Coach Alison muses over how our core beliefs and negative self talk can be preventing for achieving our goals
We all have core beliefs and paradigms around our abilities and self worth. We can think of these as our brain's programming. These core beliefs of how we see the world and our place in it were created from the time we're born to around the age of seven years old, influenced by our parents, the media, teachers and our peers. Programming that was written in our formative years may no longer serve us. They may restrict what we think is possible. Beliefs around perfectionism and fear of failure or judgement may be preventing us from achieving our full potential, or causing anxiety or pain when we try to push beyond our comfort zone.
The good news is this programming can be rewritten. We can create new beliefs that help us achieve our goals, and generally live a happier life. It can take time, but with consistency it can be achieved.
The first step is to recognise these beliefs and becoming aware of your own thought patterns. Explore them. Question them. When you think about your cycling goals or an event you've entered, notice any thoughts or feelings. When you are doing a tough training session and thoughts about quitting start to rise, notice the self talk. If there's an event that you would love to do but still haven't entered take a deeper look as to why.
Are you saying I'm not good enough? Is that true? What evidence do have that could disprove that? Do you know someone that has completed that goal or event? What would you need to change in your self and your daily habits in order to feel you could do it too?
Do you have a lot of thoughts and feelings around perfectionism? Wanting to be the best you can is great and can motivate us to achieve audacious accomplishments, but what if it becomes a cause of anxiety or pain. Firstly, know that you are not alone. This affects many of us. When we put too much pressure on ourselves we can put ourselves at risk of overtraining, and the pressure itself can affect our ability to perform in our training or events.
Perhaps, like me you have a fear of failure. This causes me to avoid or procrastinate around certain situations or tasks. There may have been an incident, or situation, in your childhood that caused you to create programming to protect you from experiencing pain or anxiety around failure.
Question and explore these thoughts, there maybe deep issues you could work on resolving.
Tools that could help you create healthier core beliefs and thought processes:
Meditation has lots of benefits. For me, practising meditation helps me achieve a calmer state of mind, improve my focus and raise my self awareness. Daily practice can help cultivate a peaceful state that you can go to when the negative thoughts start rushing in at you, especially in those moments, perhaps you are in the middle of nowhere on a ride, and something goes wrong with your gadgets or equipment, or the weather suddenly changes. In this space I can think more clearly and work on solutions rather than go into a blind panic or throw a tantrum! Practising meditation helps me to learn the skill of staying connected to the moment.
This is also helps us to raise our self awareness and work through those beliefs. Setting a time every day, whether it's for five or thirty minutes, is such a useful process. Sometimes I find jotting down thoughts through the day, is also useful. Journaling can help to identify and break old patterns of the choice I make and how I react to things. I have used journals for around 20 years now. It's an integral part of my continuous self development.
This seems to be a buzz work at the moment, but we all have affirmations. Here is the Collins English Dictionary of the word affirmation:
Anything that is repeated to us, or we repeat to ourselves, as a truth becomes an affirmation that is incorporated into our programming and our definition of the real world. We can all think of examples of things told to us as facts that aren't actually true. Did you believe in Father Christmas as a child? We believed our parents, TV and films, he must be real, right? It's repeated and affirmed from so many different sources, he MUST be real!
For generations Europeans were told by their leaders and people in power that Africans were of a lower race. We are told from birth that males are expected to behave in one way, and females in another, and that these differences are our truth. I given some extremes there to demonstrate the point, but you see how the brain will accept something as a truth if repeated often enough, regardless of the reality. The source also affects how easily and deeply we assimilate the information, for example, our leaders, parents, teachers, peers, etc, including ourselves. So, become aware of what beliefs you have and question them.
If you are constantly repeating to yourself 'I'm not worthy of success', 'I'm too old', 'fixing a puncture scares me' or even something you may not first interpret as a negative thought, such as 'I don't race, racing isn't for me' or 'I'm not competitive', 'women don't do dirty work', 'bike mechanics are males', etc, you have created an affirmation. Again, ask yourself, what's the root of these thoughts. Ask is it true, what evidence do you have that could disprove it, is there already somebody out there, just like you, who is doing it, could you replace it with something more positive?
If you are sitting on the sofa all day then it would seem impossible for you to run a marathon, or ride 100 miles, or a 1000 miles. So, what do you do to get yourself from the sofa to the finish line? You set smaller mile stones that gently push the edge of your comfort zone, that challenge you but you believe are realistic. From one stepping stone to the next, eventually you achieve what you thought was impossible, you do become a marathon runner or century rider or ultra distance cyclist. You can apply this to any target or goal. Staying on the sofa thinking it's not possible, or, (my favourite trick, fuelled by my fear of failure) procrastinating, won't get you any closer to your goal.
Taking that first step needs to celebrated, no matter how small, and each step following celebrated too. Recognising and appreciating every move forward is so important as it grows our self worth, which then expands what we think we can achieve. Our brain learns that actually, we can do it, it is possible. Learning new skills and doing new things has the same benefits. Read, travel, explore, experience.
Never stop learning! Never stop expanding!
Mental strength is such a huge part of long distance cycling. I go in depth on this subject and others, such as building resilience, with my one to one clients, and in the WE GO Far coaching program. It's fundamental for ultra cycling success. Both mental strength and resilience are not innate qualities, we're not born with them. They are learned behaviours, and much like a muscle, can be trained and developed.