Is this story familiar?

I started cycling, and although I was a complete newb on a klunker every ride was such fun.   The newness, the speed, the challenge.  Whenever I headed out on my bike, I was guaranteed a great experience.  Starting from nothing, I improved quickly in huge leaps and bounds.  I bought a great bike, got the right gear, and I got better.[quote_right]Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.[/quote_right]

Then I joined a club.  Maybe I did a race or two.  I jagged some good race finishes here and there.  I got myself a coach.  People started to know who I was and sometimes I was the one to watch at races.  I got some medals and such.  Riding strong became an expectation – and now there was constant pushing to improve – but now it gets harder and the improvements are small and oh so hard won.

And then something happened.  Somewhere in there all my rides and races became pressure.  Training so awfully serious.  Did it become a pressure in your life to be weathered, instead of that much needed escape?

Did you ever stop and ask yourself where did my fun go?

Shakespeare wrote, “Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.”

And I think he was onto it.  For me this quote captures a critical shift in motivation that can take your paradise and switch it for a prison.  Athletes need to be motivated to do what they do.  We trade our social lives, money and sometimes harmony in other parts of our lives for our sport.  So what motivates us?

So Serious Intrinsic

Motivation is broadly classified into two categories.  Intrinsic and Extrinsic.  As you may be starting to suspect, intrinsic is borne from inside us – an enjoyment in what we do and a desire to be the best that we can be.  Extrinsic is that thing that comes from outside, money, recognition, praise and it feeds the ego beast that, like or not, we all have.  It is totally unrealistic to think we won’t be extrinsically motivated – we ARE racing after all, but to achieve your potential and enjoy it we need both.

It is probably a gross simplification – but I think cyclists lose the joy when we lose intrinsic motivation and everything becomes fully extrinsically motivated.  It’s useful to look at it this way as supposing I am right, it might point the direction back to a more balanced approach.  And for some weird reason it often also leads to better results.

The other important thing about intrinsic motivation is it will sustain you when you suffer the inevitable dip in form, loss or lack of results that every athlete experiences throughout their careers.  Intrinsic motivation is the difference between those that walk away and the comeback kings and queens.

So Serious Flow Riding

So how do we get back in touch with our inner champ?  Here’s a couple of suggestions.

  • Go for a ride.  Somewhere different. Don’t record it.  Don’t wear a heart rate monitor.  Look around.  Enjoy being on a bike.  You might like it.
  • Do something new. 
    Try track, mountain biking or cyclocross.  Sometimes doing something new is enough to refocus us on our own capabilities and improving them.
  • What do I need to do right now to deliver my best
    This one is a winner in my mind, and especially important for ultra-athletes.  Learn how to focus on the building blocks of a race.  Your start, feeding, managing your attacks, good form, breaking away.  Whatever it is, break it into the individual activities and use all your thought to do them to the best of your ability.  These give you a bunch of small successes during the event and feed the feeling of being the best you can be.  It is also considered the method by which we can experience the elusive ‘flow’ where athletes hits a perfect state for performance.  Not surprisingly when we can do this, the winning then takes care of itself.
  • Measure progress, Reward yourself
    Figure out a way to chart your progress that doesn’t only involve your list of palmares. Set your own targets and reward yourself.  New cycling shoes for your first 500km week. That kind of thing – key is that it has to be something YOU come up with choose and follow.  This delivers a thing called self-determination and it is another trick to being awesome.