By Martin Sigrist
Takeaway: Belief is one of the most powerful determinants in success. Simply believing in something will not make it happen. You need to be lucky, be born with natural talent and then work hard to make the most of that gift. But talent and hard work are not enough. You must believe. Belief is not an abstract concept. It is real, every bit as real and every bit as important as physical attributes like peak power, VO2max and FTP. It can be affected, for good or ill, by training and so building belief must be a primary target of any training plan.
When I started this series of articles, Mark Cavendish didn’t think he would be taking part in the 2021 Tour de France. Then Fate, which had dealt him many bad cards in recent times showed her other face and, at the last moment, he was selected. The rest is, literally, history. Cavendish made it and in the process made grown men, including this one, cry.
One word dominated the post race interviews following his first win.
His message could not have been clearer. When everybody doubted, he didn’t doubt. Despite everything he kept believing in himself.
This is a stark example of the power of belief. It is what makes champions. Mark Cavendish needed the good luck to be born with a large helping of fast twitch muscles but others were much luckier and achieved far less. He “failed” wattage tests when he was a junior. He was picked despite his physical ability not because of it. He was picked because of his attitude. He made history because of his attitude, he never stopped believing in himself even when almost everybody else had.
He is by no means alone. In almost every sport and in human endeavours far beyond belief is essential. You can make it whilst feeling you are a failure but it makes a hard job harder and overshadows the enjoyment of your success.
Belief is like fast twitch muscles. Some people have it from birth, others don’t. Like fast twitch muscles it can be affected by experience, including training. And unlike fast twitch muscles you can never have too much of it.
Belief, therefore, should be one of the most important goals when training. A plan should be structured not just to build physical fitness but mental fitness as well, It should include workouts that do not just target physiological systems but psychological ones too.
A workout can have the same effect on a physiological measure, say VO2max, but very different ones in terms of psychological depending on the personality of the person being trained. This may for example be in the nature of the intervals, some respond to being driven to the point of failure, to forceful verbal “encouragement”, others not.
There are methods to train brain cells just as there are ways to train muscle cells. Intense intervals should not just be aimed at improving physiology but also as opportunities to discover, build and reinforce a mindset that thrives on hard work, making training more productive and helping guarantee success in achieving ambition.
At the end of the day the most important test of a training plan is whether it brings you to a point where you can honestly say to yourself that you believe you will succeed in your ambition. So it’s just common sense not to leave this until the last minute and just hope but instead make every minute count in building belief.
(Note: Belief vs Confidence.)
I deliberately stress “belief” rather then “confidence”. The reason is that, for me at least, belief is a matter of black and white. Belief is certainty, it is being absolutely sure.
Confidence is more a matter of degree. You can be 50% confident or 99% confident. Some even say they are 110% confident. But all leave some room for doubt, even the last or they would be 150% or a billion%.
You can fake confidence, you just need to convince others. But you can’t fake belief, not to the most important person of all at least. Yourself.
That is not to say confidence has no value. Belief has to be built and and increasing confidence plays an important part in the building process. So when learning to ride a bike it can help some to start with training wheels. They help, but only to a point, at some point you have to believe you can ride alone.
Now among the world’s fittest sexagenarians Martin Sigrist started riding on doctor’s orders in 2005 and had to push his bike up his first hill. Next year he soloed the Tour de France. He has since experienced every form of road cycling from criterium to ultra endurance. His ongoing mission is to use the latest in science and technology to fight a, so far successful, battle against Father Time.