Have you ever got to the point where you thought of just quitting cycling? Selling your bike and your kit? Maybe you’re there now? Desperate times for sure. But you’re not alone. I’ve been there too. And I think, judging by the local classified ads I’m always keeping an eye on (I love a bargain) there are more than a few folk out there in the same predicament who never go on to figure out a good solution and quit biking. And I get it. It’s a shame for so many reasons, but I get it. Still, if you’re here, reading this, that ain’t you. You’d like to do something about that lacking motivation, right? I’m glad for that!
Hello, Dear Reader and thank you for being here as we uncover in part 1 why our motivation has taken a hike, and the relevance of goals. And in part 2 as we walk through our Bike Mojo Hacking Strategy we’ll figure what to do to regain our cycling verve and to understand how to keep it right with us permanently 🙂
Part 1, Mojo Gone. Why?
Straight to it then. So first of all, to help us gain insight into our waning motivation, I think it’d help to know what diminishes our motivation for riding our bikes in the first place.
Hey, it’s fast approaching winter here which is what brought me to this subject initially. I think we all get a case of the blehs sometimes when it comes to riding in the poor weather. That’s completely understandable, it’s potentially colder, wetter, maybe even frozen. If you’re an ol’ ex-asthmatic like me the frosty, foggy or damp conditions can affect the airways. The extremities need extra bolstering if we’re to avoid those annoying cold fingers or toes that can preoccupy and spoil a cold-weather ride.
In some climes, the summer weather may be too hot for comfort. Others, the smog, pollen and other pollutants can give us the kind of grief that cause us to lose the will to ride our bikes. It makes sense.
What can happen sometimes is that we focus on the aspects of the ride in which we’re unable to effect any change. Have you ever found yourself doing that? I mean, compare 1). the weather’s been so miserable out I can’t face a ride in those conditions, to 2). I love feeling toasty warm in the cold and damp, I got my buff up over my mouth and nose, my thermal skullcap, winter gloves, overshoes and toasty tights and I’m good to go.
Isn’t that just self-deluding positive talk? Well, it could be, but it’s productive to focus on the aspects of the ride we’re in control of. At its simplest, weather we can’t alter. What we can do is to prepare for it. But more importantly, than that, we can absolutely adjust our reaction to that weather and our outlook on it. That puts any potential ride firmly back on our terms. Find out how in part 2.
Pain, injury, fatigue, depression, infection, if these things cause you discomfort, or make you lose your form if you’re a racer, say, or ride competitively, they can present genuine obstacles that can sometimes vanquish all but the strongest wills to ride. If you’re in that category, I feel for you. I’ve never ridden with anything more severe than saddle sitbone pain, which I fixed, and that was a sufficient demotivator as to almost make me throw in the towel. So I can only imagine how much greater effect chronic conditions must have on ride morale.
See part 2 for the hacks. But maybe we could begin by at least stating our intention to claim back lost motivation? How? Well, again it’s just sort of shifting your mindset. Say, if it’s the riding itself that’s causing you issues then I’d waste no time in regaining what I’d see as your right as a rider to be comfortable.
Likewise, temporary conditions can be demoralizing for sure. For me, if I absolutely can’t ride, I’d demonstrate my intention (to myself, nobody else) by setting my mind to prepping the bike for the next time I ride.
If you’re living with conditions that are long term, besides corralling the advice of your physical therapists, I would employ the same approach as above to at least make preparations for a ride in the most beneficial way. That means focusing on those aspects of the ride in which I can effect change. Bike setup, route & terrain choices mostly. At this point, we’re not actually taking action as such, but we are laying the groundwork and setting out our intentions.
Goals? What goals are those?
I mean goals in general. Goals for the long term, what you hope to get from your cycling, what qualities you’d want your cycling to imbue your life with, why you cycle etc. But I also mean goals for each ride. Hey, you know what, if you don’t have long-term and ride goals, it’s perfectly okay. But maybe this here’s the place to at least start thinking about it. Specially if your motivation has faded. It’s actually a good time to re-evaluate your riding. See, it’s not all bad 🙂
Why’s it of any importance to have goals? Why can’t I just ride? Well, first off, you ain’t riding if you ain’t motivated to ride, right? But kidding aside, without goals, the nebulous idea of “going cycling” can become in the face of the hardships outlined above, an insurmountable task. Faced with all of the above, just going cycling can become a task, inflated in enormity and exaggerated difficulty until it’s sufficiently overwhelming that all rational minds would agree it’s impossible!
More than that, it can be quite eye-opening how many de-motivational aspects of riding crop up in the absence of ride goals. Oh really? Such as?
Fear of Cycling
You may not have been cycling for long. You may want to cycle on public roads with other vehicular traffic but a degree of trepidation or fear might have stymied your attempts at road cycling. That being the case, it might seem like a lost cause to try road cycling if you feel you can’t ride on the road. That makes sense. That would certainly squeeze the life out of any initial motivation for riding were that the case.
While there’s no doubt riding in traffic can have its risks, you’re more than up to it. How could I even know that without knowing you? Well, because I cycle on roads and I imagine I’m just Joe Average. Once again, you can be aware of the dangers – and it’s good that you are! – without focusing on that aspect of your riding. If all you can think about when you imagine cycling on roads is the terrible fate awaiting you, then it totally makes sense that you’d take the decision not to ride at all. You get me? Being mindful of other road users – because often they’re not mindful of us cyclists! – while at the same time being cyclist-confident, or fake it til you make it if you have to, it’s all good, this is one way at least to adjust your mindset before even stepping on the bike. I mean, if I can do it so can you 🙂
Q: How would ride goals help with fear of cycling in traffic? A: Without a goal, the idea of just riding out into traffic might seem daunting. With a series of small, incremental goals, from a very easy beginning with each building upon the success of the other, the fear in the process can in that way be kind of de-fanged. And of course there’s always the idea of safety in numbers, ie. in a group.
If your motivation has gone because the rides are just boring, the question is why are they boring? See, if you never set any long term goals, you may end up riding the same routes the same way or with the same folk all the time. I can totally understand how that’d get wearisome.
Q: How would a cycling goal help with ride boredom? A: By evaluating your ride goal, planning your ride accordingly, you finish with a successful outcome. You achieved on that ride (or series of rides) exactly what you set out to do. And success and achievement are two things that just aren’t boring. There was a purpose to the ride, whatever purpose you gave it. It could be a purpose or goal as simple as taking a ride to get some fresh air. What can be boring and result in de-motivation is riding without purpose or repetition without targets. For the specifics, see part 2.
Maybe you don’t feel you ever get enough time to do the rides you’d like and it’s dampened your enthusiasm right down. That makes sense. If you felt, for example, that you just couldn’t make the time in your day, or in almost any day it would reduce your ride frequency and/or duration. The pressure to find the time and the frustration of not finding it could give rise to an anxiety that you feel you’d be better without. If that were, combined with, say, someone who was prone to all-or-nothing thinking, it could foreseeably lead to hanging up the cycling shoes for good.
Or maybe you’re the opposite, maybe you can’t get motivated to ride because you’ve envisioned an image of rides that are, or would be, just too long for you to cope with. I can see how that would become such an offputting prospect that it could zero out any motivation for going cycling.
Q: How would a cycling goal help to apportion the right amount of ride time for you? A: Having specific, realistic goals can break seemingly monumental tasks into smaller, manageable, achievable tasks. Tasks such as improving your 10K TT time when you can’t find the time to fit in the training for example. Goals can similarly give new context and purpose to overwhelmingly grand ride ideas that had grown in your head, transforming them into smaller, easily accomplished ride tasks. Something easily accomplished engenders the idea of success. And success itself is a fantastic spur to motivation.
When you try, but it just ain’t happening. Maybe you’re getting regularly dropped by a group, or you’re not seeing improvements in times up a particular hill or in speed along a particular stretch. Or maybe it feels as if your rides are lacking in purpose. That purpose needn’t be a grand championship winning purpose either. Just having a fun data-less ride can be a perfectly valid purpose. But setting off regularly with none whatsoever can lead to an overall dissatisfaction with one’s riding and can become the precursor to lowered motivation.
This is less suggestive of not having set ride goals and more suggestive of those ride goals being perhaps unrealistic goals, at least for right now. Let’s have a look at the above examples.
On getting dropped / riding being too difficult: Is it a realistic goal to keep pace with the group you’re riding with? If so, is it realistic to keep pace given the volume or intensity of training you currently do? If so, is it realistic given your current state of fitness or health, or your current ride mindset? Can you see what I’m getting at here? While a goal itself may not be unrealistic, all other things being equal, it may be based on assumptions which implicitly contain unrealistic goals or assumptions. Again, if you’re able to spot these, they can all be turned into smaller, easily accomplished goals. These smaller goals that foster success can aid motivation themselves. And all of that combined can ultimately lead to the top level goal being achieved and motivation being reinstated.
On not seeing improvements: The goal in this case isn’t well specified. Or maybe it’s not specified at all. In order to verify whether or not we’re seeing improvements we need to know what the base or start level is and then have a defined level that counts as “improvement”. Bear in mind that if you’re not a beginner, performance changes may not be immediately apparent, some taking time to show themselves. So do you know what target speed or time you’re aiming for? And are you allowing a realistic timescale to achieve that? Goals that are specified clearly and realistic for you stand the best chance of success. All adding to increased motivation to continue.
On rides lacking in purpose: the thing is, all rides lack in purpose unless we apportion a purpose to them, right? It isn’t the fault of the ride or of any other circumstance if we didn’t have a purpose for it and then set out to satisfy that purpose. Again, it can be a super grand beat-allcomers purpose. Or it can be as simple as meeting a ride buddy, having an easy leg-stretching ride and a bit of conversation. Giving ALL your rides a purpose is such an easy fix. But it’s also one that’s easy to miss and so it’s understandable if we find ourselves de-motivated because of this notion of purposelessness. State the purpose to yourself before you step on, then you have a guiding beacon for that ride. When it’s done and you achieved that purpose you’ll find motivation will come from that achievement, no matter how simple it is.
How well we’re doing in relation to others is part of human nature isn’t it. We’ve done that forever. Sharing data on sports platforms though does make it even easier now to appraise ourselves in light of the performance of others. While that appraisal may be positive, if it’s persistently negative it can of course lead to a loss in motivation to ride at all. I know that feeling of imagining I’ve done well on a ride only to have Strava inform me that I’m almost propping up the rear of the tables! The problem is that often comparison is subjective. We might have the time figure for a segment, but we don’t know it’s a fair comparison if folk that better us are training much harder than we are, maybe they’re much younger, maybe they don’t have tender knee ligaments after surgery, who knows. All I’m saying is we’re not always comparing fairly. It’s not always entirely evidence based.
While comparison can be a spur to improvement…
If you find it demoralizing just stop it. I mean I get it, of course I do, but riding your own ride is just more fun. If you care to make improvements, improve against yourself. For me, that’s the best, more consistent target to train against, my former self.
Much of the goal setting discussed above can be helpful to us here. How? Because we improve, we give purpose to, we enjoy more the success that comes from giving ourselves specific, measurable, achievable goals and achieving them! And if our goal really is to be top of the pile, well breaking that large, demoralizingly insurmountable task into smaller, easily accomplished tasks then using that method who’s to say we can’t catch the elusive hare we’ve been chasing all over the stats? 🙂
What have we missed?
So all the points we’ve covered to here, if not handled, can lead us to paint a harsh mental picture of our riding. And that picture can be so harsh and bleak that we might start to feel the only course of action is to avoid cycling altogether. Don’t worry though, these can all be mitigated against, minimized or eliminated altogether. How? Well could it be that we’ve lost sight of what it was that caused us to start in the first place? Read on 🙂
Part 2, The Bike Mojo Hacking Strategy
Returning to ground-zero motivation
This ties in with the kind of purposelessness we discussed above. But I mean it here on a far more fundamental level. It’s not just having us ask ourselves what’s the purpose of a ride, it’s looking through the dim half-light of our dissolved cycling motivation and having us ask ourselves what started it all? Why did we even buy a bicycle in the first place? What was it for in the beginning? In my estimation, this is key to us regaining our ride motivation.
Maybe you’re like me and you can’t remember back that far to the beginning? Then what? Well, how about we all do this little exercise as a hacking primer.
But not twee! Never twee
It’s key to this mojo hack that we do this bit. Take yourself back and picture the last time your cycling really gave you that thing in an unmistakable this-is-why-I-do-it way. It’s you know, that sheer joy, that happiness, that exhilaration, that buzz. When was that? Are you picturing it? What had you been doing on your bike? Where had you gone? What was your riding all about at that time? Where was the excitement, the anticipation and the joy? I’m hoping it wasn’t so long ago you literally can’t recall. If you’ve been out of cycling for a while, I understand it might take a bit of digging in the memory bank lol #howoldami. But even so, regular cyclist or out of the game for a while cyclist, I know you’ll still be in touch with the little inner cycling beacon that brought you to biking. What a romantic idea lol. But not twee! Never twee haha 🙂
At what point was the divergence?
At some point those old motivations, the ones that gave us the butterflies of excitement at the prospect of cycling, they diverged from the kind of cycling we ended up doing before we lost our cycling mojo. Do you know when that was? My guess is that if you think hard on it you can pinpoint that stage where your rides went from giving you some degree of plain ol’ fashioned cycling joy, to the rides that precipitated the dwindling motivation. Ask yourself: what changed?
Q: Why would I suggest going back to that point? A: I promise I’m not advocating for living in the past, nope. After all, the only constant in this life is that everything changes. No, what I’m advocating for is recapturing that enthusiasm that encouraged you to get a bike and that buoyed you on your first rides. It’s not a retrograde step, it’s not going backwards, it’s more like a reconnection to aspects of cycling you believed in, ones that you’ve either forgotten or that you’ve left behind as your tastes in cycling changed. To reconnect with that enthusiasm is to find a power source that could reignite your current motivation. It could become akin to a new engine that drives your cycling verve and that powers your old cycling mojo back up. For me then, this is the key to hacking your motivation.
Are you with me to this point?
Task 1… Takeaway points so far
I so hope you’re still with me, because it’s imperative that:
- You’ve read through the factors above that reduce motivation, and you understand which of those (or which others) relate to your own motivation
- You now have some handle on which aspects of cycling you find most joyously fulfilling about cycling (or used to)
- You now also have some handle on what circumstances changed between that happy, rewarding point and the onset of the lowered motivation. What was good about the happy, rewarding cycling that was different from the unrewarding, demotivated cycling?
- If you’re as old as me and you’ve been riding since you were a kid too well something changed (besides becoming a jaded ol’ adult! #kidding). What was that thing or circumstances that differed from when you cycled as that kid just for the pure freedom of riding a bike away from home, away from maybe the stress of family life, whatever it might’ve been, until the kind of cycling you were doing before you lost your motivation was about “hard miles” or “suffer sessions” on turbo trainers. That might be a facile example. Or it may not. But you get my drift, don’t you?
If the above were a realistic example, it would be naive to suggest your cycling now be solely about riding for a forgotten feeling of joyous freedom when all you’re interested in is keeping up with your hard-riding group of compadres. But what I would suggest at least thinking about is how to fade down the demotivating aspects in point 1 above, and fading up on the joyous aspects of point 2 above, thereby incorporating elements of that joyous freedom as part of your new goals for riding. Sound difficult? I understand that. Then again, let’s face it, if motivation has dwindled to nothing and you’re not riding much at all, isn’t any strategy better than quitting? You know you want to get back on your bike. Let this new hacked mojo be the excuse!
So it can be interesting to be more armed with this information about ourselves. But knowledge without action is worthless. So the question becomes: how do I get the wheels of my motivation turning again? And the answer is: in small steps.
Goals, the sequel
We’ve already discussed the importance of at least having ride goals. For the best outcomes here, it’s helpful to have long term goals for our cycling and why we ride, but also, it’s so of benefit if each ride has it’s own goal, it’s own purpose.
So that’s all well and good, but you’re here because you’ve lost that cycling motivation. How on earth can you be expected to make goals for something you’re not motivated to do, huh? Well you may not have the motivation to ride, but you’re here, reading this. And what can we assume by that? Maybe that you have at the very least the motivation to do something about your lack of motivation! True, right? Come on, you know it’s true! We all know you want to get back on your bike! And I’d like to encourage you 🙂 So bear with me!
Task 2… Identifying the appropriate goals
What should help us are goals that leverage the information we uncovered about our motivations summarized in Task 1 above. We need to know what gave us the cycling highs, what changed and what ride factors caused that change. From here it’s up to you to choose your own goals. Think of a long-term, high-level big idea goal which is what you want from your cycling at it’s broadest. What is cycling to you, what could it be? And that’s different from rider to rider. From there, it’s a matter of splitting that into smaller sub-goals or tasks to get you what you want from your cycling.
Perhaps I want my cycling to be more fun, or more liberating or maybe I want to be fitter or faster or maybe I want more social interaction, less solitary, or maybe more solitary! Cycling is so many things to so many people. But those kinds of sentiment are what generate a high level or long term goal. If I want to be faster, what’s a specific, measurable, realistic and achievable goal derived from that sentiment? Again, it’s going to be individual to you. It must be something that’s do-able, but that satisfies you when you get there. Maybe it’s a ten percent increase in average speed over the course of next summer season? It’s your goal for you to decide upon 🙂
The how of getting there is where the smaller, specific, easily accomplished ride goals come in. And without wanting to paint this in strokes that are too broad, this is where you do some work to organise your long term goal into more manageable smaller tasks 🙂 But don’t worry, I won’t push you hard if your motivation is low. That’s where this next part comes in…
Task 3… Setting goal magnitudes
It’s not easy organizing any riding when you can’t bring yourself to ride. That’s perfectly normal. What I’ve figured is this…
The magnitude of my goal must be in direct proportion to the magnitude of my motivation
So, if my motivation is on the floor, well, my goal has to be tiny, like, literally I have to be able to achieve it by doing almost nothing. But still, I don’t like trivial goals so I’d take it up one tiny notch from that so I don’t feel I’m duping myself into a contrived success. For example, if I’m completely unmotivated to ride, but I still want to ride somehow, my goal has to be just throwing on my shoes and riding what constitutes for me a tiny distance and back. That’s the goal, if I do it, I’ve succeeded. I don’t lament the fact that it’s not a century ride. I congratulate myself for finding the motivation to DO SOMETHING; to ride at all. I’d congratulate myself for the doing. Not for what I’ve done, just for doing. If your motivation’s just flagging a little, that might not make sense. If you’re motivation’s gone, you’ll understand that I think 🙂
So choose the scale of your small, specific, easily accomplished goals based on how you evaluate your level of motivation. And naturally, success here right out of the gate I promise will encourage you to the next goal when you can re-evaluate your motivation and set that goal in accordance. Make sense? 🙂
Over to you
Yep, the goal-setting from your shiny new self-knowledge is up to you from here. Follow the above, it works for me, and I’m subject to chronic drops in motivation. It’s the kind of process that I know works for clients too, so there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work for you too if you can put yourself in the right mindset to try it 🙂
And because I want to encourage you all as much as I can, I’ve done 16 more bonus hacks to give you greater understanding of cycling motivation and how to hack it if you’d like some more ideas
I hope this has been coherent enough to give you ideas on how to go about hacking your motivation. Anything unclear or needing changed, please feel free to let me know! I know how I feel when motivation dips or disappears as I’ve mentioned in the other article about saddle sitbone pain. But I have a persevering streak. I’m guessing, if you’re read to here, you have too. You don’t want to quit your cycling, I know that. And I’m with you on that. I hope more than anything that this gives you even some ideas to help reignite your cycling mojo.
But as ever, I wish you well, enjoy each ride (or establish why not!) and stay safe, David.