Exceed Your Mountain Biking Goals By Not Focusing On Them?!

We have probably all read that we should set goals in life (and sport) and then work towards them. What if I told you there is a much better way to achieve your mountain biking goals and a much more enjoyable way too?

This is the time of year where we typically analyze what we have done this year (or over the last 2-70 years) and set goals for next year.  Whether you want to finally clean that root filled climb, ride with more confidence or win a big race this article will help you lay the groundwork to do just that.

Wow, as a mountain bike coach I never thought I would tell you to stop setting goals! A few years ago I read an article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to. Before that, in his book Body Mind, Mastery Dan Millman taught me something similar, to set my goals, write them down and then set them aside and simply focus on being the best I can be every day.

Focusing on being the best you can be, helps keep you in the moment (instead of focusing on the goal which could be months or even years away) and if you honestly do this you are likely to exceed your goals. Also, by being the best you can be each day you will enjoy each day more, not feeling like you are sacrificing today for tomorrow. With this approach, if your goals change because your life changes, a new job, a new relationship or an injury,  you won’t be thinking, “Darn! I wasted all that time” because you will have enjoyed every moment. This is similar to the processes idea but you still set a goal.

Here is a quick personal example of focusing on a goal, in 1999 (before reading Body Mind Mastery) my goal was to win the UCI World Masters Championship (WMC for short) and that was my complete focus for a year, from the fall of 1998 to the competition on September 4, 1999. By total focus I mean I quit my dream job, moved to so I could train more on bike in the winter, lived off my saving and eventually my credit card (hard to work all day and train hard enough to win a World Championship), went to bed early every night so I could recover from my training (so I had no social life) and every time I did intervals I thought, “this sucks, intervals are so painful, but I have to do these if I want to win the WMC!”.

Lucky for me, I managed to earn a bronze medal and honestly, it was the best day of my life until that point! However, I woke the next day and realized I was approximately $8,800 in debt to my credit card, I had no job, no place to live (all my stuff was in storage and I had lived in my van most of that summer) and no girlfriend to return to and I was in Quebec with two smelly friends in my old VW van, with a nasty exhaust leak, that none of us were confident would get us home! Victory is rather fleeting! And, after all, it was just a bike race, not helping others or saving lives!

mountain biking goals

In Third Place at the 1999 UCI World Masters Championships

In 2001 I decided to try and win the WMC again! This time I had read Body Mind Mastery and after setting that goal I put the goal aside and focused on the processes (intervals, skills practice, working out, yoga, mental training) and being the best I could at those processes each day. If it was interval day I did the best intervals I could, not to win the world masters but to simply enjoy pushing my body as hard as I could. I led a balanced life, I had a great job, sweet girlfriend and cool house to return to after the race.

My qualifying run went great, 2nd place and I didn’t push it at all, I could easily drop 8-10 seconds off my time on race day! I know I can win this! On race day, I charge out of the gate and my chain popped out of my chain guide in the first turn! Nooo! I hop off my bike, throw the chain back on but it pops off 30-40 feet later. I angrily pump my way to the finish and hang my head in despair. Probably the worst day of my life. However, the next day it was easy to smile as I was in the best shape of my life, was riding better than ever and had a great life to return to back in Colorado. My life was still pretty darn good! Can you imagine if my chain had come off in 1999? That would have crushed me, all that work and sacrifice for nothing!

Long story short, setting your goals and then focusing on simply being the best you can be every day is a great way to reach or exceed your goals. However, the article that talked about not setting goals but creating and doing processes that allow you to grow in the direction you want to is quite similar to Dan Millman’s idea except they eliminate the goal altogether (which I am still not 100% sold on). You can find the article here:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/230333#   I feel it is a great read. Please let me know what you think about it.

I am sold on the idea of creating processes, which is what I do every year, I have physical processes (bike training programs, workout routines, yoga, foam rolling and stretching) mental processes (imagery, questioning self-talk and mental toughness exercises)  and mountain bike skills processes (drills to keep my skills at their best, on trail application and feedback from our coaches) that I do to reach my goals. Which, now, in my 50’s is to stay physically and mentally healthy enough to ride for another 50 years! Here is a great hierarchy of riding skills processes to work on: http://betterride.net/blog/2017/mtb-skills-practice-make-best-use-time-hierarchy-mtb-skills/

Here’s to creating your best year yet!

Have you used the methods above or something similar? How did go for you? Let us know and add to the conversation in the comments.

4 replies
  1. liz
    liz says:

    I am a therapist and that is a wonderful example of living life. It speaks to resiliency, balance and learning to fail. In learning to fail we truly succeed. Not everyday is first place and a set back is a learning experience, a building block to move forward….. not a crushing blow.
    Thank you for that story. I will have the teens and young adults I work with read this.

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Right on Liz! “Failure is a natural and necessary part of the learning process.” Dan Millman Very successful person fails many, many times. I love that you are teaching teens and young adults this, such an important thing to learn!

  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    Good advice. I find that having specific goals sets you up for having specific expectations, which can easily lead to disappointment and or frustration. Life is ever changing and completely unpredictable. Doing your best in everything without expectations is liberating. My best race performances have come when I enter the race with a “have fun and enjoy the moment” attitude. Well, “have fun and kick ass” attitude.


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