Blog: My 3 links between cycling and developing empathy

bikeSo what on earth has cycling got to do with empathy development?? Not a lot you may say. But let me share with you my three links between these two things. And let me introduce you to my new toy and Christmas present to myself….my new bike! Lovely isn’t she! Yep female. Having been in a house dominated by males, with 3 sons for the last 14 years, everything now, by default, has to adopt a female status!! 🙂

In my attempt to improve my fitness level I decided I neededRelated image to strengthen my muscles and cardiovascular capabilities. So it was time to invest in a decent bike. As much as I love my shopper bike, it’s 3 gears really do not help with the hills!! It was time for a hybrid 21 speed monster!

So off I set on New Years Day to tackle those hills! I knew it would be challenging, but off I set, thinking I did not need to 90ec4fec5f6569248ed675b9d99f7118know anything about riding a bike….I mastered it years ago!  I had learnt to ride a bike at 5 years old…42 years previously. It was part of my unconscious behaviour.  It was auto pilot. I didn’t need to learn anything else…..OR DID I!!!!!!

Hitting the hill, I suddenly realised that whilst I had this clever bike with 21 gear options, I didn’t actually understand them very well and how best to utilise them. And this is when I started to think about how this links to empathy. On the courses that I run on empathy we look at whether empathy is natural or can be learnt, with mixed answers and some will come into the room feeling that they are already empathic people and what more could they possibly learn?

So here is link #1: 72% to 93% of our daily activities are unconscious. Once we learn to ride img_5619_thumba bike, it becomes second nature. We get on the saddle and our feet and legs know instinctively what to do. When we listen and communicate with someone, we instinctively know what to do. But with cycling, without understanding the more complex issues of gears, we will find it hard to make useHuman brain AMYGDALA - cross section of the benefits. Without understanding how the brain works,  and the empathy circuit and how that can be eroded or utilised, we will find it hard to make use of the immense benefits of our amazing minds.

Link #2: Both get strengthened by using and practising. The more I use cyclingmusclesthe bike and get practised at the gears, the more I will be strengthen my cardio vascular and my muscles and the better I will perform. The more the neurons are fired up in my learning-and-neuroplasticity-in-the-brain-759x450empathy circuit, the stronger they will get and better I will be able to communicate in an empathic way. Plus with both the bike gears and empathy skills, my new imported abilities will become second nature to me also and I will not have to try so hard or concentrate so hard to perform well.

228393229_af9297ade5_bLink #3: When facing a long, steep hill and climb, using the gears well on my bike, what would once have been very challenging and probably impossible, causing me to give up or ‘run away’ from the difficulty, becomes easier and achievable as I reach the top of the summit. When it is hard to understand another and conflict arises, using a strong 1510721empathy circuit well, can give you immense insight to another’s internal frame of reference to understand on a deeper level that otherwise you would not have been able to do. And instead of giving up or ‘running away’, you manage to climb what could have been an impossible hill to climb!

SO….I may know how to ride a bike already, but I am educating and empowering myself to do it better and use a 21 speed gear system through learning and developing my knowledge. I am learning to use my bikes full capacity to better me! Everyone who attends my empathy courses are educating and empowering themselves to understand and use their empathy circuits full capacity , to be a better them! As am I, as I continue to learn with every person that I come into contact with (sometimes getting it right, sometimes not) but developing my empathy and emotional awareness along the way. In fact, the more I use my bike, the stronger my body will get. They more I use my empathy circuit the stronger that will  get.

We may think we don’t need to learn anymore about something we assume we already know, like communicating and understanding, but to grow and get better, those unconscious, already learnt processes, often need learning in a whole new and exciting way, to get better and better and be the very best version of ourselves that we can be!

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Become A Better Leader Through Self-Empathy – An article by Forbes

In an article published by Forbes, Corporate Coach Fleet Maull states that ‘there are many different leadership styles and qualities that make a good leader, but people tend to be most attracted to and influenced by leaders who are empathetic.

He goes on to say that ‘in a study by BI Norwegian Business School found that employees were more committed and efficient on the job when their employers displayed increased self-awareness and insight. As leaders, listening is one of the key skills we use to give people the experience of our empathic presence and make them feel heard. But to give others our full attention and become an empathetic leader, we first need to be empathetic with ourselves.

Start With Self-Empathy

How we feel about and relate to ourselves directly impacts how we relate to the world and interact with others. We tend to place the blame for difficult feelings, such as anger or jealousy, on the actions of other people or our surroundings. Most people assume that our feelings are the result of other people or external circumstances. However, our feelings actually arise based on whether we perceive our needs as being met.

When we perceive our basic human needs, including our need to be acknowledged and respected, as being addressed, we’re content. When we perceive that they aren’t being met, or that they are being under-addressed, that’s when feelings of frustration, anger, sadness and jealousy emerge.

 Validating our own needs and having the predilection to validate the needs of others is an important part of becoming an empathic leader. Being able to look people in the eye and say, “Of course you need respect/clarity/to be heard,” is the ground of empathic communication.’


CarolynMy thoughts: Self awareness and emotional development is key to being empathic. How can you understand others’ feelings, if you don’t acknowledge and try to understand your own. 

In trying to find empathy towards clinicians who I felt had let my child down in hospital and who I felt hid the truth after she died, was, to say the least, one of the toughest things I have done. However, it was also one of the most empowering and compassionate things I have done. Compassionate to them, but also to me!
How did I achieve this, well through being self-aware. What did it feel like to be scared of the future? As I was at that time. I used my feeling of fear to tap into and to imagine the fears that the clinicians may be feeling faced with questions and investigation. It enabled me to see them as being similar to me, vulnerable and lost in a difficult and emotive situation. In absence of many months of not being allowed any contact with them, all I could do was imagine, but that process, broke down my more blinkered view of the circumstances and allowed myself to open my mind to possible reasons behind behaviours, that in turn, gave me a human connection with the clinicians and indeed

This process did not dilute my objectives, which was truth and candour from the hospital, as acknowledging certain possible feelings; it did not equate to agreeing with actions, but it did allow me to travel a route of more understanding and compassion and in turn, create more peaceful mindset for me. Without self-awareness and my own emotional development that many years of counselling training and psychology had aided me with, this process may not have been so beneficial to my mental health. 
This is something we are all able to attain with understanding, honesty with ourselves and practice. Empathy is not experiencing the same as another or indeed swamping ourselves with the others feelings, but hooking into a feeling that we have had that is as close as we feel we can get, to be able to imagine what is being felt and what is needed, and a drive to respond if this is something that you are in a position to do. 
Leaders have the ability to make a great difference to the everyday lives of their staff but so often don’t acknowledge their own feelings of frustration, inadequacy, feeling heard, feeling threatened, stressed or fearful, making it  therefore much harder to recognise those feelings in others. 
Our feelings always impact on our behaviours and not being aware of them, can mean we become blinkered and avoid empathic and emotionally focused thinking to avoid our own feelings.  
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