The belief you can improve your performance through consistent, deliberate effort is central to being a cyclist. You wouldn’t bother training if you didn’t believe your efforts would improve your performance, right? But while you likely have an inherent tendency toward a growth mindset, many athletes are stymied by stubbornly fixed ideas.
The concept and term “Growth Mindset” was developed by Stanford University Psychology professor Carol Dweck. This influential concept has been applied to parenting, education, corporate leadership, coaching, and many other fields. At a basic level it identifies two mindsets, a ‘fixed mindset’ that believes talent, ability, and intelligence are fixed and unchangeable traits, and a ‘growth mindset’ that believes talent, ability, and intelligence can grow and develop through practice, hard work, and learning.
Athletes with a growth mindset are continually interested in getting better. They view setbacks as opportunities to learn. Athletes who are stronger or faster than they are do not threaten them; they try to learn from them. When they win or have a great workout, they view it as part of the process instead of proof or confirmation of their talent or ability.
Athletes with a fixed mindset focus on how they did and how good they are. They are threatened by faster athletes who might contradict their view of their own talent. In order to protect their view of being good or talented, they find excuses for setbacks or defeats. Because failing to achieve a training or competition goal can’t mean they are not as good as they think, it has to be because they got cut off or there was a headwind or their shifting didn’t work right.
In a great article, Dr. Dweck points out that people can have different mindsets for different aspects of their lives. A person can have a growth mindset for classroom education but a fixed mindset for sports. In my view, training for an endurance sport requires a growth mindset to some extent. You have to believe training is a gradual process that leads to changes in fitness and skill. At the same time, you may be holding yourself back by clinging to some fixed ideas.
The Fixed Mindset Cyclist
What does a fixed mindset, or at least a set of fixed ideas, look like in a cyclist?
- Every ride is a test: They have to continually prove they are good, to themselves if not to everyone else. So, they charge every hill, try to set Strava records every ride, and always push the pace at the front of the group. They struggle to ride slowly on recovery days.
- They don’t listen to their bodies. If a training week is supposed to be 200 miles or 12 hours or a certain TSS score, they will push to achieve that number even if their performance data and perceptions are telling them to rest.
- They go way too hard for their current fitness: To be satisfied with a ride, the data has to confirm a preconceived performance level. Instead of training at the appropriate intensity for their current fitness, they continually try to match performances from an earlier, more fit, time period.
- They avoid group rides: Going to the group ride and getting dropped would expose the fact they are not as good as they think, so they just don’t go. Please note, I’m not saying this is the case for everyone who has stopped going to group rides. It’s just that people with a fixed mindset avoid challenges that may expose weakness.
- They stay in their lane. Most people like doing things they are good at, but people with fixed mindsets specifically don’t like doing things they are not good at. As a result, they are reluctant to try new disciplines or new sports, which could make mountain biking unappealing to an experienced road cyclist.
- They resist changes in training methods: If you believe your talents and abilities are fixed, and that you are already good, why change the way you train? There is also the fear that changes could cause a loss of performance.
In many of the examples above, the cyclist has a fixed idea they are talented or highly skilled, they continually seek to prove or confirm that idea for themselves, and they resist or avoid environments that might contradict the idea they are good. But a fixed mindset works both ways.
What if a cyclist has fixed ideas about things they are not talented or good at? This is the cyclist who says, “I’m not a climber.” The cyclist with a growth mindset would say, “I’m working on being a better climber.” Or, “I’m not a climber, yet.”
What does a negatively fixed mindset look like in a cyclist?
- They avoid what they’re not good at. If a cyclist is convinced he or she is not a climber, why train on hills? If they fancy themself as a climber because they’re smaller in height and weight, and they’re sure they’re not a good sprinter, why train their sprint?And it’s not just workout related. You can have fixed ideas about skills, too. Many athletes are convinced they can’t descend quickly and safely, or they’re sure they can’t follow a wheel closely.
- They give up quickly. If a cyclist’s mindset says they’re not a talented climber, they might force themself to try some climbing workouts, but they’ll quit intervals early or shift their training focus away from climbing after a short time. The rationale is often, “I’m never going to be very good at this anyway, so why bother?”
Moving Toward a Growth Mindset
No matter your age or level of stubbornness, the brain remains malleable throughout your entire life. If you identify with some of the behaviors above, it’s important to recognize the opportunities available by moving toward a growth mindset around training and performance. In next week’s post I’ll show what a growth mindset looks like in a cyclist and how athletes can change their mindset for the better.
CEO/Head Coach of CTS