By Martin Sigrist
Takeaway: Adopting a “continuous improvement” mindset to build mental strengths and skills can lead to significant “marginal gains” which in turn can result in significant performance gains with little additional time, effort or cost.
My last article discussed the importance of mindset, using Greg LeMond as an example.
However you do not have to be a Tour de France rider for your mental approach to make a, potentially huge, difference to how you ride. Everyone can benefit from taking some time thinking about how they think.
Thinking for example why they perform at their best in competition, such as the occasion when they thought they were completely done then found a new source of energy on seeing a rider ahead that they could catch up. Or of the time when they worried themselves sick about taking part in an event and performed badly as a result. Or of wondering why power that seems easy after one hour seems impossible after four hours. Or of thinking how they could find the same motivation to complete a workout as they do to complete a race (or maybe vice versa).
In terms of performance gained for money spent this approach is of huge potential benefit. Especially when compared, for example, to spending over $1500 on a new piece of bike kit that may or not save a couple of watts: https://www.ceramicspeed.com/en/cycling/shop/oversized-pulley-wheel-systems/3d-printed-ti-ospw-system-for-shimano-9100-series.
In terms of performance gained for time/effort the payback is big too. Often it only takes a few minutes to come up with an idea that will reap big dividends either by making your workouts more effective or improving how you perform in an event or both.
Perhaps the most important mental lesson to apply is always wanting to get better at riding a bike in every honest way possible.
Back in 1980 I graduated from college with a psychology degree. I then had the great good fortune to be recruited by M&M’s where I spent 30 happy years, most every day of which was spent on a never-ending quest for “continuous improvement”, something that did and remains at the heart of the company’s enduring success.
“Continuous improvement” is a mindset. It is a view that no matter how good you are at doing something you could be doing it better. There is always something to improve and, even if it’s a small difference, these differences add up to become something big.
Cycling has recently woken up to this idea with Team Sky popularising the idea of “marginal gains”. It leads to innovation that seems so obvious in hindsight that you have to wonder why no-one thought of it before. Such as helping riders get a decent night of sleep between grand tour stages Or making sure they recover properly after a hard day riding. Or making sure they eat the right food. Or wearing the right clothes. Or riding a bike in the best way for the nature of the event. Or (of relevance here) using the services of a psychologist, Steve Peters, to help riders deal with the huge mental pressures of riding at world tour level. (If you are not already familiar with Steve Peters I would suggest checking him out. His advice on how to deal with your “inner chimp” is not just relevant to cycling. It’s a way of dealing with the stresses and strains that everyone faces with on a day to day basis.)
When I started training seriously it was a “no-brainer” to apply my knowledge about psychology with my experience of work for the purpose of applying the principles of continuous improvement to becoming a better rider.
It worked, way beyond my expectations. I made some mistakes along the way but that’s fine. Indeed a key aspect of continuous improvement is that failing is OK (and even a good thing) provided you learn from your mistakes.
Over the next few articles I intend to expand on this theme and present what I think are some new ideas of how practical ideas on mindset can be applied to specifically to cycling in order to help those who want to be the best that they can be in getting closer to achieving that aim.
PS. Further proof of just how important mindset is to becoming the best that you can be.
In the post race analysis one word dominated how Mark Cavendish was able to roll back time and once again demonstrate that he is without doubt the greatest sprinter in the history of cycling.
That word: “Belief”.
Whilst he had it in himself the impossible was possible and came to be.
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.