The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book on technology, distraction, and why training simply is the most effective way to improve your cycling. To get updates and follow the progress of the book please sign up for our newsletter.
Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past – James Joyce
My best days on the bike always leave me captive to the present. Focused effort clears my distracted mind, and I’m confronted with the truth that every moment in time contains the entirety of my life. Nothing else matters, only the here and now.
From mountain bikers to stage racers, most cyclists share a reverence for the bike’s awesome potential to simplify life. Week after week, year after year, we return to the bike for its power to deliver moments of presence. Ride context matters less than the state of mind we sculpt with each pedal stroke.
In his landmark book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes presence as a catalyst for flow . What is flow exactly? It’s an optimal experience in which we’re engrossed in the task at hand .
While we don’t need science to validate our experience on the bike, research into flow states does help us better understand the variables that contribute to a happier, higher-performing cyclist.
While cycling provides a reliable means to experience flow, conditions do apply :
- Your riding must provide an opportunity for discovery and creativity with clear goals and feedback on your progress.
- Your riding must strike an appropriate balance between challenge and current skill/fitness.
- You must be able to flexibly control your attention, i.e., focus on what matters while ignoring what doesn’t.
In butting up against these conditions for flow, many cyclists begin a transition from “riding” to “training”. The early gains of “just riding around” have long dried up.
We strive to experience more on the bike but find the discipline of training at odds with the freedom that drew us into the sport. In our training, we resign ourselves to the false narrative that getting better requires toil and misery.
We trade simplicity for complexity and end up with less than when we started. No wonder riding starts to feel more like a chore and less like a reminder of how extraordinary it is to be alive.
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Data Driven Athlete
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper [and] Row.
- Scott-Hamilton, J., N.S. Schutte, and R.F. Brown, Effects of a Mindfulness Intervention on Sports-Anxiety, Pessimism, and Flow in Competitive Cyclists. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2016. 8: p. 85-103.