Self Talk

First of all, my apologies for the huge gap between last post and this post...I was doing well with my “One blog/week” goal until my laptop decided to stop turning on, my health took a turn, and my dear mum came to visit. I got my laptop fixed in New Plymouth ($350 for a tiny drop of water damage), my health is back up and running and Mum and I have been having a blast. We’ve been road tripping since two days after her arrival. It has been quite the adventure and experiment on many fronts. An itinerary of our month-long trip together will be posted soon.

Split Apple Rock, Abel Tasman (the 2nd most photographed rock in the world)

Split Apple Rock, Abel Tasman (the 2nd most photographed rock in the world)

It took me a while to be ready to write this post, but self-talk is so important and holds much meaning within ourselves and how we are present in this world. What we think about, we bring about, and that holds especially true in the way we speak to ourselves. What we say to ourselves in the conscious and unconscious state, we become. How we treat ourselves reflects outwards, and affects others.

The reason I am writing this is because my self-talk has improved vastly over the last few years, yet I still struggle badly when it comes to mountain biking and rock climbing.  I know I have a competitive nature to begin with, and I strive to do well in everything I can. Usually in a group or team setting I’m okay, because teams tend to lift each other up and move on to the next play, and groups of people who love what they are doing help keep the atmosphere positive and alive. My negative self-talk usually happens when I am riding with one other person who’s skills far out-do me. I know how valuable it is to ride with people with more experience - you get to watch how they move, what lines they take, and you learn that certain things you thought are impossible, aren’t. I remember playing volleyball in high school against the senior team and getting destroyed. As a result, we had to step up our teamwork and individual efforts. We learned to predict certain plays, communicate effectively and take certain chances that we wouldn’t have understood playing an equal or lower level team. I understand that value, and I’m always grateful when more experienced riders and climbers take me out to enjoy the sport. Unfortunately, I usually end up in a complete dark and negative headspace... I am bringing this to the light and breaking it down, for myself and for others who struggle similarly.

It had been a while since I’d entered into a dark mental state in relation to my physical fitness and abilities on the bike, until about a month ago. On a day off work, my manager and I went for a ride up the shuttle hill (just over 3k of steep, nasty gravel road). I had ridden it twice before - the first time I think I was sick because I got super dizzy, nauseous and ended up walking large portions of it. The second time I almost made it to the top but slipped out on the loose gravel on one of the switchbacks and had to walk up to the next flattish part (about 30 steps). When my manager and I did it, I knew it was going to be difficult, and I knew he was stronger and faster than me. I was prepared for that and I felt good. Half way up, my manager says, “let’s cut down into this trail and climb back up to the top”. That change of plan and awareness that I would have to climb the hill again put me into shock. I was angry at first, then disappointed in myself for being such a wimp. That’s when it started. Yes, the descent on that trail was fun but once we got to that hill again, my brain was a landfill. It got to a point where the pain of the climb in my neck, lower back and legs was overbearing, and I couldn’t breathe due to the lump in my throat from trying not to cry. 3/4 of the way up the hill, I laid down my bike and cried. My manager was way ahead and I knew he would wait so I got it all out. Once that episode was over, I told myself I could do it and got back on the bike and climbed to the top. After the ride was over, I was so angry with myself for letting my thoughts go to that place. I was angry because I remembered why my ex hated riding with me.  I would feel incompetent, call myself a piece of shit and let the dark cloud fill my head, making it completely unenjoyable for both of us. We would both get mad and storm off. My brother knew how to deal with it and knew that our rides made me stronger. He would tell me that everything is all right; I can’t keep up because he has years and years of riding experience on me, calm down. Then he’d go off to let me sort out my mental game. I’ve gotten better over the past year as my riding has improved, but on some rides I go back to shitting on myself, telling myself I should be better, stronger, more skilled, more confident, happier, telling myself that I should be able to handle the pain and love the burn. These are not only thoughts that get to me on a challenging climb, but also when I am on a downhill trail that has some sketchy sections. That’s usually when I start calling myself a wimp and a pussy. That is a confidence issue and a self-preservation issue. Which is a good thing, but irritating because I also know what bikes can do, and what my own abilities are. Sometimes I just don’t trust myself and freak out at the terrain, even though I know it’s doable. These thoughts float in and out of my head for hours after a ride, and sometimes drain my energy for days.

Taylor's Mistake, Sumner, Christchurch, NZ (end of the Anaconda bike track)

Taylor's Mistake, Sumner, Christchurch, NZ (end of the Anaconda bike track)

I know better, I know I shouldn’t compare, I know I am still a strong rider, I know that I have improved vastly compared to myself a year ago, and I know this is all part of the sport. I love the challenge and rush of mountain biking, and I love being out in the why do I struggle so much mentally? Why do I think I should be better than I am? Why am I not prepared for the pain and why do I not trust my body’s ability to do it?


Here are some reasons I’ve come up with for myself:


-  My fitness has decreased slightly over the past few months. I’ve been lazier since arriving in New Zealand. I still run, bike, do yoga and workout, but much less than I did when I had a consistent schedule, when I basically lived in a gym, and was surrounded by people who were constantly training and trying new workouts and exercises. I am also eating more gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol than normal, which doesn’t help. (This has actually drastically improved since my mum has been here!)

- I am not pushing my physical comfort zone like I used to. I’ve been so comfortable and cozy. I don’t get up at 5am anymore; I’m not working constantly, and not training as hard. I’m still getting out of my comfort zone by starting this whole travel chapter of my life, which has been challenging - adjusting to new lifestyles, meeting new people, starting a new job, living so far away from family and friends, but it is different than the physical demands my past training has put on my body and mind.

Summit trail heading back to Awaroa Campground, Sumner, Christchurch, NZ

Summit trail heading back to Awaroa Campground, Sumner, Christchurch, NZ

- When I get into that mental state of negativity, I feel every bit of pain amplified in my body. My lower back has always been a weak point when it comes to my cycling (climbing and downhill riding). I feel my traps tighten and my legs burn. I do have a solution to this, it is just hard to snap out of the pain state. When I sing a song in my head or completely focus on my breathing or the sounds around me, I can usually numb the pain. Swimming during triathlon training was demanding physically, but more so mentally since I had a huge fear of the water. Singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” in my head made the distance go by quicker and the depths disappear.

- Pride and stubbornness. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but I find myself doing it anyway. I want to impress who I’m riding with. I don’t want to show any weakness. I want to be independent and strong and responsible. I strive for that in every aspect of my life and I get stressed out when I have to ask for help or ask for a break.

- I feel badly for the people I’m with when I get like that because I know it seems like I’m mad at them, but I’m actually mad at myself, which turns into a spiral and makes me snappy.

- My worth. I find that especially when people encourage and praise me, I sometimes get such a strong feeling that I don’t deserve it. I haven’t earned their kind words. I don’t feel worthy. I haven’t proven myself enough. (part of my stubbornness too)

- Mountain Biking is an F-ing hard sport. It really takes a certain kind of person to truly enjoy every aspect of mountain biking. It's scary since there is so much risk involved, it's hard and demanding physically, you fall and get hurt (that's just a fact and the only way to get better), you face crazy weather and terrain conditions, and there are so many aspects to the sport (bike mechanics to balance and control to skill and technique). 


I still get these feelings, although going through this process of really dissecting why I kept falling into this negative state of self-talk has helped my awareness of it. Here are some techniques I use to minimize the negative self-talk and turn it into a positive state of being:


-  “Cancelling” negative thoughts. I use this when I make a negative judgment, have negative thoughts about future situations, or talk negatively to myself. I acknowledge that the thought doesn’t have any value to me, and think, “cancel that thought” and imagine it floating away.

- Mantras. I find them extremely helpful in correcting thought, using them as a reminder of what is truly important and just having something positive to focus all attention on. My three favorite mantras are:

“I am not what I appear to be. The strength and power of the universe resides in me.”

“I am completing this ride with confidence, energy and safety.”

“I am here. I love you and I am here.”

- Journaling. Writing is my therapy. I write when I’m happy and when I’m sad. I write everything I’m feeling and every possible reason for why I’m feeling this way.  A common way I will start a journal entry is: “I am feeling this way. Here is why:” and then list all the possible reasons. I always feel better after this. Your therapy might be art, or music, or dancing, or walking in a field. Find it because it is precious.

Looking at the mountain ranges of the South Island from the Mount John Observatory, Lake Tekapo, NZ

Looking at the mountain ranges of the South Island from the Mount John Observatory, Lake Tekapo, NZ

I'm sure everyone who is reading this has struggled with some sort of negative self-talk. I hope my experience helped comfort you and that my ways of dealing with it will be of aid to you in the future. Create your happiness. Let that little voice in your head tell you that you are beautiful, smart, strong, creative, powerful, right where you need to be, and living your life to your highest potential, or at least that you are doing everything in your power to get there!

Skye Irwin