Make it Happen Monday: Power of Self Talk


Did you know that positive self talk can get you up that hill faster on your bike?  It sure can, but don’t take my word for it.  Today we have my good friend and Cycling 360 co-host, Rob Grissom here to share his personal story of how thoughts can have a dramatic effect on cycling performance.  Rob is a great guy and fantastic coach….and he’s here to help you Make it Happen.

The Power of Self Talk and Cycling

by Coach Rob Grissom

Darryl had reminded me of a racing story I had shared with him that I covered in a tip on my own web site called “Vertical Head Trips”.

The gist of the story was this: I was in the last 3rd of grueling road race in a field that was split. The main group was far up the road and the second group I was in decided that we would hammer together in an effort to catch up. The course had 4-5 category climbs and at the time I was really struggling with my climbing but I still loved to climb. My coach at the time had pre ridden the course with me a few weeks before the race and overheard me say under my breath on one of the longest climbs, “this climb sucks”.

My coach stopped me right then a there and asked why it sucked? I said it was a beast of a climb and that I wasn’t a very strong climber. His response was you are a strong climber and that my thinking that climbing was a limiter was all in my head and that I needed to quit using negative self talk.

I took some time to think about this on the drive home. I still felt like I had much to improve in my climbing but I was going to turn off the negative self talk at the very least and try some positive self talk before the race.

Trying to convince yourself that “your having fun”, “this is a great climb” and “I am doing well” when legs are on fire and it feels like your heart wants to leap out of your chest is not an easy task.  As the weeks leading up to the race progressed I practiced positive self-talk and continued to struggle with it. I would let negative thoughts creep in and just remind myself “It’s OK just don’t dwell on it”.

So race day came and I was actually pretty psyched. It was turning out to be the biggest Road Race I had been in at the time and we had a capable field of competitive cyclists. The first hill came and went without incident. I didn’t even remember that it had come and gone!  Then one of the longest climbs was coming up. Someone attacks and the field splits and I am not in a position to answer the attack and am delegated to riding in the second group.

I knew several of the guys in the second group and we chatted while taking turns on the front trying to make time. Then one of the guys starts counting down the distance to the toughest climb of the day.  I started hearing groans and comments about how much it was going to hurt. I was ignoring the negative chatter as best I could and was doing pretty well. We get to the climb and my first thought was wow that’s steep and my second thought was time to work. I set about telling my self that “all was well” and to “trust my training and current form”. A younger cyclist is climbing with me and I realize it’s just the two of us at the front. We are about half way up when he says with very little breath left “this climb sucks”! I wasn’t thinking about it actually I was just thinking about the rhythm of climbing and I said in return “this isn’t to bad and that I was having fun” all with out breathing that hard. At that moment the other cyclists blew up and went anaerobic and gave up and drifted back to the back of the second group and never came back to the front.

This race taught me so much about myself.  First off I learned how a positive outlook is a requirement for success in completing difficult tasks.  I also learned that no matter how bad an aspect of my race hurts others are hurting too and finally that hills and pain don’t last forever.

So do yourself a huge favor take a break from the negative self-talk.  Like any skill this is something you can train to do.

Start off simple on your next ride.  Tell yourself that this is going to be a fun ride that will encompass all kinds of new learning experiences.  Keep your eyes and mind open and look for the learning experiences.  This will keep your mind occupied doing something positive.

If a negative thought creeps in this is OK just recognize it for what it is and say something to your self that is positive to counter it.

If the negative thoughts are just pounding on you, you can try a couple of other things I have found useful.  To counter the negative self talk say something positive out loud such as “This ride is really going to help me build my strength”.

When I dig deep in a race especially time trials, and I am in such deep oxygen debt that I can’t think I still get hammered with negative thoughts like “QUIT, YOU ARE GOING TO BLOW UP or THIS HURTS BAD”. I have learned that lengthy positive self-talk is not possible so instead I have created a couple mantras to occupy my mind with how I EXPECT my body to perform. My two mantras are pretty simple: Light, Fast, Strong and I also use Relax, Spin, Relax, Spin, Relax, Spin…

Have a great ride,

Coach Rob Grissom

Coach Rob Grissom is a Competitive cyclist, runner, duathlete, Coach at Positive Performance Coaching, and co-host of the Cyling360 podcast.  Rob coaches competitive and recreational cyclists and can be reached at [email protected] or through twitter at @rgrissom.  Be sure to check out his website for more information on how he can help your cycling:

Enjoy Your Ride

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8 Responses to “ Make it Happen Monday: Power of Self Talk ”

  1. Coach Rob on May 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks everyone for the great comments! It was fun writing this article and reminiscing over training with my former coach.

  2. Bob A on May 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Great read, Rob! Thank  you!

    Of course, the corollary is also true, if not more so. While positive self-talk won’t always guarantee success (however you define it), negative self-talk will ALWAYS sink you fast than the heaviest anchor.  When you GIVE IN to the negative, you GIVE UP.

    • Coach Rob on May 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm

       Well said Bob,

      I hate when I see this exact thing occur in athletes I train and when it happens to me. I’ll finish a race or have to give up on a race and inevitably it’s about fatigue and my inability to stay positive when the pain just rolls over me. I am happy to say its only happened a few times. I can also say its only happened when I have pushed myself harder than I have ever before. I just have to remind myself that “I can do this” and “the pain wont last forever”.


  3. Henry on April 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Great story and sound advice.

  4. Jeremy on April 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    This is good advice and I am going to try it out when I challenge myself up that big hill over here tomorrow.  Thank you for this advice.

  5. Eric Hutchins on April 30, 2012 at 10:26 am

    AH, a bonus Monday, my favorite cycling coach on my favorite cycling site. Excellent post Rob. And, MAN no truer words were ever spoken. Learning how to harness your brain is every bit as important as harnessing your quads. It is amazing what you can talk yourself into or out of.
    I cant believe I am about to type this but… My wife has recently gotten me into doing yoga with her, and aside from the positives of stretching and cores strength, it is an excellent way to learn how to focus, or in a weird way that I cant put into proper words, TO NOT FOCUS. To be able to get your head to another place were you do not feel the pain, were you do not allow all that negative energy sap the power from your muscles that are actually doing the work.
    Great read to start the week.

    • Coach Rob on May 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm

       Thanks Eric and thank you for all the great feedback, promotion and RTs every week! You are correct about Not Focusing being very tough. Staying in the moment and dealing with what is going on in real time can be the hardest thing to do! Sounds like you may have inspired a new article!


  6. Darryl is Loving the Bike on April 30, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for sharing your story, Rob.  I really appreciate you taking the time to get this together and helping to inspire everyone with the message of positive self talk.  Keep the positive vibes flowing, my friend.


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