Offered the opportunity to sit quietly for a quarter of an hour, would you welcome it, take a deep breath and gladly settle down? Or would you quiver in fear at the idea of being alone with your thoughts?
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A group of participants in a study at Harvard University were given two options: for 15 minutes, they could either sit without distraction or self-administer painful electric shocks. Incredibly, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to electrocute themselves. Pain was preferable to sitting quietly with their own thoughts.
Are we making a similarly perverse choice when, despite having no specific efforts on the schedule, we inflict pain on ourselves in training?
The prospect of quiet time alone may provoke the worry that the mind will wander to places we don’t want it to go – towards thoughts that don’t feel safe. Some people would rather actively hurt themselves than take that psychological risk.
Another US study found that only 17% of people actively engage in relaxing or deliberate thinking; the rest prefer to distract themselves – all the time. A few use cycling as a relaxant; a way to recover from day to day stresses and allow the mind to wander freely.
Most however, especially those racing and focusing on high performance, find cycling hard a great opportunity to distract from the difficulties in life, and as a result, hammer themselves into the ground. How do we overcome the fear of our own thoughts and learn to savour our cycling?
Andy Turner (SwiftCarbon Pro) rode full-time for a couple of years, quickly rising from fourth-cat to elite, but his performance dipped as his cycling got more serious. It was only after deciding to switch to part-time racing and full-time study at university that his riding improved.
Working towards a degree in sport and exercise science level helped the 26-year-old understand the different elements feeding into his performance. “I realised that less is more,” says Turner.
“I started to see the bigger picture. Until 2017, all my focus had been on turning pro. When I focused instead on my degree and thinking about getting a job, ironically it helped me perform much better in my racing.”
To read the full feature and discover how to enjoy every ride pick up a copy of the Jan 13 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale in store and online (opens in new tab). You can also subscribe to CW, save on the cover price (opens in new tab) and get it delivered direct to your door.
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