Your Cycling Mindset

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Here’s a guest blog from one of the OnTor Squad, my mate Ross has been on board since the beginning. He lends a hand with social media, design and was chuffed to be flying the OnTor flag on Haytor at ToB 2016. In his day job he’s an organisational psychologist and coach. His association with OnTor has coincided with an enormous growth in his cycling activity. In this post he considers the relevance of mindset to cycling. We’d love to hear your views on how to develop a cycling mindset.

Dr Carol Dweck is a Stanford University psychologist who has spent over 20 years of her career exploring the concept of Mindsets.

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

For me, the concept is summarised perfectly in a study by Dweck where four year old children were given a choice, they could either re-do a fairly easy jigsaw puzzle or try a more difficult one. Some children elected to stick with the easy puzzle, others chose to try a more difficult jigsaw saying “I’m dying to figure them out!”

This is how Carol Dweck first developed the concept of mindsets and identified two different types.

  • In the fixed mindset, we believe our qualities (or the view we adopt for ourself) are set in stone. So the children choosing to re-do the puzzle were keen to make sure that they would succeed, in the belief that bright kids always succeed.
  • In the growth mindset we believe our basic qualities are the starting point and can be cultivated through our efforts. The children who asked for a more difficult puzzle wanted to stretch themselves and learn.


OK – So what’s this got to do with cycling?

Dweck considers how we motivate ourselves and others from the perspective of the two types of mindset. For me, it’s an ideal framework to explore my motivation in relation to cycling. If you are interested in exploring your cycling motivation and mindset then read on!

As a behavioural scientist who re-connected with cycling in 2016 I have no excuse not to reflect upon my own cycling activities. As I reached the end of 2016 I was delighted with my progress, having clocked up over 2000km. I was also conscious that I was repeating the same routes, over and over again. Whilst I enjoyed these, I knew it was time to move on to more challenging distances and hills. In effect I was stuck in a fixed mindset (or redoing the easy jigsaw) knowing that I would succeed.

How could I shift to the growth mindset?

This changed in early 2017 when a friend, Martin, suggested that we go for a ride together. Martin is someone whose stats I admired from afar on Strava – so after a moments hesitation I said ‘yes’. Martin arrived on the Saturday morning and asked if I’d like to go on one of my regular routes, so I’d feel comfortable. Knowing I needed to shift into a growth mindset I found myself saying ‘No’ and we went on a circular route that took in Ditchling Beacon and some beautiful countryside. This was an enormous challenge for me, some significant hills (both up and down) and my first experience of riding with someone else. It was great – I made it around the loop, didn’t give up and tackled some hills that I would never have got around to on my own. So firstly, many thanks to Martin for his expertise and consideration in guiding me around the route. Secondly, I’d proved to myself that my cycling skills could be improved through my efforts.

@rossmccoach and @martintothill on top of the Ditching Beacon


How can we apply this idea to cycling?

To unpick the mindset concept in more detail there is a brilliant illustration from Nigel Holmes. Although the text refers to intelligence it can be applied equally to our attitude to and motivation for, cycling. So, in your cycling, are you in a fixed or growth mindset?

Carol Dweck’s Two Mindsets


To find out, try asking yourself the following questions:

Are you avoiding or embracing challenges?

  • I was becoming quite an expert in avoiding challenges in my cycling. If I didn’t try, I could protect myself and there would be no chance of failure. But if I don’t try then I automatically fail – where’s the challenge or fun in that?”

“If you go (with a break), you can either win or not win. If you don’t go for it, you definitely won’t win” – Jens Voigt


When faced with an obstacle – do you give up easily or persist in the face of setbacks?

  • Read any cycling biography and it is clear that the pros have overcome many obstacles and set backs to reach remarkable achievements. Honestly, I have a tendency to give up easily which feels quite fixed.

“The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it” – Doug Bradbury


How do you consider effort – is it something that is fruitless or do you see it as necessary to develop your skills and abilities?

  • It’s a simple fact that those who we perceive as better than us have expended effort. So, I could shift more into my growth mindset and instead of small gains in my times on my regular routes which are beginning to peter out, persist with greater challenges. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport” – Scott Martin


Do you seek out feedback and learn from it? 

  • I do love Strava and enjoy seeing my progress as I achieve new personal bests. Me and Dan often discuss our cycling and comparing note on our approaches which works really well for me and encourages me to expand my repertoire of routes and challenges. I guess I could seek more feedback by riding with others more frequently in 2017. Do you have other ways that you get feedback? I’d be really interested in hearing about them as a way to access your untapped potential.

“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” Charles M. Schulz creator of Charlie Brown cartoons


How do you feel about the success of others? Do you feel threatened by comparing your cycling achievements with theirs or do you find lessons and derive inspiration from their success?

  • Personally, I can feel a bit intimidated by the success of others if there is a chance I might be going for a ride with them! But generally I’m keen to ask questions and learn.


Through these questions you can reflect on whether you’re in the fixed or growth mindset. Are you ready to cultivate your skills through challenge and effort? Me, I tend to oscillate between the two, but by having the awareness of the concept of mindsets I can choose to take action to shift more often into the growth area.

For those of you who are interested in the concept as a human (or a parent!) I’d recommend the book “Mindset – the new psychology of success” by Carol S. Dweck PhD.

I wanted to finish on another quote with some wise advice from Fausto Coppi on how to improve “Ride a bike. Ride a bike. Ride a bike.”

Thanks for reading.


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