Guest writer psychologist Sarah Broadhead shares her tips on channeling that often elusive ingredient, confidence. Sarah is the Director of Broadhead Performance and was part of Team GB as a performance psychologist at the London and Rio Olympic Games.

What if I can’t ride that bit?

I’m not fit enough, what if I hold everyone up or get lapped?

Everyone expects me to be the same as last time, what if I cant do it again?

I’m not ready!

I don’t feel good today.

Whether we are riding bikes in our spare time or competing, it is common to struggle with a lack of confidence. Those unhelpful thoughts can come out of nowhere and completely hijack the ride. They can feel so strong that you feel powerless to do anything about them.

Understanding why this is happening can help. There is part of our brain that is there to help us survive, and works with feelings and impressions (we call this the chimp). It looks out for threats and danger without us realising it, and can be catastrophic and lack perspective. Its often easier to give someone else advice and see the rational side, but much harder when we are in the situation ourselves. The chimp typically wants us to look good in front of others and worries what other people think. It can also hold impossibly high standards, and then beats us up when they are not reached. We should be able to ride hard, go to work, spend time with the family and never get tired!

Knowing what your chimp typically thinks and how it works can help you get a step ahead, and be ready with answers to help manage it. What situations does your chimp see as a threat? When we see something as an opportunity or a challenge we normally approach it with excitement and enthusiasm. With opportunities there is nothing to lose. If we fear the consequences then it is hard to be enthusiastic about it.

Take riding with people who are faster or ‘better’ riders. Acknowledge what your chimps worries are and address each one before the ride. If one of the worries is holding others up or ruining their ride, an answer could be that you are not responsible for someone else’s enjoyment. If you definitely know you will be slower then discuss it with them, and agree places to meet up, or get them to ride back to you if they want extra training. Usually when you ask people they are glad of the break and don’t mind waiting. All you can do is ride at your best pace, no one else can ask for more. Getting someone to help you address your worries can also be helpful as they can take a different perspective on it. Someone that listens first without jumping in with solutions is best!

Once you have come up with answers to the worries it is good to have a plan to focus on. If there is a section of trail you are worried about riding, first decide if you are committing or not. It is better to decide that today is not the day then to do something half heartedly. Work out objective ways that help you decide before the ride e.g. I can ride this type of terrain or do this length of ride. The chimp’s survival drive can be helpful at times and stop us doing things that are outside our limits. Learning to tell when it is being over cautious is the bit to work on.

When you have decided, focus on the plan for riding that section and have key words to focus on – whatever works for you. These could be – heels down, eyes up, look to the next focus point, count to ten. If you accept things wont always work and you might fail, and can smile about it then making mistakes becomes less scary. We learn quicker when we are having fun! In the grand scheme of things, life still goes on. There is no point focusing on the outcome, however much you want it, as it wont make it anymore likely to happen.

Confidence is a feeling that comes and goes. Get used to doing things no matter how you are feeling, positive emotions can follow after you have started doing something even when they weren’t there in the first place.

The chimp isn’t all bad as it gives us fun, motivation and excitement, so we can use these positive aspects and learn to manage the less helpful ones.

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