What if I told you the best way to achieve or exceed your goal was to NOT think about your goal?
There is nothing wrong with setting goals! As a matter of fact, I feel setting goals is a great exercise. If you’d like more information on Goal setting, here is an article I wrote on Achieving Your Riding Goals and Mountain Biking Your Best in 2020!
The problem with focusing on your goal/s is that it takes you out of the present. You are thinking about the future and not 100% engaged in what you are doing.
I’ve known this for decades but after a few years off from racing, I forgot and it was almost my undoing!
My goal last year was to win the UCI World Masters Championships but, after racing the National Championships I chose not even go to the Worlds.
I am actually surprised I won the National Championships as it was far from a perfect run. It took me the rest of the summer to figure out why I didn’t perform at my best but I finally figured it out!
My problem was I was really focused on winning! On race day (and all of the race week) my entire focus was on winning.
I bet and hope you have Riding Goals too! They might be:
- I want to clean the Widowmaker.
- I want to best my PR on my favorite trail.
- I want to ride 200 kilometers or, gasp 200 miles of singletrack in a day.
- I want to win this race.
- I want to ride King Kong.
What if I told you that thinking about your goal/focusing on it (especially while riding) makes you less likely to achieve that goal?
A much better way to reach your goal is focusing on being your best right now.
– If you are going through a rock garden, be as smooth as you can in that rock garden.
– If you are hitting a loose corner, corner as well as you can.
– If you are pedaling, pedal as hard as you can.
Unfortunately, as I was cornering I was thinking about winning the race or thinking about the tricky, root-filled section coming up. I was anywhere BUT in the moment.
By thinking about the future (winning the race, what line to take in that rooty section coming up) I was anxious and not executing my riding as well as I am capable of. It wasn’t much fun either, which is the goal of riding bikes, right?!
Imagine a different scenario, one where, as I was corning I was totally immersed in that corner, doing it at the absolute best of my ability. A space where, as I was floating over those roots my mind was feeling what it is like to ride as smoothly as I can over those roots.
Imagine if I wasn’t thinking at all, just simply doing what I have spent the last 25 years of my life training my body to do. That would have been blissful. Much more fun than my goal focused run! It also would have been better, smoother and faster.
Imagine being able to consistently ride in the state where everything is working perfectly (well, as perfectly as you have trained it to work) It can be done.
Look at the top World Cup Downhill racers, especially Loic Bruni, Amaury Pierron and Greg Minnaar, they have all trained their mind to stay present in the “Flow State”.
On your bike, you may have already found the flow state many times, but if you are like most people, that magical state seems to come and go. Imagine being able to consistently get in the flow state.
Chris Canfield completely focused on the task at hand.
There have been a few great books written about the flow state, the most recent is The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. He quotes the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Susan A. Jackson from their book Flow in Sports and takes their research to a new level.
Csikszentmihalyi describes 8 Characteristics of Flow and it turns out Mountain Biking can force you into flow.
This list describes a great day on your mountain bike.
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
You can train your mind too! You train your body, have you ever thought about training your mind?
Training your mind is the key to peak performances.
Meditation is the best way to start. The bonus is that it is proven to make you happier too. Imagine having the same control over your mind that you have over your body.
My favorite two books on meditation are Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh and Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham.
There are also many great online resources to help you get started.
I’m no meditation expert. From what I have learned the goal is to focus your mind on one thing (usually your breath). Try this simple exercise, set a timer for ten minutes, sit in a comfortable position and focus on breathing in and breathing out.
As you breathe in focus on that in-breath, as you breathe out focus on the out-breath. When your mind wanders bring it back to your breath. Your mind will wander! The goal isn’t to get mad or judge yourself when you notice your mind wandering, just bring it back to your breath.
Start doing the same meditation practice on your bike. When your mind wanders to the future or the past bring it back by focusing on your breath, counting your breaths or focusing on the task at hand (pumping, cornering, floating over rocks, etc.).
Establishing a meditation practice and teaching yourself to stay focused and tap into the flow state will greatly improve your riding. More importantly, it will greatly improve your life and your performance at whatever you choose to do.
Train your mind and go out and find your flow!
Please share this article with anyone you think may benefit and feel free to call or e-mail with any questions.