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Part 1: It matters how you think about the stress of learning, practicing, and performing MTB skills
Combining a stress-is-enhancing mindset with a growth mindset is the key
I get anxious if I have to give a speech or present via Zoom. My hands start to shake, and I often get diarrhea.
I get similarly anxious when competing in a sport, previously racquetball and mototrials, and more recently, mountain bike racing and pickleball.
I also get anxious when practicing (or showing off) MTB skills in front of others. And this anxiety kicks in just anticipating the experience, sometimes days and even weeks ahead of time.
Several weeks ago, the local Cub Scout pack leader planning a ‘bike rodeo’ for his kids asked me to talk to them about learning MTB skills and then demonstrate some skills and tricks. As soon as I agreed, I started getting nervous about it, hoping it would get canceled due to the weather.
Over the years, I’ve learned some breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help minimize my stress levels in these situations, but I’ve never considered a different mindset about stress. I’ve always considered stress harmful.
But I’ve started to see it differently because of a couple of podcast episodes by two thought leaders I follow closely:
Trevor Ragan’s June 27 Learner Lab episode is titled Rethinking Stress: Why Stress Mindsets Matter. He interviews Dr. Kelly McGonigal and cites her book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.
The second half of Andrew Huberman’s July 12 Huberman Lab episode focuses on the stress-is-enhancing mindset. He explains “why the growth mindset works synergistically with the stress-is-enhancing mindset and how to combine them.” He cites Dr. Alia Crum and her research paper Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)
Essentially, the research says that if you believe that the stress of doing something hard is primarily harmful, it will likely be harmful when you experience it. Conversely, if you believe the stress of doing something hard is primarily helpful, it will likely be helpful when you experience it.
In other words, the specific thoughts—cognitive processes—you have about stress when doing something challenging (when making errors, anxious about performing, not getting the desired results, etc.) determine how it impacts you.
I just purchased Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.
It will take me some time to dig deeper into her book and Alia Crum’s research paper Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response.
I want to understand the neurobiology of a threat response (fear, anger, self-doubt, shame) vs. a challenge response and recommend how best to apply strategies for MTB-related learning, practicing, and performing.
I’m excited about this because I put my primitive understanding of how to trigger a helpful challenge-type stress response for the Cub Scout pack demo last weekend, which I mentioned above. I wasn’t a nervous wreck in the days and hours prior. I enjoyed talking to them. And I did a decent wheelie at the end!
I remember those times when I attended MTB clinics, took my MTB coach certification training, went sessioning with a group of buddies, rode at a downhill MTB bike park for the first time, and recorded videos of me riding high skinnies. I initially reacted to all of those as if they were threats and not challenges. Likewise, I now think my initial ‘theat’ reaction to learning to do jumps, drops, wheelies, bunny hops, and manuals was not only due to the physical danger associated with those skills but also the fear of taking a hit to my self-image if I performed poorly.
Let me know your initial reaction to this Part 1 post about the stress response. And maybe tell us one of your own MTB-related stories about it:
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