Quite a few of you wrote in to ask how to enjoy your riding more. Lots of you reported that a lot of the time you just weren’t enjoying your rides: you’re just not feeling it on the bike.
Actually, this happens to us throughout our lives in lots of areas. After a while, things that used to be deeply engaging (and really fun) lose some of their shine. That great new job, the new relationship, the new car, all seem to be less exciting a few months or years down the track. So too, our feelings of satisfaction around mountain biking often wanes, and it can be really hard to motivate ourselves to get out for a ride. Worse, when do get out, many of us find it really hard to feel the love – we struggle through a ride, make mistakes, get more and more pissed off, and finish feeling crap. It’s enough to make you want to give up all together…
Do you really want to stop riding, or have you forgotten why you started in the first place? Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few important questions before we just go with our feelings?
Hang on though – do you really want to stop riding, or have you forgotten why you started in the first place? Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few important questions before we just go with our feelings?
A quick sidestep. Since when has listening to your feelings ever been a useful strategy? We all “feel” that our feelings are important, and that we should “go with our gut”, but most of the time your feelings just get you in trouble. In fact, most of us rely on our feelings to steer our actions, and a lot of the time those actions are definitely not in our best interests. Ever been angry and said or done something really hurtful/dumb/catastrophic that you’ve seriously regretted later? Ever “trusted your gut” only to have it lead you totally astray? Ever avoided things that were important because you felt anxious? It turns out that learning to distance your actions from your feelings can make the world of difference. It’s not like you’re going to stop having emotions – we can’t control our feelings even if we wanted to – but you can stop referring to them as the motivator for your actions.
Instead of simply acting on a feeling, try just noticing that you have a feeling (e.g., “I feel really annoyed”), and then direct your attention to something more worthwhile (like your breathing). Then try it again, and again. It’s hard, especially to begin with or when you’re really upset but, with practise, separating your feelings from your actions gives you a lot more freedom to make choices about how you live your life. When your actions are independent of your feelings, you can choose to do things that are in your best interests, even (or especially) when you don’t feel like it.
Why did you start in the first place? Was it the challenge, the exhilaration, the social interaction, being outdoors, having fun? Are these reasons still valid?
Coming back to mountain biking, why did you start in the first place? Was it the challenge, the exhilaration, the social interaction, being outdoors, having fun? Are these reasons still valid? Chances are that your reasons are probably just as relevant now as they always were, you’ve just been distracted. And if you’ve been distracted by your feelings (“I can’t be f@cked going for a ride”), acknowledge the feeling and, instead of acting on it, remind yourself of why you ride, and get on your bike instead.
Our lives are full of distractions: work, stress, dissatisfaction, fatigue, hunger, worry… Many of these things take our attention away from the things that are good for us (like riding). The most important thing you can understand about distractions, is that they’re only able to distract you if they get your attention. If you choose to focus on the here and now, all of these things stop being distractions and become exactly what they are: just thoughts or feelings. On the bike we get distracted by a heap of things: our minds (worries, shopping lists, and other crap), our bodies (feelings of fatigue, hunger or pain), our expectations (the things you “should” be able to do, or your competitiveness), and external events (the weather, other people, etc.). None of these things actually require your attention, but when they do distract you, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll lose your focus and, therefore, your enjoyment.
Distraction means that your ride becomes about the distractions, instead of why you’re there in the first place.
So what’s actually worth paying attention to? For me, I ride because it forces me to pay attention to the present moment – it makes me mindful. If my head or my body distracts me, I’m riding badly, and that tends to end up in annoying feedback loop, one in which I ride worse and worse, and get grumpier and grumpier. Distraction means that your ride becomes about the distractions, instead of why you’re there in the first place, and if you’re not getting what you want out of a ride, there’s really not much point in being there.
But just because we start a ride distracted, because we’re tired, pissed off, stressed, or just absent, doesn’t mean we need to stay that way. The first step to getting back into the here and now, is to recognise that you’re distracted. That might sound dumb, but you can’t do anything about distraction if you haven’t noticed that your attention is elsewhere. So, once you’ve realised that your mind has drifted, try to pay more attention to what’s going on right now. That means that you need to focus on what you’re doing: your position on the bike, your breathing, where you’re looking, or reading the trail in front of you. As soon as you catch yourself losing focus (like going back to your nagging thoughts, or worrying about tomorrow) bring your attention back to your riding. Keep doing this (rinse and repeat) for as long as it takes to stay focused on the moment, even if you have to keep doing it for the whole ride. It will be extremely tempting to lose concentration, to be distracted by your thoughts or your feelings, but every time you successfully recognise that you’re distracted and bring yourself back, you’re doing what you’re there to do: riding your bike…
It takes concentration and a lot of practise, but it really is this simple to enjoy your rides a lot more. We enjoy riding when we’re actually focusing on riding, instead of spending our rides distracted, worried, or grumpy. All it takes is a regular reminder to pay attention.
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.