What's Cool In Road Cycling

Motivate Your Mind When Your Body Isn’t

TOOLBOX: The loss of events due to the pandemic can have a big impact on our motivation to train. You may have noticed changes in your motivation to put in mileage, strength train, get on your trainer, eat right, or even get off the couch and go to bed on time. Here’s how to use exercise to bust out of that de-motivational funk.

When can we throw those masks away?

The cancellation of competitions all over the world has sapped the motivation of all kinds of athletes, at all levels of competition. From the weekend warrior to the pro, athletic people everywhere have been negatively affected by having their races taken away this year.

If an upcoming competition motivated you and kept you on top of your training regimen and healthy habits, you can benefit from finding new motivation. When an external motivator, like a competition, is not available, internal motives can be just as effective, and in fact, even more effective at getting you motivated, and keeping you that way over time. These internal motives include the quality of your thinking and your feelings.

To quote the title of the book that focuses on these internal motivators, “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety” (Otto & Smits, 2011). In other words, your motivation for getting on your bike, or back into the gym, can be your mood and sense of wellbeing. Instead of chasing a faster racing time, weight loss, or a hotter body, you can chase a good mood and clear, effective thinking.

It is well established that exercise has a positive effect on our mood and can actually treat and prevent the relapse of depression (Blumenthal, et al., 2007). Furthermore, evidence shows that cardiovascular exercise has a positive and significant effect on our cognitive skills (Ludyga, et. al., 2020), and cardio has been used as treatment for reducing stress and anxiety, and improving attention (Ratey, 2008).

Find a new motivation – Everesting?

So if you’re unmotivated to train because your motivator has been an upcoming competition, use a new motivator. Two effective motivators for exercise are a better mood and reduced anxiety. Here’s how to set yourself up for success, according to Otto and Smits:

van der poel zwift
If you enjoy indoor training?

Choose activities that you enjoy

If the trainer is a miserable and draining experience for you, then that’s not your go-to! What types of physical activities make you feel engaged, happy, and in-the-moment? Make sure that you feel good during your workout – and not just after. In a study of sedentary adults, participants who reported feeling good during a single episode of exercise reported more minutes of physical activity 6 and 12 months after the study than participants who reported feeling bad (Williams, et Al., 2008).

Notice negativity and promote positive mindset

It’s a normal part of the human condition to think negatively about our achievements, efforts, and performance. If you’ve been thinking negatively about riding, training, or any of the other healthy habits that keep your cycling on track, it’s sapping your motivation and could be decreasing the chances you’ll exercise. Called the negativity bias (Caccioppo, Caccioppo & Gollan, 2014), this tendency to see the downside of choices, behaviors, and performances can be counteracted with intentional practice of positivity. Instead of focusing on how much speed you’ve lost this spring and summer, or how much mileage you missed getting in, focus on how great it will feel to be out on the road, getting the fresh air, pushing your body and your mind. (For more on negative thinking, check out a previous article I wrote, HERE).

Don’t over think it

Be in the moment

Mindfulness is the simple yet often elusive experience of being in the present moment. If you are working out, but thinking about your bills, your inbox, or the errands you need to run afterwards, you won’t enjoy it. Similarly, if your ride is hijacked by thoughts about the past, like regrets and resentments, your feelings will reflect those thoughts, instead of your present experience. When you bring yourself into the here-and-now, you increase enjoyment, which has a positive impact on your motivation in that moment, and for future motivation.

If you choose to exercise for the benefit of your mood and thinking, instead of an outcome like appearance or performance, here’s what you get:

  1. Instant gratification– Exercise immediately makes us feel good, or better.
  2. Improved wellbeing – Exercise improves our sense of happiness and self-esteem.
  3. A completed workout – Exercise begets exercise! Each episode of exercise is the practice of a healthy habit.


So, the next time you’re having difficulty getting yourself out for a ride or into the gym, experiment with exercising for the benefit of your mind – specifically, your mood and your thinking. If your body’s not feeling it, remember that your mind definitely will. Instead of aiming for a personal record or a qualification time, aim for feeling good and thinking clearly – two aspects of mental health we could all use more of in these stressful and uncertain times.


Blumenthal, J. A. Ph.D., Smith, P.J., Hoffman, B. M. Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 16, 14-21 doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000416000.09526.

Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S, Gollan JK. (2014). The negativity bias: Conceptualization, quantification, and individual differencesBehavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 309-310.

Ludyga, S., Gerber, M., Puhse, U., Looser, V.N. & Kamijo, K. (2020). Systematic review and meta-analysis investigating moderators of long-term effects of exercise on cognition in healthy individuals. Human Nature Behaviour, 4, 603-612.

Ratey, J. J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown & Company: NY.

Williams, D.M., Dunsiger, S., Ciccolo, J.T., Lewis, B.A., Albrecht, A.E. & Marcus, B.H. (2008). Acute affective response to a moderate-intensity exercise stimulus predicts physical activity participation 6 and 12 months later. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9, 231-245.

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