The Psychological Advantage
think you can you can, if you think you can’t you’re right. Rule number
one of life! Okay it might not be, but you’ll find it works for almost
all obstacles you will ever face. Once you have it in your mind you can
do something, you need to make plans regarding how you can bring about
the results you’re after. To do that you need a goal. If you
setting factsheet in conjunction with this one, you'll vastly
increase the chances of realising your potential.
factsheet is a little longer than the rest; that's a reflection of the
importance of the mind in relation to the performance of the body.
Everything you read here is a guaranteed "supplement-free" performance
enhancer that is available for absolutely no cost to yourself.
What have you got to lose by spending ten minutes reading it? I
know: ten minutes!
Focus on the goal, not the suffering
Once you have a goal the suffering you’ll endure while training towards
that goal, through carefully placed sub-goals, becomes bearable. You now
have something upon which to focus that allows your body to be pushed
to, and beyond, its limits. The ability to suffer comes down to the
strength of your mind, not the strength of your body. The level at
which you begin to suffer is down to your body! How you let that
suffering affect you is all in your mind.
suffers, the champions are the ones that can suffer the longest and the
hardest. Ulrich has astronomical physiological figures, reputedly much greater
than Armstrong’s. Yet Armstrong can suffer more, focus more and has a
mental toughness of which Ulrich can only dream. Still, don’t take my
word for it, look at their Tour results and their individual reaction to
setbacks over the past years. Look how Armstrong reacted when he was
taken down by a spectator’s musette in 2002. What would you have
So how do you mentally toughen up?
way to become mentally tougher is to make a conscious decision that will
allow it happen. You then need to block out all external de-stabilizers
and filter out internal noise. This is far, far easier said than done.
But saying it, and believing it, is the first step to making it happen.
ignore distractors, first you have to be aware of when and how they may
be used and treat them for what they are; unwanted noise. There are
certain basic ploys used to destabilise athletes and their preparation.
We all do it and we all have it done to us. Most de-stabilizers are
subliminal and most are probably missed at the time of launching.
However, our sub-conscious picks them up, constantly replays them in the
background and begins to use them against us. But only if we let it.
two cyclists talking when they first meet. “Doing much?” “Nah,
you know, pottering, junk miles, ticking over, that sought of stuff.”
“Doing any intervals?” “Nah, too early for speed work. Just
concentrating on base, steady rides, club runs and stuff, you know.”
“Yeh, me too. Just taking it easy really.” You can see that both
are messing with each other’s mind and trying to gain an advantage
through destabilization. Neither is willing to admit that they’re
training hard and looking for a win. Each is trying to lead the other
to believe that they are not a threat. It’s not a conscious decision to
lie, it’s just the way things are. It’s tradition.
If I had a
pound for every time I’d heard a cyclist say, “I’m screaming. I’m like
a coiled spring, I’ve done all my intervals, I’ve tapered and I’ve
prepared well. I’m due to peak on Sunday for the Island Championship,
which I’m sure I’ll win”, I wouldn’t have enough to buy anything in the
pound shop! But isn’t that what we’re all either trying to do or
dreaming of? If not, why are people riding round for hours on end in
the dark and wet in the middle of winter?
external de-stabilizers are more insidious and direct. Recognise them
for what they are, the last ploy tools of a beaten person. If anyone
starts talking to you during a race there’s a fair chance that they’re
more worried about you than you should be about them. Stick to your
plan, ride your race, let them ride theirs and smile. Because once you
smile, you have the upper hand!
monster within us all, the inner voice. We all have it and more often
than not it’s telling us what we can’t do. Even now as you’re reading
this your inner voice has been talking to you, distracting you from the
message. “I must get some milk on the way home; has the dog been fed;
did I switch the gas off!” If it can do that when you’re sitting
comfortably, reading, what’s it going to do when you’re hanging on as
another attack goes up the road? The probability is that the person
going up the road is as on-the-limit as you. They’ve just chosen to
ignore their inner voice; that’s what makes them a winner. The weak
voice say’s, “I’m tired, try to hang on”, the strong voice say’s “we are
all tired, let’s attack”.
Keeping a balance
Morale and confidence are two mighty weapons to have in your armoury.
They are however fickle and ethereal bedfellows. When you have them
you’re almost unstoppable, if you lose them (through a lack of mental
toughness) your self belief goes and with it your results.
a habit. Watch the vets races. People who’ve been hanging on to the
seniors and getting a kicking for a few years suddenly become one year
older and now become an influence on the race. After a while they win
one, realise what they’re capable of and start winning a few more.
Before you know it they’re disappointed with third place!
is happening in your own little cycling world, it isn’t going to last.
If you’re winning everything, then sadly the run will come to an end.
If you’re mis-firing and the results aren’t coming, if you work hard
(not too hard) and keep things in perspective you will come through the
Mental toughness is a great comfort at this time as you
already know that things will get better. Once you start thinking things will be
better, very soon they normally do.
some this may seem an anathema. But it is possible to be
over-competitive! Even in a sport such as ours. Unlike the immortal
words of Bill Shankley, cycling at our level isn’t a matter of life or death;
just seems like it sometimes. Over-competitiveness leads to a selfish
approach to those around you which one day will bite you back. Do not
become obsessed with winning. We’re here to enjoy ourselves and if you
win then you get to enjoy it a little bit more than the rest. I
know this sounds something of a contradiction but keep everything in
perspective and you'll find winning will come to you.
Avoid the Middle Zone
psychology refers to a situation called the middle zone. In cycling
this can be seen as a situation where during training your thinking of
what everyone else is doing or focussing on the race and how you’ll
perform. While during the race you’re worrying that everyone else seems
stronger and begin to wonder if you’ve trained enough. Recognise this
destructive situation and get out of it.
If you find yourself in the middle zone there are loads of tools such as
reframing techniques, pattern breaking, positive anchors, NLP (Neuro
Linguistic Programming) swish patterns to name quite a few really, that
can quickly break you out of it. But that’s for another day.
When you are training concentrate solely on that. Your training no one
else's. Do not stray into a world of doubt. Have a training plan and
go out and give it everything. If you see a mate, wave and keep going.
If you join them you’ve lost that session and taken a step to the middle
zone. Your training has now become their ride. You've
compromised your plan. The first step to the middle zone.
When you’re racing, have a plan and contingencies, and use them. Do
not let distractions enter your mind. Focus all your energies into what
you are doing and make them positive. When you race, race; when you
train, train and when you rest…, you get the picture. Stay out of the
middle zone, it’s full of trolls and slow people!
you know, we like this word on this website. The more things for which
you have a strategy the less chance there is of anything catching you by
surprise. So how do you prepare for something as quick-changing
and as varied as the vagaries of the mind?
everything in moderation. Train hard or train long, don’t train long
and hard. If things aren’t going to plan, doing more of the same
isn’t going to help. Take the long view and plan for an
objective. You aren’t going to win your first race back after three weeks
of sickness or injury. Be patient, create a SMARTS goal, target an event in the
future and work towards it. The cliché “patience has it’s rewards” has
never been more appropriate.
the days when I raced cars rather than bikes, I used to spend hours in the bath,
thinking “isn’t nature wonderful” and practicing laps of the circuits I
was to race at the weekends.
can still do it now. I can shut my eyes and visualise every bump,
ripple and inch of Silverstone, Donington or Oulton Park and do a
practice lap in my mind that is within a second of my actual lap times
back in the good old days when I didn’t have to pedal.
you’re mind visualises, you’re body can recreate that’s because your
senses can not differentiate between what is real and what is imagined.
To see a classic example of this,
type “Pavlov’s Dogs” into Google.
It's not the same but it's the same, if you see what I mean.
many times do you thing Boonen and Van Petegem visualise storming the
Koppenberg, scaling the Muur and powering up the Bosberg?
from January 1st until the first Sunday in April, that’s how
often. Did you notice the words that we used? They didn’t ride they
stormed; they didn’t climb they scaled and they didn’t float they
powered. Just try it for a while, use strong, powerful, bold visual
images and see what happens.
You could even crack La Redoute like Dianne on the right.
Anyone who is serious enough about their sport to join a club and put
their body through the stresses of training and competing should be
serious enough to keep a training diary. If you don’t have one, get
one. Tomorrow. If you’re unsure what to do send me an email.
psychologists use the technique of positive listings to refocus their
athlete’s mind during times of doubt. Try it yourself. Sit down and write out twenty,
thirty, sixty! positive things that you’ve done from the end of last
season to wherever you are now. If you have a training diary read
through it. Don’t look at it, read it! How can you have any doubts
about yourself when you look at all that work and effort that’s gone in
to making you a better athlete?
is your positive list. Keep it up to date and write something positive
each week. If you can’t write something positive then your
doing something wrong.
What happens when the hammer goes down, the speed goes up and the
elastic finally snaps and you’re dropped? Do you, a) crawl back to the
finish; pack and save yourself for next week; b) take a quick drink,
compose yourself then chase to get back on; c) ride as hard as you can
to stay away from your chasers; or d) get motivated to go off and do
some extra speed work to come back stronger in a month's time.
the options are right or wrong, they are just potential responses to a
set of circumstances of which only you, and possibly your coach, have
the answer. Don’t let anyone mess with your mind by saying you should
of done this or I would have done that. If you want advice ask for it,
take it, reflect on it then use it to form your own opinion and
outcome. Everyone may see the result of your actions but only you know
the question you asked of yourself.
In competition, you are either being made to suffer, or making someone
suffer. Even if the level of suffering is exactly the same, the
perception of it is totally different depending on whether you're
dishing it out or receiving it. And all of that is to do with the
state of your mind. You're either the hammer or the anvil; decide
which it's going to be and ride accordingly.
Inner Barriers are one of your biggest hurdles to success. In the
to the performance triangle; physiological fitness, skills & technique,
and psychological strength, it is the latter that will determine the
successful application of the former. You can train has hard and as
long as you want and be genetically gifted in the extreme, but unless
you have your race head on come race day, it’s all for nothing. If you
want to win, start thinking like a winner. It cost’s nothing and they
can’t touch you for it.
mentally strong and don’t let anyone else control the way you think.
What goes on in your head is all down to you. If you feel negative
thoughts entering your mind, combat them with positive affirmations.
Negative thoughts lead to negative performance. Guess what positive
thoughts lead to?
we share the processes of hard work and endeavour, we all have a
different set of strengths and weaknesses and we all progress at our own
pace. Until you reach your stated goal, be professionally dissatisfied
with your performance, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Once it's
achieved, be happy, rest and enjoy the rewards of a job well done and
look towards a new adventure and a new goal. Don’t keep doing the same
things and expecting different outcomes. Life just doesn’t work like
that. Either in the body or the mind.