Have you just had a break from riding, for whatever reason (a long winter break or recovering from surgery) and the thought of riding or taking a particular route suddenly fills you with trepidation?
For all of us, there are periods in our lives when we haven’t ridden as much as usual or as often as we’d like or something happened to knock your confidence and, if you’re like me, the butterflies grow at the thought of going out again. You know you can do it but the doubts fill your head with both anticipation and dread. How do you build your confidence?
First, acknowledge your strengths
The way I grew in confidence was to acknowledge every small step and every small improvement. Simply getting out there. Great first step. That curve where I went too wide because I was looking at the gravel edge and opened up the throttle to successfully negotiate the bend, the time I skidded on a wet wooden bridge and my left foot suddenly gave just the right amount of kick on the ground to straighten the bike, the time I thought I can’t make that rocky corner. “I can’t”! I can! More and more, I realised that where I used to think I can’t do that, I would force my head to turn where I knew I had to look and trust in my bike and my ability and it worked. Experienced, confident riders would not think twice about each of those instances but for me each one was a big win.
Develop a mental trick or mantra
On an off-road training course I attended, I was told that saying “I can’t do it” was not allowed. Not even allowed to think it. I trained myself to think “I can”. Although my mind often knows that “I can”, I am not always keen on it as I am not yet comfortable with a particular situation. That’s when I say to myself “I will”. And that works much better for me than “I can”.
Somehow for me “I will” is more active than “I can”. You could think you can but won’t. Saying “I will” commits you to doing it. Maybe that trick works better for you too?
Cut yourself some slack
The YouTube videos I watched of certain roads we were about to take on our first round the world trip terrified me. Road works with kilometres of deep gravel, how will we cope? We decided we wanted to enjoy our travels and complete our trip safely. If anything got too hard, we didn’t have to do it. If we are too exhausted, it is safer to stop. We can always stop on the side of the road, and wait for a truck to load the bikes on. Giving ourselves an out made it easier mentally.
A funny thing happened in Myanmar. We were on this rocky muddy mountain pass with lots of hair pin bends. I was doing ok until one particular bend where a large truck was stopped right on the bend. The only way was to pass it was on the inside, taking a much tighter turn. I slowed down, panicked and stopped. I could not get my front tyre over the rocks, I was stuck. I was tired, I struggled, then got more tired. I can’t do this I thought to myself. I am scared. Damned truck. I am no happy with myself. This is the closest I have been to crying and thinking I can’t go on. I look at the truck: there is a huge “Speedy” blazoned all along the side of the truck. Speedy?! Our nickname! Is that a sign? (Pity I never thought to take a photo of it.) We always said if we wanted to stop, we could. There would be no shame. Is this the truck I am meant to load my bike into? Maybe it is? No, I can do this. I will do this! A few more tweeks with my front wheel and I am off. That felt good. Some months later, when I came to a similarly tricky rocky hair pin bend, where the doubt suddenly entered my mind, I engaged the “I will” gear, and it was a breeze.
A combination of acknowledging every win, with a little help from the “I will” attitude, yet allowing ourselves to stop at any time (it is our journey, doing it our way and safely) has made it possible for us to complete 2 round the world trips successfully. A lot of it is mental attitude.
What tricks work for you when you need a bit of help?