience in the short-term like that pizza will give that extra motivation to push through tough situations. It is incredible how these seemingly small rewards spark enthusiasm during long projects. Every mastery of a tough situation will prepare us for the next.

Resilience is like a muscle. When we train hard (pushing through tough situations) we will be stronger afterwards and are able to push more.


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