Managing Fears: Techniques to Quiet Your Mind While Riding
As a follow-up to your answer about head vs. gut fears, what strategies does everyone use to have these head fears “fly through one ear and out the other”? I’ve been working on finding triggers, and fatigue and stress play a huge part, but it’s unrealistic for me to not ride if I feel stressed because I frickin’ teach public school. I’m always stressed. Any thoughts would be great!
You raise an excellent point: many of my clients are told by their trainers and coaches to ‘relax’ and ‘focus’ and have no frickin’ idea what that actually means or how to accomplish it. So they end up yelling at themselves to ‘calm down!’ and ‘just focus!’ which of course does the exact opposite by bringing more attention to their anxieties, creating a vicious cycle.
The best part of being an athlete, and yes, we are athletes, is there is always something to be doing. When riding the bike we are not simply sitting and trying to quiet our brains, we constantly need to pay attention to where we are going, the speed we are going, what’s happening on the road ahead, etc. So let’s use a scenario where you come upon a road filled with unexpected potholes, and you aren’t as confident as you’d like to be navigating your way through them. Voices can creep in, saying ‘oh no, there’s a giant pothole! This road is crap! Watch out, there’s another! What if I hit one out here alone!’ and so forth.And we all know what happens if you focus on not falling into the pothole: it’s exactly where you will end up because it’s where your eyes will be drawn.
So how do you quiet the fears? Definitely not by saying ‘relax’ or ‘calm’ but by instead focusing on what you want to be doing. In the above example, you can literally tell yourself something such as ‘where’s my line’and focus your eyes on the path between and around the potholes. The fears don’t need to disappear; in fact, they can ride right alongside you as long as they aren’t allowed to block your vision. That is what I mean by ‘go in one ear and out the other;’ we don’t need to grab them and hang on to them. This is especially important when riding. Your brain will most definitely wander back to your chatter; when it does, simply bring it back to the action you need to be doing. Don’t waste any time arguing with the anxieties.
Experiment to discover your own focusing words, cues, and actions because what works varies for each of us, and what works in some situations may not be appropriate in others. Ideas can be as simple as singing your fears, imaging them being written across the sky in fluffy paints, giving them names (oh, there’s ‘you’re going to die Charlie’ yakking at me again), or gripping your hand tightly and then letting it unfold, picturing your fears floating off into the wind. You can notice if you start to grip your handlebars more tightly or pull up your shoulders when anxious, and simply breathe into the tension and say ‘relax.’
The concept is called defusion: the recognition that thoughts are just words, and that our brains are filled with words. We can choose which ones to grab hold of and which ones to let pass once we understand that they hold no special truths, they are just chatter.