Learn To Control Mid-Race Negative Thought Patterns

Think about this scenario: mid-race a rider makes an error. It could be the dropping of a water bottle at a crucial feed zone, taking out another rider, having a crash, or just being intimidated by competitors from a mistake. These errors often lead to a rush of self-doubt and the inevitable cascading negative thought process. If this happens, you need to understand how to reset your headspace and focus on what is actually going on around you.

| WORDS: Sports Psychologist, Dr Andrew Lewis |

The Danger Of Negative Thought Patterns 

The saying goes that you are what you think and at a time of heightened stress your thoughts and emotions could be all over the place, leading to devastating actions. On the other hand, ideally, you could be calm in the face of a crisis and quickly get back into your race and race mindset without even a hiccup. The latter is the preferred headspace. If one typically has a negative belief system, this can give rise to negative self-talk – the negative conversation that we have with ourselves – affecting how you feel and subsequently then how you act. Negative thinking is based on fear, it is the fear of failing, fear of mistakes, fear of criticism, or fear of losing. These negative thought patterns become the subconscious filter through which your brain interprets the world and regulates your experience of everything that follows. Eventually, you could find yourself trapped in anxiety and stress, and eventually, if it persists, even depression. All these emotions create a physical response in your body and may even result in your mind just freezing up, muscle tightness, aggression, or the feeling of wanting to run away from everything and even quit the race.

Here’s What To Do

Create a mental recovery routine: In any training session or competition, mistakes are going to occur. The trick is to develop a recovery routine and have it in place for use before something happens in an important competition. The best time to prepare for competitions is during practice sessions. Try using a few recovery routines and/or related cue words during training sessions and see which one works for you. Cue words that you are comfortable with, e.g., saying to yourself ‘Focus’, ‘Take a minute to gather yourself’ or ‘Get into the zone’. 

Assess those debilitating negative thoughts: Quickly do a mental assessment of the situation. Did you or someone get hurt? If not, and depending on your negative thoughts, firstly ask yourself if these thoughts are valid and true. Do I always crash in pressure situations? Have there been times where I have thrived under pressure? Secondly, are these negative thoughts logical? Is it reasonable that just because I had a mishap today that I am destined to always do so? And lastly, is it helpful having these negative thoughts and beliefs? Will they contribute to my success today and in the future? After your race, you can even record and then dispute these irrational beliefs in a training diary or journal under the headings: ‘Is it true?’ ‘Is it logical?’ ‘Is it helpful?’ and continually reflect back on these entries.

Understand how negative beliefs affect you personally: This can be done during the race, but even to practice before and reflect on them afterward in order to move forward. Training sessions are the ideal time to ‘practice’ these negative thought patterns and their resultant behavior. What do you experience: stress and/or anxiety; the inability to concentrate and focus, fear? When do you begin to experience these emotions? The night before a race, the warm-up, or even during the race? What happens to my mind and body both physically and mentally? Importantly, it is about being present and in tune with your thoughts, sensations, and reactions. Once you understand these you will be in sync with your experiences.

Avoid dwelling on mistakes. Recognize them, reframe them and so develop: Mentally tough people distance themselves from their mistakes, but they do so without forgetting them. They use them as an asset to hone and develop stronger and positive mindsets. Mentally tough people know that when they are preoccupied with the problems, they create and extend negative emotions and stress, which then hampers their performance. They have a flexible mindset and not a rigid mindset where they constantly refocus on the negative. When you focus on reframing ‘failure’ to ‘self-development’ and actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy, which produces positive emotions and improves performance. By keeping their mistakes at a safe distance, yet still handy enough to refer to them, mentally tough riders are able to adapt and adjust for future success. If negative thoughts and related self-talk persists and even leads to a depressed mood, it is time to invest in mental pressure support from a healthcare professional such as a Sports Psychologist.

If negative thoughts and related self-talk persists and even leads to a depressed mood, it is time to invest in mental pressure support from a healthcare professional such as a Sports Psychologist.

Productive, positive thoughts and mindsets improve and develop self-confidence, enhance focus and concentration and help you to remain calm in and during pressure situations developing and creating a positive competition mindset. It takes practice, recognition, reflection and even more practice and then, over time, you will start to notice that the negative thoughts will start losing their adverse hold over you. Embrace challenges as opportunities and use them to your advantage!

Happy riding!

About Dr Andrew Lewis | Andrew Lewis is a Health Professions Council of South Africa (SA) and Health and Care Professions Council (UK) registered Educational Psychologist currently working in the UK and conducting online sessions with his South African athletes. With a post-graduate qualification in Sport Psychology, he works with individual athletes and teams who compete at all levels―national and international; and those who compete for pleasure. Andrew also collaborates with institutions and schools and publishes Sport Psychology- and Educational Psychology-related articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, newspapers and popular magazines. He also presents Sport Psychology workshops to other health professionals and athletes; as well as scientific papers at international and national conferences. Andrew also has an extensive sporting background and understands the demands and pressures of competitive sport―himself competing in the Ironman triathlon.  Andrew was a senior-lecturer at the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University and the University of South Africa for 23 years where he trained Educational Psychologists, Counsellors and teachers; lectured students and conducted research. He also taught at two primary schools for 5 years. |Contact: info@andrewlewis.co.za │ lewisandrew1964@gmail.com │

| IMAGES: Pexels and Red Bull Content Pool |

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