By it’s very nature, MTB is an extreme sport, but of course it doesn’t have to be, a lot of it depends on where, and how you ride, right? Not necessarily. Whatever your skill level, we all carry the monkey on our back, the one that whispers, or even shouts in our ear, ‘You can’t do that, look how steep it is, you do that you’re bound to crash.’ This monkey is the voice of fear, and if we can learn to work with it, and quieten it down our experiences of riding our bikes can be a whole lot more pleasurable.
I have decided to write this article as a friend of mine recently expressed how she has lost her love for MTB because she can’t overcome the fear, the fear of the what if? This is a tricky one, and I hope that this article helps her and others in some way to not only learn to acknowledge fear, but to process our responses to it differently and allow us more freedom to ride. This has also made me think about what I do, how I approach my riding. I do feel fear, of course I do, but I became aware through a Twitter based conversation that I do things with my preparation and thought processes that keep it at bay, before it becomes an issue. As such it does not affect my riding very often, but let us be clear, there is a difference between fear, and choosing not to hit an obstacle because you are aware that it is beyond your skills and capabilities (like that 30ft gap). Things that are beyond your current skill level can be worked towards through practise and experience, but fear, fear on the other hand, we make it up. We make it up, yet it is often informed by previous bad experiences. Here is the first hint of what we need to do, in that we need to be informed by negative experiences in a positive way. Ask yourself, why it happened, use this knowledge as positive power. Failures are just feedback.
Fear is Relative
Fear is also relative, and it is entirely subjective. Nobody can change the experiences that happened which inform your self in this negative way, but you can change how you relate to them. At risk of an awful cliché we can of course take inspiration from elite athletes, professional extreme sportspersons and in particular the mind-set of a racing driver. We never hear them talking of the what if? Only of the what’s next? They keep looking forward, they draw the positive from a negative (and rarely admit they were wrong) and there is something else that is very clear which is to be the premise of this article, they are fully embroiled in the relationship between body and mind, they understand how inextricably linked these 2 things are. Perception informs action and body response, negative perceptions produce negative bodily reactions such as tension, rigidity and tentativeness as we brace ourselves for disaster. These kinds of bodily inputs get transmitted through our bikes to the terrain we are on, as such if we can learn to process our perceptions in a positive way, our bodies will follow. The proposal here then is to not only think mind/body relationship, but to extend that to mind/body/bike/terrain. What follows then is a series of pointers which have been borrowed from applied sports psychology.
- Task Orientation – Instead of thinking about outcomes, results and goals, think about your level of enjoyment, how hard you tried, and what you learned. Results should be viewed as a consequence of these processes, not as a target and in fact, we don’t even need to discuss results. All we can do, literally is try our best, to be the best that we can be.
- Mind/Body – We need to understand that our mind and body are not separate, but are inextricably linked. Fear is doubt, reluctance and lack of trust, when we feel this our bodies stiffen and brace for impact, obviously resulting in poor body movement.
- Embrace it – We know that fear exists, but we must not avoid that which causes us fear, do not run from it. Identify what it is that you fear, and what it is about it that you fear.
- Alter Your Perception – We need to change how we perceive feared experiences. A failure is simply an unexpected outcome, so let’s understand the outcome, use our experience to inform our practise. His will lead to greater levels of knowledge and self awareness. To analyse a failure is not to dwell on it, but it is to understand the processes that led to the unexpected outcome.
- Recreation – If you follow these steps of identification and analysis of the fear, do something productive with the information. Recreate the situation you fear, maybe it’s a section of trail, trust in yourself, and do it, again, and again and again.
- Chill the F**k Out – Remember to breathe, and don’t forget that MTB is supposed to be fun. You may find meditation helpful in order to assist in controlling our responses to negative thought patterns. I was once told that we can think of our negative thoughts like traffic on a busy road. If we run on to the road and stop the traffic, chaos ensues, but instead if we acknowledge the traffic and watch the cars pass by we learn to externalise the traffic, instead of getting caught up in the chaos.
- Process Orientation – If we set ourselves a series of small goals and focus on smaller steps and how they are linked rather than focusing on outcomes and end results, we begin to understand that the quality of our processes, depicts the outcome, once again, results are a consequence of our actions and processes, they are not a target.
- Visualisation – This is something that really works for me. Have you seen how downhill skiers practise? They don’t have many runs, so what else do they do? They visualise, they will close their eyes and run the track through memory, their hands following every turn and rise, their memory recalling every ripple and rut and they are visualising a clean run. Ask a keen MTBer what they’re doing when they’re not riding, they’re probably thinking about riding. Focus on the memories of your last ride and the clean sections, acknowledge any mistakes, correct them in your mind, push forward. Construct a section of trail in your mind, ride it clean and smooth. When you’re physically riding, think clean and smooth and it will come to you. Watch MTB footage, loads of it and don’t think ‘I could never ride that’, just look at the trail, watch their control, learn from it.
So there we have it, in a nutshell, some steps to altering our approach to process that will deliver more favourable outcomes. Remember, your mind, your body, your bike and your trail are all part of the same system, a sequence of relations that all inform each other. And yes, your trail, this is your trail and no one else’s, own it, understand yourself and your equipment and go through the process together. Carry the monkey, but instead of listening to it, make it listen to you, teach the monkey. So next time don’t think what if, think how I can, and see yourself doing it.