By Dr. Jim Taylor
Motivation lies at the base of the Prime Cycling pyramid. Without your desire and determination to improve your cycling performances and achieve your riding goals, all of the other mental factors, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotions, are meaningless. To become the best cyclist you can be, you must be motivated to do the work necessary to maximize your ability.
Motivation, simply defined, is the ability to initiate and persist at a task. To ride your best, you must want to begin the process of developing as a cyclist and you must be willing to maintain your efforts until you have achieved your goals. Motivation in cycling is so important because you must be willing to work hard in the face of fatigue, boredom, pain, difficult conditions, and the desire to do other things. Motivation will impact everything that influences your cycling performance: physical conditioning, technical and tactical training, mental preparation, and general lifestyle including sleep, diet, school or work, and relationships.
Control What You Can Control
There are three things that affect how well you ride. First, your innate ability, which includes your physical, technical, tactical, and mental capabilities. Because ability is something you are born with, you can’t change your ability so it is outside of your control.
Second, the difficulty of the race influences performance. Contributors to difficulty include the strength of the race field (think Tour de France) and external factors such the terrain (think Alpe d’Huez) , course conditions (think Paris-Roubaix) and weather such as temperature, wind, and precipitation (think Tour of California). You have no control over these factors.
Finally, motivation will impact performance. It is also the only factor over which you have control. Motivation will directly impact the level of success that you ultimately achieve. If you are highly motivated to improve your performances, then you will put in the time and effort necessary to raise the level of your riding. Motivation will also influence your riding when you start a race. If you’re competing against others of nearly equal fitness and skill, it will not be ability that will determine the outcome of the race. Rather, it will be the cyclist who works the hardest, endures pain best, who doesn’t give up, and who rides their best when it counts. In other words, the cyclist who is most motivated to win.
Signs of Low Motivation
Motivation isn’t just a feeling you have, but rather it is expressed in all aspects of your training and life. There are several signs of low motivation:
• A lack of desire to train as much as you should;
• Less than 100% effort in training;
• Skipping or shortening training;
• Unprepared equipment;
• Not living a supportive lifestyle (e.g., eating poorly, not getting enough sleep);
• Effort that is inconsistent with your goals.
Effort = Goals?
When I speak to groups of young cyclists, I always ask how many have big goals, like making the national team or going to the Olympics. About 95% raise their hands. I then ask how many are doing everything they can to achieve their goals. Only one or two tentative hands go up. What this tells me is that there is often a big gap between the goals cyclists have and the effort they are putting into those goals.
It’s easy to say that you want to be a successful cyclist. It is much more difficult to actually do the work to make it happen. If you have this kind of disconnect, you have two choices. You can either lower your goals to match your effort or you can raise your effort to match your goals. There is no right answer. But if you’re truly motivated to be successful, you better make sure you’re doing the work necessary to achieve your goals.
Prime motivation means putting 100% of your time, effort, energy, and focus into all aspects of your cycling. It involves doing everything possible to become the best cyclist you can be.
Prime motivation begins with what I call the three D’s. The first D stands for direction. Before you can attain prime motivation, you must first consider the different directions you can go in your cycling. You have three choices: stop participating completely, continue at your current level, or strive to be the best cyclist you are capable of.
The second D represents decision. With these three choices of direction, you must decide one direction in which to go. None of these directions are necessarily right or wrong, better or worse, they’re simply your options. Your choice will dictate the amount of time and effort you will put into your cycling and how good a cyclist you will ultimately become.
The third D stands for dedication. Once you’ve made your decision, you must dedicate yourself to it. If your decision is to become the best cyclist you can be, then this last step, dedication, will determine whether you have prime motivation. Your decision to be your best and your dedication to your cycling must be a top priority. Only by being completely dedicated to your direction and decision will you ensure that you have prime motivation.
In training and races, you arrive at a point at which it is no longer fun. I call this the Grind, which starts when it gets tiring, painful, and tedious. The Grind is also the point at which it really counts. The Grind is what separates successful cyclists from those who don’t achieve their goals. Many cyclists when they reach this point either ease up or give up because it’s just too darned hard. But truly motivated cyclists reach the Grind and keep on going.
Many people say that you have to love the Grind. I say that, except for a very few hyper-motivated cyclists, love isn’t in the cards because there’s not much to love. But how you respond to the Grind lies along a continuum. As I just mentioned, loving the Grind is rare. At the other end of the continuum is “I hate the Grind.” If you feel this way, you are not likely to stay motivated. I suggest that you neither love nor hate the Grind; you just accept it as part of the deal in striving toward your cycling goals.
The Grind may not be very enjoyable, but do you know what is less enjoyable? Not achieving your goals because you weren’t motivated enough to overcome the Grind and do the hard work. What really feels good is seeing your hard work pay off with success.
Developing Prime Motivation
Set goals. There are few things more rewarding and motivating than setting a goal, putting effort toward the goal, and achieving the goal. The sense of accomplishment and validation of the effort makes you feel good and motivates you to strive higher. It’s valuable to establish clear goals of what you want to accomplish in your cycling and how you will achieve those goals. Seeing that your hard work leads to progress and results should motivate you further to realize your goals.
Focus on your long-term goals. To be your best, you have to put a lot of time and effort into your cycling. But, as I noted above, there are going to be times—the Grind—when you don’t feel that motivated.
When you feel this way, focus on your long-term goals. Remind yourself why you’re working so hard. Imagine exactly what you want to accomplish and tell yourself that the only way you’ll be able to reach your goals is to continue to work hard.
Try to generate the feelings of inspiration and pride that you will experience when you reach your goals. This technique will distract you from the discomfort of the Grind, focus you on what you want to achieve, and generate positive thoughts and emotions that will get you through the Grind.
Have a training partner. It’s difficult to be highly motivated all of the time on your own. There are going to be some days when you just don’t feel like getting out there. Also, no matter how hard you push yourself, you will work that much harder if you have someone pushing you. That someone can be a coach, personal trainer, or parent. But the best person to have is a regular training partner, someone at about your level of ability and with similar goals. You can work together to accomplish your goals. The chances are on any given day that one of you will be motivated. Even if you’re not very psyched to, say, high repeats, on a particular day, you will still put in the time and effort because your partner is counting on you.
Focus on greatest competitor. Another way to keep yourself motivated is to focus on your greatest competitor. Identify who your biggest competition is and put his or her name or photo where you can see it every day. Ask yourself, “Am I working as hard as him/her?” Remember that only by working your hardest will you have a chance to overcome your greatest competitor.
Motivational cues. A big part of staying motivated involves generating positive emotions associated with your efforts and achieving your goals. A way to keep those feelings is with motivational cues such as inspirational phrases and photographs. If you come across a quote or a picture that moves you, place it where you can see it regularly such as in your bedroom or on your refrigerator door. Look at it periodically and allow yourself to experience the emotions it creates in you. These reminders and the emotions associated with them will inspire and motivate you to continue to work hard toward your goals.
Daily questions. Every day, you should ask yourself two questions. When you get up in the morning, ask, “What can I do today to become the best cyclist I can be?” And before you go to sleep, ask, “Did I do everything possible today to become the best cyclist I can be?” These two questions will remind you daily of what your goals are and will challenge you to be motivated to become your best.
The heart of motivation. A final point about motivation. The techniques I’ve just described are effective in increasing your short-term motivation. Motivation, though, is not something that can be given to you. Rather, motivation must ultimately come from within. Whether you ride because you want to win the Tour some day, enjoy competing, trying to get in the best shape of your life, love riding with the guys, or just enjoy seeing what you are capable of, you have to feel it deep inside and then express that feeling every time you get on your bike. You must simply want to be the best cyclist you can be. You just have to want it really bad!
About Dr. Jim
Dr. Jim Taylor has worked with professional, world-class, junior-elite, and age-group cyclists triathletes for over 27 years. He has been the team sport psych consultant for two professional cycling teams. A former internationally ranked alpine ski racer, Jim is a 2nd degree black belt and certified instructor in karate, a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, and an avid cyclist. An adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, Jim is the author or lead editor of 12 books, including Prime Sport: Triumph of the Athlete’s Mind, The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training, and Applying Sport Psychology: Four Perspectives, has published over 600 articles in popular and professional publications, and has given more than 800 workshops and presentations throughout the North America and Europe. He publishes the Prime Sport Alert, a bi-monthly e-newsletter and blogs on sports. To learn more, visit his web site.