lessons from 2020

Never Forget These 6 Lessons From 2020

By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

At the end of the year I often write a ‘best of’ list that includes my best day on the bike, some of the great products I’ve had the opportunity to use, and some of the most meaningful people and experiences from the previous 12 months. I have a great deal to be grateful for right now – my health and family most of all – but a ‘best of’ list isn’t what’s been on my mind recently. As we put 2020 behind us, I think amidst the struggles, tragedies, and triumphs there are lessons we cannot and should not forget.

Give of yourself, but don’t forget yourself

Over the past 12 months we’ve seen countless people give their time, effort, money, and more to help others in need. First responders worked long hours, food pantry volunteers kept people fed, neighbors checked up on each other, chefs transformed their kitchens to create free meals for hospital workers, and the examples go on and on. The human capacity for giving is immense, but it is important to reserve some of that capacity for yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone else.

Life is Fragile

The fragility of life is perhaps the greatest lesson we should all take from 2020. We’ve lost a tremendous number of people, and many of them led healthy and active lifestyles. Physical fitness is beneficial for supporting the immune system and reducing risk factors for many chronic diseases and comorbidities, but fitness isn’t an impenetrable shield. Many people look at exercise and fitness as an insurance policy for a long and active future, and it is, but it is also your ticket to getting the most out of today – and tomorrow. Plan for a long future, but not so much that you deprive yourself of great days now.

Embrace the process

Process was the name of the game in 2020. With most events cancelled, the outcome goals on athletes’ schedules suddenly disappeared. We’ve always talked about ‘loving the process’, but that was always in the context of having the choice between process and outcome goals. This year was a unique opportunity to help athletes truly find joy from the process of training. Some already understood it, but many others doubted their reasons for training if there were no events to prepare for. As we look forward to getting back to our respective start lines, athletes who discovered or strengthened their love of the training process will see that it leads to better outcomes than they ever imagined.

Where the head goes, the body follows

There was a saying when I was racing in Belgium that roughly translated to, “When the head is good, the legs are good.” In the decades since that time, I have learned that sentiment expands far beyond cycling. When you take care of your mental health–when your head is in a good place–your body follows. So do your relationships and your career. Maintaining a healthy mind when everything (or most things) are going your way is one thing; keeping you mind healthy during times of great stress is another. I feel that my coaches and I have been able to help our athletes stay mentally fit as well as physically fit this year, but I also encouraged both coaches and athletes to talk to mental health professionals. Fitness and exercise can enhance mood, but they are not substitutes or replacements for professional mental health services.

Get moving, even when you don’t feel like it

There were a lot of times during 2020 when it was tempting to stay in bed instead of going out on the bike, or to the office, or to the grocery store. There were times when some business owners thought shutting down would be less painful than fighting to stay open. In coaching we talk about “the warmup rule”. When the workout for the day is intimidating, when you’re not sure if you’re fatigued or just a little sluggish, or when you’re not sure you can handle it, don’t focus on the whole thing. Just start your warmup. By the end of the warmup, you’ll know whether your body is responding normally or whether today would be better as a recovery spin or rest day. You don’t have to – and shouldn’t – push through when there are real signs that you need more rest (in training, work, and relationships), but you do have to at least get moving and give it a try before making the decision.

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Play the long game

I’ve heard some people being dismissive of the past 12 months or calling it a waste of a year. Nothing is farther from the truth. If you are fortunate enough to see the start of 2021, then the past year will almost certainly impact the trajectory of your future. I dare say that if it doesn’t, you haven’t been paying attention. While it is important to live for the present, I encourage people to also use this opportunity to consider (or reconsider) what you’re playing for in the long game.

To everyone who suffered loss this year, you are in my thoughts and I wish you peace and tranquility. To all those who achieved success, you have my heartfelt congratulations. And no matter where you are on the spectrum of tragedy to triumph, my door is always open and you can reach me at chris.carmichael@trainright.com.

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Comments 16

  1. Chris, thanks for the article!
    I jot down the great phrases to ponder: “..but don’t forget yourself, ..life is fragile, ..embrace the process, ..head goes / body follows, ..get moving, ..play the long game.” I liked them and they inspire me when I read them.

    In June-26-2013 eight friends attended the ‘Epic MTB Training Camp’ with Adam Pulford as lead coach. The last day you rode with our group, although we are dedicated amateur riders, but not athletes like everyone else, it was a great experience nonetheless. You nicknamed us: ‘The Cartel’ ..hahaha, remember?

    Happy holidays,
    Luis Solana

  2. Chris, I sincerely doubt you will even vaguely remember me but I ran Descente’s USA marketing until 1995. Heiden, 7-Eleven, USCF, TriFed USA, US Ski Team, various others, later Dave Scott, were in my focus for about 15-20 years. Your perspective is solid and your path to where you are today is solid. Thanks for sharing your insights. I pay attention to what you put out there.

  3. This is the first time I write a comment about an article. I live in Panama, Republic of Panama, 67 years old. Have won many races and Gran Fondos even in age groups 15 years younger than me. I am acomplished business person with companies with more than 20,000 employees in five countries. Fly my own Falcon Jet and helicopter. All of these accomplishments have come through tough “interval” work. Having said that your message on “loving the process” is so true. You have to apply it to all aspects of live: love or relationships, business, being a successful athlete, being a good father etc. If you do not love the process you will never be better. Sometimes “interval” work in cycling or in live is hard and it is easier to quit than to “embrace” it as a process to be better. Some people complain all the time why they do not succeed and the answer is that they quit at the required “interval” work that takes to get to the pinnacle. It is never fast and it takes ups and downs.

  4. Thanks Chris for sharing your encouraging thoughts. This year are been particularly difficult for me. In January I had a cyst removed from my spinal cord and to my surprise recovery was easy – 5 weeks. In August I fell and fractured my patella and still can’t ride, but I’m working on it.
    Happy New Year.
    Dottie Saling

  5. Chris –

    Thanks for putting into words – in a much better way than I could – some of what has been bouncing around in my head this difficult year.

    I would add one more thing: Appreciate what you’ve not been able to do – whether it’s that race, trip, group ride & the after-ride confab, etc. And remember what a privilege it is if you’re in a position to do them again. 🙂

    Best to all, and LET’S GO 2021!

  6. Can’t help but comment…if we are being or have been our best, it has been a pretty good year for those we love, as my 6 year old grandson tried to say in his letter to Santa two nights ago. For me the discipline of cycling helps remind me to be that, in as many aspects of my life as possible, failures included. And last, our worst days could very well be nirvana for “others”. All in all, 2020 has been a tough interval but we’re stronger for getting ‘er done. Stay safe, stay strong!

  7. Chris, thank you so much for your inspiring and informative words today and all year long!! Your wisdom is much appreciated in good times and bad. Keep up the really good work that you and yours are doing as we look forward to the build and hopefully planning a peak in 2021 and beyond!!

  8. Thanks for the reminder to focus on what is truly important! It’s important to appreciate the process/journey, because that is where we spend most of our lives and learn most of our lessons and develop discipline and character. The outcomes are great, but oftentimes fleeting and not what we thought they would be when we actually achieve them.

  9. Chris, thank you.
    Have shared this article with my entire family. It is the perfect nutshell of the book on 2020.
    This article should be revisited/reread often during the new year as we hopefully achieve some normalcy to our lives.

    Thanks again, Happy New Year! Craig Probst

    1. Craig:
      Thank you for the kind words. Soon the dark clouds will pass and we will all be riding under blue skies again. Happy Holidays, Chris Carmichael

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