Even though I’m writing this post with my cycling training head on, I think you could actually apply most of what I am going to cover – well, the basic principles of each thing - to pretty much every other aspect of your life, outside of cycling. Whether it is work, relationships, a new skill, or a completely different sport.
To begin with, I think it’s worth looking back at why it was you first started with your cycling. And no, I don’t mean when you got your first bike at Christmas. But when you bought your first ‘proper bike’ as a ‘proper grown-up’ - without any help from Father Christmas…
Just what was it that made you get onto your bike? What was your original source of motivation?
- Was it to improve your general fitness levels; heart rate, blood pressure etc?
- Was it to shift a little bit of unwanted timber?
- Was the commute into work getting you down and so you decided jumping onto the bike could be the answer?
- Did time catch up with the body? Maybe (knee) injuries pushed you into - or rather onto - it?
- Were you inspired by something you watched? Or by the exploits of someone you knew?
- Did a quick go on a friend’s bike remind you of the sense of freedom cycling could give you? And the stress relieving qualities it has…
Whatever it was, I think it’s worth reminding yourself of it. And then pay thanks to it. It did its job.
But that’s just it; that bit of motivation has done its job. You can still use it as reminder, but it wont be as strong a motivator as it once was. If you were lucky enough (or clever enough) then you’d have turned that original motivation into a habit.
And as I’m sure you’ve seen plastered across many a gym wall:
Even though I am a big fan of the above infamous quote, you still need to work on and cultivate a habit. And that’s where motivation comes back into play. The ways by which you motivate yourself are what will fuel and power your habit, so that it remains exactly that. A habit.
I’m now going to run through some of the ways that I, and my clients, use to help stay motivated.
1. Be realistic
This is the one thing that all too often gets overlooked.
Our natural human tendencies mean we find ourselves being a tad guilty of trying to bite off more than we can actually chew. Then, when we realise we’re not going to be able to achieve what we set out to do, we become discouraged and motivation levels dip. This also happens because most of us hate failure – we fear failure - and so we veer away from it when given the chance.
The fact is, most people lose motivation and fail to stick to training plans simply because they are not realistic. Not the people, but the plans - well, actually it’s a bit of both.
Training plans need to take into account the aspects of your life that can, could and generally do impact upon your ability to carry them out. A good training plan is therefore realistic and importantly, adaptable.
No more quotes after this next one. I promise.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the sentiment of the quote, but I’ve found it’s real world use to be, well, not that practical. Trying to reach for the metaphorical moon is again biting off more than you can chew. And so the negative impact this can have on your motivation means you’ll likely land a lot shorter than those stars…
To achieve something as big as getting to the moon – or those stars – you need to break it down into smaller more manageable and achievable parts.
Ah. Another quote. But handy to drop in, as it leads nicely onto my next point…
2. Set cycling goals
Goals are the parts that make up the greater whole.
Goals are great as they can be used to keep you focussed by giving you something to work towards.
For goal setting to work however, you need to make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Yep, that good old acronym S.M.A.R.T.
It’s also definitely best to focus on your short-term goals. These are the goals that should strictly adhere to being S.M.A.R.T. You can be a bit more relaxed with your long-term goals when it comes to them being S.M.A.R.T.
So a long-term goal could be to get out on your bike 4 times a week, whereas a short term goal could be to better your time the next time you go out and take on a regular route.
3. Get a qualified cycling coach
Having a qualified cycling coach on your side will help with your motivation in a number of ways.
Firstly, they are able to set you S.M.A.R.T goals and devise a realistic training plan that’ll best help you to achieve them.
Secondly, being held accountable to someone else will give rise to an increased feeling of commitment. And there’s also the simple fact that you are paying for a coach – so you’ll be motivated to see a return on your investment.
Thirdly, being able to ask a coach questions and bounce ideas of them is very useful, and extremely motivating to receive unknown wisdom and ideas that you can implement. Experiencing those ‘oh reaaaalllllly?’ moments can spark rushes of excitement which act as great sources of motivation.
Importantly though, while the best coaches are great motivators. Motivation ultimately must come from within you. So at the very least you must be sure that you actually do want to improve your cycling, and that you’re not just getting a coach to tell others that you use one.
4. Ride with others
I’d suggest trying to do less than 50% of your total miles as a solo rider. This is because group training/rides are great for motivation - for a number of reasons:
1. You’ll almost unknowingly find yourself riding harder than you would if you were riding alone. That competitive streak will unconsciously come out to play.
2. The social benefits that come from riding with others help play an important part in increasing your motivation.
3. Comparing yourself and improving in relation to others can also be motivating. There should be less of a focus on simply trying to beat others though. Instead it’s more about using them to learn from.
Joining a cycling club can be great and hugely beneficial. But sometimes group rides at cycling clubs can turn into full blown races, with group riding etiquette thrown out of the window. This can not only become an ineffective form of training, but also dangerous and demotivating. You’ll know when you find the right cycling club.
Alternatively you may be best of finding yourself a smaller (5-10) solid group of friends to ride with; where everyone is supportive, dedicated and well educated on riding within groups. This type of cycling group is invaluable.
A particular goal of yours could be to get yourself race ready for a specific competition or sportive. Much like revising for an exam, you’ll know that you need to prepare for this test. And that’s a notable motivational driver.
I think having regular races booked in is a great thing. There is no better form of training than a real competition – the before, during and after.
Racing will provide you with the opportunity to improve – and test - both your fitness and skills.Races are great to use for benchmarking and to measure performance. And remember, measurement is a vital element of goal setting.
Personally, I find visualisation extremely powerful. It helps me prepare for competitions, and on particularly tough rides and specific climbs I use it to give me the confidence to achieve what I know I can.
In simple terms visualisation almost tricks your brain into thinking you’ve done this before, so even though you know it may hurt, you’re ready to deal with it. It is an amazingly powerful technique, when mastered, to employ.
7. The power of music
Let’s be clear. Music isn’t something to be used when out on the roads. Doing that can be downright dangerous. But for indoor training – especially of the turbo trainer kind – I think it’s a pretty formidable motivational tool.
There’s actually been some interesting studies looking at the impact of music on performance – chiefly by this chap; Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University. He, and others, have found that music certainly does impact upon motivation and sporting performance, in a good way.
Broadly speaking music can be used in three main ways:
1. Before training – Here you can use music to get you going, pumping you up for exercise.
2. During training – Here you can use music to get you through. Think about your spinning classes and the importance of music. The best instructors will match the music to the different stages of the class. When done right, it is an extremely motivating tool.
3. After exercise – Here you can use music to help you unwind, to separate yourself from the session completed - for when you’re cooling down and maybe even getting involved with some meditation.
Something to bear in mind though, is not to get too dependent on music. As otherwise you might be all too aware of its effect on your performance when you remove it.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that cycling is as much about the mind as it is the body – this is especially true when out on long mind-sapping rides. Throw in a number of challenging climbs and the stress on your mind can be what does the most damage, not the stress on your body (We've actually put together another post all about how you can improve your cycling by training your mind).
Yet it still amazes me that so many cyclists neglect their mind, and instead see a focus on their mind as being a sign of weakness, or as a frivolous new-age wacky sort of thing.
Getting control of a wandering mind is super important and meditation, by allowing you to stay in the moment and distance yourself from stress - by recognising and accepting it - is something I’d suggest you start practicing regularly.
9. Mix it up
While having conveniently located routes help you to stay motivated by making it easier to get out there and ride. You really do want to avoid letting any sense of boredom creep in, which can happen when riding the same routes over and over again.
Yes, a well-constructed training plan will ensure you experience a varied and exciting approach to your cycling. But it should also fall upon you to get out there and explore new routes. Weekend rides - family commitments permitting – provide you with a great opportunity to explore new areas, and to test your abilities in unfamiliar surroundings.
I’d also - perhaps unsurprisingly - recommend taking your weekend ride to the next level, by getting involved in a fully supported cycling break. Taking a few days away to fully indulge in your passion, and to think of nothing else but your cycling, is immensely motivating – well so our guests tell me anyway.
Being able to get serious miles under your belt, learn and practice new skills, discover what will likely be a new part of the world to you, and socialise with other like-minded people is an experience that I honestly would recommend all cyclists get to appreciate.
Having a cycling break in the calendar also gives you something to look forward to and work towards. Or you could book it as a reward for completing a challenging part of your training plan – which brings me onto my next and final point. Rewards…
10. Reward yourself
Undeniably, the strongest form of motivation is intrinsic. This is because you are driven by an internal desire to achieve. This type of motivation is unquestionably what gets you to the top of the tree. Someone can have all of the talent in the world, but without the intrinsic drive to succeed they’ll never get to where they could. Equally, someone with far less talent but the strongest internal drive to succeed, will do far better than the former. This is especially true when it comes to cycling.
The other form of motivation is, yep you got it, extrinsic. This, simply put, is when you are motivated to do something in order to receive a reward or to avoid some sort of punishment. While you won’t get very far by using extrinsic motivation alone, it does have its place and can be used to complement and enhance your overall motivation.
The promise of a large slice of carrot cake if you become KOM, usually works as a good little motivator for me. And when I know I’ve deserved it, I find it tastes that little bit better too…
There you have it. If you give proper attention to each of the ten points I have covered above, then I’ve no doubt you’ll experience positive changes to your motivation levels and this in turn will be reflected in your cycling performance.