In this article, Dr. Andrew Lewis writes about controlling negative thought patterns by resetting your headspace and shifting focus to what is actually going on around you.
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 for whatever reason. 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 by shifting focus to what is actually going on around you.
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 which in turn impacts how one feels and 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 completely freezing up. You might experience muscle tightness, aggression, or the feeling of wanting to run away from everything and even quit the race. Sound familiar?….
Here’s What To Do
1. Create a mental recovery routine | In any training session or race, mistakes are going to occur. The trick is to develop a recovery routine and have it in place for use before something happens. 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. Use cue words that you are comfortable with. For example: ‘Focus’, ‘Ride Forward’ or ‘Just flow’…
2. 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 or have there been times when I 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.
3. 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.
4. Avoid dwelling on mistakes. Recognize them, reframe them and move forward. | 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 problems, they create and extend negative emotions and stress, which then hampers their performance. They have a flexible mindset as opposed to a rigid attitude where they would 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 may even lead to a depressed mood, it is probably time to invest in mental pressure support from a healthcare professional such as a Sports Psychologist.
Positive thoughts and mindsets improve self-confidence, enhance focus and sharpen concentration levels. A positive mindset will help you to remain calm during pressure situations. It takes practice, recognition, and reflection but before long you will notice that the negative thoughts will start losing their adverse hold over you. Happy riding!
| WORDS: Dr Andrew Lewis: firstname.lastname@example.org │ 082 874 6112 | IMAGES: Red Bull, Chris Taylor, Pexels |