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The Most Important Six Inches

By Dana Williams | In General, Optimal Performance, Race Tips | on April 2, 2016

Start with a question, “What Are The Most Important Six Inches?” Think about it as you read the following.

Introduction

Be careful for what you wish for, to paraphrase the old adage – for you may just get your wish. Your thoughts control your actions and your actions have direct correlation to outcomes. A strong, focused mind can be the difference between winning a race and coming up short, while an unfocused mind can lead to unrealistic goal setting and, ultimately, to frustration and disenchantment.

By and large, we are conditioned by previous experience, and our understanding of these experiences shapes our perception of what we call the “self”. Put another way, what I think of myself, isn’t a fixed thing, but is rather constantly in flux and adapting as I interact with the world of which I am a part.

It would be easy to be a positive, self-actualized person if we lived happy lives and had nothing but life affirming thoughts. Unfortunately, not all of our experiences are happy ones, which sometimes results in thoughts not necessarily conducive to a positive outlook.

Just as going out and doing physical work to train our bodies is crucial to being a successful athlete, it’s just as important (perhaps more so) to condition the mind to overcome adversity through constant mental training and positive reinforcement.

In cycling, as with most other sports, it’s not always the strongest rider who wins. I’d actually argue that “winning” is as much a state of mind as it is a reflection of fitness. Think of Simon Gerrans or Pauline Ferrand Prevot, who recently won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Flèche Wallonne World Cup, respectively. Few would say that they were the strongest rider on the day, but they played to their strengths choosing just the right moment to attack. Fitness is what gets you to the line- being mentally strong gets you there first.

Create the Right Mindset

Life is full of distractions. It can be difficult at times to prioritize what is important in your life (family, work…cycling) and filter out all of the white noise (social media, the Kardashians…). The struggle is to find the right balance between being a “person out in the world” and a focused goal-driven athlete.

But not all distractions are external. Often our own experiences (both good and bad) if not properly dealt with, can also act as inhibitors to success. The key is in being able to open yourself up to the experience and consciously think about it. I call this, “Creating the Right Mindset.”

Focus on the Present

I coach all Achieve Athletes on two things: 1. Focus on the present and, 2. Keep a positive attitude.

Start with a simple question: What can be done right now that will have a direct correlation to achieving success?

Let’s use the competitive cyclist as example: An important first step in achieving a competitive goal is to have a pre-race plan to get your body to the optimal state in which to perform at its best. Having a proper nutrition regime and hydration strategy (pre, during and post competition), a clearly defined warm up with specific timing for each component and relaxation techniques are crucial elements of a proper pre-race regime.

Having a structured pre-race warm up keeps you body focused in the present moment, which in turn frees your mind to deal with the numerous unknowns that you are likely to encounter during a race.

Relaxation

Relaxation precedes peak performance. Its sounds so basic, but you’d be surprise how many people forget about it in their lead up to a big event. How do you relax before your next big event? Begin with the most fundamental: Breathing. Achieve athletes are trained to use deep breathing combined with contracting and relaxing of muscles, which they learn during monthly clinic, entitled “Mental and Physical Aspects to Win Your Next Race”.

For those that are interested in becoming Achieve Athletes, we will be conducting another one in July to go over this once again.

Positive Attitude

As I said earlier, maintaining a positive attitude comes more natural to some than others. But even those who see the glass as half-empty still have to admit that there is at least some liquid in the glass, right?

So, how do you create a positive attitude? Here are a few that even the most jaded among us can try:

1. Practice gratitude. Its simple: Write down five things you are grateful for each day, read them and think of them a few times.

2. Read something positive to start off each day. Google ‘daily positive quotes’ – there’s lots of options.

3. Consciously focus on the good things that happened during a specific event or race. The first step in creating the “Right Mindset” is to open yourself up to the experience and acknowledge the things that didn’t go well or what you could have done better. Follow this up by mentally making adjustments to lower the chances to not repeat them again. It doesn’t do an athlete any benefit to continue focusing on the negatives.

Conclusion

I titled this blog post, “What are the most important 6 inches” and it should be clear now that it is the precious space between your right and left ear that I am referring to. That thing you hold high when you cross the line, and sometimes hang low when things don’t go quite the way you’d intended. But it is your most important asset and it’s the place where victory is first envisioned. “What you believe you will create,” as the saying goes. It something I remind myself every day.

Go out and start believing you have what it takes to achieve that dream goal of yours. You’ll be surprised what happens.

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