Internal dialogue, also known as “the voice in your head,” can be the biggest saboteur to your performance. The average human mind transmits 50,000-70,000 thoughts each day, and up to 80% of these thoughts are negative in nature. As a coach, this is one of the biggest obstacles I observe athletes struggle to overcome. When this dialogue is filled with negativity and self-doubt, is it any wonder that an athlete might struggle up a climb, or give up on a workout before they even begin?
As the defeatist thoughts multiply, they sap your energy and motivation to continue your effort, and cause you to feel even worse about your performance: leading to even more pessimistic thinking. The key to escaping this vicious cycle lies in the ability to observe the thoughts that arise while you are on the bike, but let go of the ones that are detrimental and refocus your energy in a positive direction.
One of the best ways to refocus your thinking when it gets out of control is to regain an external focus – apply your attention to something outside your body. This can be as simple as enjoying the scenic view as you ascend a mountain pass, smelling the scent of fresh pine and wild roses while pedalling through the forest, or listening to the sound of asphalt under your tires. For athletes, almost all of the training metrics (heart rate, cadence, speed, and power) inspire an internal focus. If an athlete sees their heart rate spike on their computer screen, they will be focusing internally on the blood pounding in their chest and their ragged breathing. If the speed ramps up as a racer is trying to hold on to an acceleration in the peloton, they will feel their legs burn in protest.
Studies have shown that a focus on what’s happening within the body can actually lead to diminished efforts. With more analysis of what’s happening, you think of more reasons why you might not be able to do it. Instead, athletes who maintain an external focus are able to withstand more pain, pressure, and escape the negative thought loop while outperforming their own expectations.