Having recently turned my attention away from my own skills development to begin focusing on helping others, I often feel like I am going backwards on the bike. This year, for the first time, I am eligible to compete in the Veterans category and I think we can all agree that age and accumulating responsibilities outside of racing are two of the most worn out excuses on the trails. And I have certainly claimed them both myself! In recent times, I have been having to put my ego aside and accepting that some things that were once well within my level of ability are now outside of my skill set. It’s not easy and, at times, extremely frustrating and demoralising. Personal anecdotes aside, many riders at every level go through peaks and troughs in their careers and for many different reasons. While enjoying the good times is easy, it can be difficult to find satisfaction when things aren’t going so smoothly on the bike.
Celebrating personal wins is something that mountain bikers do best. It’s not just our own achievements that get us pumped, but others’ too. When things are going well, it’s high fives all around! But it’s pretty easy to get down on your riding too. Sometimes we just have a bad day, conditions aren’t great, we haven’t been riding much, or maybe one section of trail is just psyching us out big time. It’s times like these we can become fixated on the bad stuff and forget to pat ourselves on the back for the good things we do…
Positive self-talk and visualisation are fantastic, and in my opinion underrated, tools you can use to boost your mental game.
It’s those sunny days where the hero dirt and flow stretch to the horizon, you feel like your bike setup is dialled and your mates laugh at every joke out your mouth. That voice in your head is saying things like “how good is this” and “you railed that berm”. These are the times when mountain biking is easy and we think nothing of it.
On the other side of the metaphorical is that day you signed up for that race. You know, the one where you thought you might be biting off more than you could chew? The other riders were looking so fast on the track while you could barely get down without crashing. Then it rained as you left the track on practice day and you just knew tomorrow would be a nightmare. The goal for race day was to survive and as your race progresses that voice in your head is saying things like “don’t mess up through the rocks” and “you could have done that better”.
Focusing on the negative will almost certainly prevent you from reaching your potential. It won’t stop you from moving forward completely but will slow your progression down to a snail’s pace. It’s also a sure fire way to get you down in the dumps about your riding. I’m not recommending you crawl into a cocoon of denial where mistakes don’t happen and there’s no need for matches in the bathroom. Nobody is perfect and every ride can be improved upon, but mistakes and challenges are to be acknowledged – not dwelled upon for extended periods of time.
Even in the most trying situations you will undoubtedly be doing something well. Figure out what it is and give yourself some credit! Positive reinforcement works for dogs and it will work for you too. Every ride will have it’s positives and it is up to you to pull them out and celebrate them.
That wet race you entered earlier… A positive minded person would see it as an opportunity to ride and learn amongst a higher calibre of mountain bikers. Crashing in a different place each run means you can congratulate yourself when you clean the section that got you last time. The rain will change everyone’s weekend, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. The goal for the race should have been more along the lines of to complete a clean and controlled race. Putting a positive spin on the things you can’t control will keep your spirits high when things aren’t all smooth sailing.
Maintaining a positive perspective and celebrating all of your wins, even the tiny ones in a sea of silly mistakes, will make sure every ride is enjoyable and that you have ample supply of confidence when you need it. Before you know it, you will be celebrating every rock, root, roller, berm and jump! High fives all around!
Words: Tyson Schmidt