Training: Retrain your brain to improve your cycling

Conquer your fears and organise your thoughts

Retrain your brain

Is it possible to think yourself into being a better rider? Yes, says Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner and cyclist Dave Le Grys. “All behaviour is the result of neurological patterns,” he says. “If a neurological pattern occurs, then the behaviour occurs.”

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By controlling your neurological patterns you can change your approach to goal setting, training and competition on the bike. “NLP is about reframing the way you think and regaining control of your life. By facing up to your behaviour, you can then disassociate yourself and install positive images and mindsets instead,” says Le Grys. Here he recommends two practical ways you can use NLP to change how you ride.

Goal setting – The timeline

“Planning is key to getting your head in the right place,” says Le Grys, “especially when it comes to goal setting. It can free up time and put the athlete in a stable mindset. One technique I use is the timeline. I ask the athlete what their goal is, be it training for an event, beating their personal best time on their commute or getting leaner by a particular date.

“I then stand a few metres in front of them, asking them to ‘chunk out’ their plans – physically allocating chunks of space between them and me to all the things that have to be done (work, family and social life included) before they reach that goal. Then I’ll move several steps backwards, immediately opening up the time and making the athlete more psychologically relaxed.

“I ask them to visualise a second invisible timeline running parallel and then to remove all unnecessary parts of their day and put them on this second timeline – such as checking emails every five minutes or going to make that fourth coffee. When these aspects are removed your day opens up even more, so I take a few more steps backwards.

“I then ask them how they feel about the race on a scale of one to 10 – they usually feel positive and able to handle their time and achieve their goal. This can be achieved on your own by visualising the timeline getting longer and longer and therefore the chunks getting bigger, or by explaining the task to a friend and asking them to help you enact it.”

Overcoming phobias – The cinema

A phobia is a bad experience that has developed over time into a real fear. The three stages of the ‘cinema’ technique can unravel this:

1 Embrace your fears. Visualise yourself walking into an empty cinema, take a seat and start watching the film, which is about you and the worst-case scenario of your phobia. This might be anything from race day to hill climbing or cycling in heavy traffic. You aren’t performing well or thinking right. Watch intently and really ‘feel’ the film.

2 Disassociate yourself. Imagine you’re stepping out of your body. Walk up to the projector room in the cinema and look through the peephole. Watch yourself watching the film and see how you react to it. This should help you gain some perspective on the situation, as if you’re an outside party observing an argument.

3 Install a positive image. Summon up all the aggression and energy you have, rip the film reel out of the projector and destroy it. Notice a new reel on the floor and put that on instead. This film shows exactly how you’d like to behave when faced with your phobia: calm, controlled, confident and happy with the result. Watch yourself watching the film, leaning forwards, keen to be involved.

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Now go back down to the version of yourself that’s sitting watching the film and get back in your body. Watch for a little while longer then get up and leave the cinema, knowing that the film has been left playing on a loop and is always there if you need to refer back to it. You’ll have reframed your thought process, mentally destroying your phobia and replacing it with a new image and feeling.