4 Ways to Maintain Mental Focus on the Bike

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4 Ways to Maintain Mental Focus on the Bike

Whether it’s grueling mileage, skyscraper hills or crazy weather, inevitably in your cycling career, you’ll ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Teach your brain to cope with this dilemma with these four tips for staying focused on the bike:

1. GET IN THE ZONE

The flow, also called the zone, describes the mental aspect of performance where one activity is consumed in a state of laser-like focus and total immersion in the task at hand. Named by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, cyclists experience flow when legs go on autopilot, breath is sequenced with pedal stroke, and the only conscious thought is maintaining that productive state.

2. OWN YOUR DISCOMFORT

During a training session, discomfort will surely kickin. You have two options: direct energy toward it or divert your attention outward. The latter option is called disassociation. For example, when your legs start to burn, think about the things that make you happy. Re-live those moments that make you smile. Alternatively, think about the parts of your body that do feel good. Conversely, claim the discomfort. Own it. Give it a name and confront it. Popular cyclist Jens Voigt famously writes “Shut Up Legs” on his bike to confront the discomfort.

3. CREATE A MANTRA

Use a short phrase you can repeat to yourself when you start to lose focus. For example, the three R’s of a pedal stroke: round, rigorous and resistance-laden.  

A helpful acronym is STRONG:

S: Self-discipline (commit to the task and persevere)

T: Tenacious (be willing to push harder at times)

R: Round (pedal in circles while seated)

O: Oval (pull up on your stroke out of the saddle)

N: Nape shielding (keep your spine neutral for breathing)

G: Gentle grip (keep fingers loose on the handlebars)


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4. CONSCIOUSLY FORM A HABIT

Habits form when the brain takes a cognitive shortcut and doesn’t deliberate over what to do next. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, focus on forming a positive habit on the bike — more controlled breathing or faster cadence, for example. Doing so eliminates the noise in the room and in your head. Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the “10,000 Hour Rule” states that deliberate practice over 10,000 hours is needed to become an expert. While that may or may not be true in this case, it’s an interesting concept. For a more nuanced approach on forming habits, “Hooked,” by Nir Eyal, and S.J. Scott’s “From Novice to Expert” provide excellent advice.

Your ability to deal with the unexpected is rooted in your ability to cope with the mundane. Time on the bike provides ample opportunity to train the mind to cope and overcome.


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