Every race has crucial moments. An attack. A surge on a long climb. The right instant to sprint for the city limits sign.
And yet, if you're like most of us, there are times when you hesitate or hold back. Later, you wonder: Why didn't I go for it? The mentally fit cyclist is aware of what's in the way of peak performance, and works within to be ready to give everything.
Think back to important points in your races. Ever hesitate? Think too much? Tell yourself it's the wrong time, or that you're not strong enough, or plain give up? Let's be clear: Sometimes you just don't have enough left, and you're not going to be able to get it done that day.
But what about those other times, when you look back on your race and you think, "I did have what I needed in me. Why didn't I use it?"
Those moments are moments of truth. Sometimes the truth is: you're done. But sometimes the truth is something different. And that's what you may need to discover in order to reach the next level of mental toughness and performance. But how?
To begin, we turn to what may be a surprising source of wisdom on this topic. (No, not Star Trek or The Big Lebowski.) A couple of thousand years ago, the Jewish sage Hillel famously said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" Each of these questions points to tools that can help you seize an important moment in a race.
Question 1: Do You Believe?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
"If I am not for myself." What does that mean? Think for a minute: What does it mean for you to be "for yourself?" Here's one way to look at it: Being "for yourself" means believing in yourself. But what does that mean? Some possibilities:
- Believing you can win.
- Believing you can achieve your goals.
- Believing you have what it takes to try.
- Believing you can bring everything you have within you to a moment that requires it.
Let's take a closer look at that third one. On the one hand, if there's something about even trying (to attack, win the sprint, hang on, etc.) that's holding you back, believing that you can try may be exactly what you need.
On the other hand, let's remember what Yoda said to Luke: "Do, or do not. There is no 'try.'" Luke didn't believe that the Force could raise his sunken starfighter from the swamp, and he also didn't believe he had access to the Force. Yoda knew that Luke had to have an unshakable belief in order to succeed, and that for Luke, "trying" wasn't fueled by that kind of rock-solid belief. So by telling Luke to "do," he was getting Luke to discover a belief that Luke didn't know he could have.
What about the "who will be for me?" part? If you're not there for yourself, if you don't believe in yourself, having someone else around may be comforting, but it's not going to get the job done. You gotta believe! And if you don't (fully) believe yet, that's OK. Just like Luke, you may have to unlearn some views you have of yourself. Here are some tools that can help you get there:
When one of my daughters was 7, we went to a family camp. She wanted to do the "ropes course," and so I watched nervously as she began to ascend a 30-foot vertical climbing wall. (Actually, I had one eye on her, and the other on the guy who was belaying her.) About two-thirds of the way up, she stopped. She looked down. I could tell she was afraid. A minute passed. Then two. I saw her take a deep breath, set her jaw, look upward, and start climbing—at first tentatively, and then with growing confidence. A few moments later, she rang the bell—triumphantly—at the top of the wall.
I'm convinced that was a huge moment in her development. (And it was huge for mine as well!) All alone and high in the air, she conquered her fear. Over the years in scary situations, I'd hear her murmur a line to herself that she learned from the Madeline series of children's stories: I can do anything. I can do anything. That's self-talk, and it's self-talk that works for her.
There are several different kinds of self-talk that can be helpful, so I suggest you reflect on those and experiment with some words or phrases that might be helpful to you. Clearly, during a race you'll often not have the kind of time my daughter had to strengthen yourself. But you do have time beforehand.