Six science-based tricks to control the narrative of your inner mental dialogue of mental chatter when cycling and improve your cycling performance.
An endurance athlete’s mind is often its worst enemy. Long hours on the road or in the Gain Cave mean plenty of time to think. When the going gets hard, the inner dialogue loses its hold on logic, and our brains have a mind of their own. Mental Chatter When Cycling clutters our thoughts.
The self-evaluation, judgment, and criticism fill our heads with defeatist thoughts. As we begin to lose control of the mental race, we focus our attention inside ourselves, hoping to find the words to satisfy our inner critic. If left unchecked, the tension spirals into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doubt and what we think becomes what we do—failure, disappointment, and quitting.
For a deep dive into the science behind Unpleasant Repetitive Thoughts and the strategies the top sports psychologists use to get the best out of their endurance athletes, check out the “Virtually Trapped in My Own Mind” article series at The ZOM!
An endurance athlete’s mind is also its greatest strength. Long hours on the road or in the Gain Cave, especially when times are tough, harden our mental fortitude and steely will. Successful cyclists find the formula and develop the conscious tools to bring their mental A-game.
Scientists have identified successful individuals’ mental strategies to transform their mental chatter into clear, constructive, and helpful logical thoughts. In his authoritative work Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It, award-winning author, psychologist, and neuroscientist Dr. Ethan Kross shares his evidence-based insight.
Take a moment to learn a few of the science-backed cerebral tricks successful athletes use to harness the power of mental chatter when cycling.
One—Use Distanced Self-Talk
Take a step back from the inner mental argument to create a more objective perspective through conversation. Use your name in the third person, rather than I, to support yourself as if you were coaching a friend. You’d never say anything negative or critical to a struggling teammate.
According to Dr. Kross, “Doing so is linked with less activation of brain networks associated with rumination and leads to improved performance under stress, wiser thinking, and less negative emotion.”
It’s easy for endurance athletes to psych themselves out with apprehension over what they think will happen. We focus on our mid-race pain and don’t let go until it consumes us. Instead, broaden your view by putting yourself in a situation where you overcame a similar challenge.
Dr. Kross advises, “To do this, think about how the experience you’re worrying about compares to other adverse events you (or others) have successfully endured, and how other people you admire would respond in a similar situation.”
Three—Rise to the Challenge
Reframe your mental apprehension from a harmful threat into a positive challenge. The other racers on the starting line aren’t your enemies, and they aren’t out to get you. The racecourse and everyone sharing in the competition with you contribute to your goal of successfully overcoming the challenge.
“Chatter is often triggered when we interpret a situation as a threat—something we can’t manage,” says Dr. Kross. “To aid your inner voice, reinterpret the situation as a challenge that you can handle.”
Four—Perform a Ritual
Endurance athletes are often disciplined and structured in how they carry out most aspects of their daily lives. By transforming our regimen into a ritual, as Dr. Kroll defines as “a fixed sequence of behaviors infused with meaning,” we reorganize chaotic mental chatter through routine and order.
It directs our attention by emphasizing the thought required to perform the ritual, and the adverse manifestation of chatter becomes secondary. Clear your mind by creating a pattern meant to address times of stress and take control.
Five—Create Order in Your Environment
Put yourself in the best place for success by changing the things you can influence when according to Dr. Kroll, “Our thought spirals control us rather than the other way around.”
Eliminate sources of worry by imposing order on your surroundings. Make a list and check off everything you need before, during, and after your race or event. There is more space in your mental place with the things you can control out of the way.
Six—Build Your Chatter Board
“Finding the right people to talk to, those who are skilled at providing both support and advice for how to manage your chatter,” notes Dr. Kroll, “is the first step to leveraging the
power of others.” Your teammates have shared the highs and lows of your most vulnerable moments and experienced similar situations themselves.
Turn to them when the going gets tough to lift you and put your mental chatter in its place. Two are stronger than one, and by adding trusted friends and colleagues to your chatter board, you will be able to achieve more than you thought you ever could alone.
Conclusion-Mental Chatter When Cycling
Mental chatter when cycling and an unpleasant inner voice are undeniable for endurance athletes. The words coursing through our cortex can send us into a cycle of self-doubt. What is a liability can become a valuable asset if we develop the tools to take charge.
Identify the circumstances when negative mental chatter gets the best of you and control the narrative. Challenge yourself to find the combination of chatter-limiting practices that work best. Win the inner debate by flipping the argument and following your positive thoughts to channel the chatter to meaningful accomplishment.
What are your tricks to take charge of the clutter in your mind that tries to tell you to stop when the going gets tough?
The mental aspect of endurance sports are fascinating and you can learn more by following this link to the Training & Performance page of The ZOM!
Kross, Ethan. Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It. Crown Publishing Group, 2022.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!