About five years ago I got a chance to go on a dream riding holiday – to Finale Ligure in northern Italy. The riding there is everything you could hope for, steep, fast, flowy, techie – perfect.
Except that, on the second day, my GoPro got caught on an overhanging branch while I was descending, which flipped my head back and threw me off the bike. I landed on my right hand. When I got up, my wrist was at a really weird angle – a major break of the radius. Holiday over, and no riding for six months.
But here’s the crappiest part – despite spending that whole six months fantasising about getting back on my bike, when I finally got the go-ahead I was next to useless. Even basic descents made my head freak out completely. I’d completely lost my mojo.
Mountain biking often puts us directly in the way of both real and imagined harm, and this ‘survival’ centre in the brain can get really upset when we push our limits.
As I talked about in my last article, our mountain biking passion can be fickle. But occasionally, due to injury, stress, other life demands, or a minor crash (without injury), we can simply lose our mojo – no matter what we do, we just can’t make ourselves ride the things we want to ride. Today we’ll look at getting your mojo back.
To understand mountain biking mojo, we need to remember that a lot of what we ask ourselves to do on a mountain bike is in complete opposition to the parts of our brain that evolved to keep us alive. I covered this in my articles on “Training your brain” (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/training-your-brain-part-1-reprogramming/) a while back, so probably a good idea to nip over there for a few minutes and re-read. Basically though, we’ve evolved really good survival systems that are excellent at keeping us out of harm’s way. Mountain biking often puts us directly in the way of both real and imagined harm, and this ‘survival’ centre in the brain can get really upset when we push our limits; even more so when we seriously scare ourselves with near misses, or actually hurt ourselves when we crash. Often, this equates to a loss of mojo: the survival system starts generating major levels of fear or, even worse, insists on taking over at exactly the wrong moment (like grabbing your brakes just before a drop…).
It’s really easy to get extremely frustrated when we find ourselves balking on things that we know are easy
Getting back to riding after a loss of mojo is hard, especially when we know that we’re fully capable of riding whatever it is our survival system isn’t letting us ride. It’s really easy to get extremely frustrated when we find ourselves balking on things that we know are easy. It’s also really easy to get hung up on our new limit, and spend a lot of time in our heads questioning and berating ourselves.
But understanding what the survival system is doing (so you can respond appropriately) will help. Here’s a guide on what to expect and how to get past it.
1) After a crash or injury your survival systems will try to protect you by keeping you away from similar activities. This is what they’re supposed to do, so don’t freak out about it too much.
2) A part of the protection mechanism will be a temptation to replay an accident or incident in your head, over and over. This is normal, but it doesn’t help. Instead of indulging the memory (and surrounding thoughts) “thank” your brain, take a deep breath, and focus your attention on your surroundings. Do this over and over, whenever you find yourself indulging the temptation to mull over what happened. By refocusing your attention you’re training yourself to attend to what’s important (the here and now) rather than a memory of something that has happened and that you can’t change.
Stop being so hard on yourself… Pick a series of fun rides without a lot of challenge and let yourself get used to riding for fun again.
3) You are not your survival system. It’s just a part of your brain that evolved to try and keep you safe. That means that just because you feel it, doesn’t mean that you have to pay attention to it (even if it’s really loud).
4) Give yourself a break. Instead of trying to get back to full pre-crash/injury level in a short period of time, recognise that it might be difficult, and stop being so hard on yourself. Rather, pick a series of fun rides without a lot of challenge and let yourself get used to riding for fun again. Once you feel a bit more relaxed, start upping the challenge slowly. If things don’t work the way you hoped, relax, take a breath and let it go (then go back to ‘2’ above).
5) If you’re recovering from an injury, before you start riding again make sure you’re signed off by your surgeon, physio, or other health professional. But also remember that most injuries are fully healed by around six months. After that time, the chances of reinjury are the same as they were post injury. In other words, once you’ve healed, the only way you’re going to hurt yourself again is by having another accident, and the more you freak out about that happening the greater the chances that it will!
6) If you’re really struggling to get your mojo back, and it’s just not working, don’t try to do it by yourself. Asking for help is not an admission of failure, it’s an indication of how important mountain biking is to you! I’d recommend looking for a psychologist who has experience in sport and performance psychology, especially around reengaging post accident or injury, and work with him or her to get you back to what you love.
About the author:
Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.
In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).
Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.