Endings often turn out to be beginnings. For instance, waking up in the hospital after stage two of the 2004 Redlands Classic with no memory of how I got there seemed to be the end of my racing career. In fact, it ended up being the beginning of my journey into the world of sports psychology.
Life’s Winding Road
I began by developing an understanding of how our thoughts and intentions can have very real effects on physical things such as whether we stay on our bikes or fall off. This journey eventually led me to Dr. Rick Collingwood and our creation of The Ultimate Cyclist sports hypnosis CD. The product came on the market, was a critical success and thus I thought this concluded my journey into the power of the mind.
Before there was Jen’s awful smash-up at the Tour, there was this nasty coco-bonk experienced by Josh. This led to a long physical and mental recovery to be confident and strong again on the bike.
And for a while it seemed that this was, in fact, an ending. Lo and behold, a year later came another new beginning. I gave the CD to a then relatively minor player on the Pro Tour named Levi Leipheimer. With Collingwood’s hypnotic voice whispering in his ear each night, Levi went on to stand on the podium at the Tour de France, win bronze at the Beijing Olympics and take three Tour of California titles in a row. A new beginning arrived; speaking engagements, interviews with the likes of Frankie Andreu, Dave Towle and Joe Silva, narrations of documentary films and even mentions in mainstream publications such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
The Evolving Mind
So where has all of this led me? What is the conclusion of this latest venture and what will it turn out to be the beginning of? As of late my focus has turned to individual mental coaching: identifying an individual’s unique psychological weaknesses, addressing them and manipulating them into strengths. I’ve found this to be an incredibly rewarding practice because, unlike the physical coaching I do, the results can be seen in just one or two sessions. We don’t even have to be in the same room. Phone consults seem to be equally effective.
What do these powerful one on one sessions consist of? I won’t give away all my secrets but, in a nutshell, we begin by uncovering a short list of specific negative thought patterns. Once separated out, we create specific positive affirmations designed to scratch out the old, obstructive grooves that have been worn into the brain and replace them with positive counter-thoughts. And just like all journeys have an ending (that turns out to be a beginning), the journey through each client’s mind ends with a new beginning. A new reality that is. The old reality of who that rider once was ends and the new reality begins. The new rider becomes.
Drop the Old
Nowhere is this turning point more evident than in the very last part of my mental coaching session. Whether I am speaking to 150 members of a SoCal cycling club or just a single client in my office, we always end with a guided visualization. The old rider closes their eyes, takes a few deep breaths and is whisked off to a virtual reality created uniquely for them. It is vibrant and authentic and during this journey through the new reality, we drop the old rider like a sack of potatoes and, out of the dust, a new rider emerges. Sounds dramatic because it is. The becoming of this new rider is evident in every aspect of their cycling, from a new positive attitude to a new found enjoyment of the bike to never before known energy and speed.
I’ve had many requests over the years to provide a manuscript to go along with The Ultimate Cyclist CD. Unfortunately, copyright issues prohibit me from doing that. I am free, however, to divulge the outline of the visualization exercise which I have developed over the years. So for the first time ever, I present you with the Liquid Fitness guided visualization.
Every visualization beings with a concentration on breathing. This helps focus and relax the subject so that their conscious walls of doubt and negativity can be lowered and the raw and malleable subconscious can be revealed.
”Become conscious of your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, concentrating on a deep inhalation and a full exhalation. Gently close your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Feel your chest and your belly expand. Breathe out completely, blow all the air out of your lungs. Take another deep breath in and imagine the air coming in is blue, clean, purifying oxygen. Feel this blue mist go into your lungs and then spread throughout your body filling you with confidence and positive energy. Breathe out. Imagine the air you are expelling is brown, toxic, polluted. As you expel this negative energy, feel your entire body relax. Breathe in again. Clean, positive energizing energy. Feel it reach throughout your body filling you with strength, happiness, self-assurance. Breathe out. push out the negative, polluted energy out of your body, relaxing every muscle from your toes to your scalp as the air is expelled from your lungs.”
Next we explore the body to make sure every muscle is as relaxed as possible. It is said that it is impossible to have an anxious mind inside a relaxed body.
”Imagine a blue pulsing orb of energy floating above your toes. Your inhalation feeds the energy of the orb as it brightens, lifts up and crackles with electricity. Your exhalation relaxes the orb. It sinks and darkens. Take a deep breath in and pull the energy from the orb over your feet. As it envelops your feet they fill with positive, confident energy. As you exhale let the muscles in your feet, your toes, your ankles relax completely. Your feet become so relaxed that you could not move them even if you wanted to. Take another deep breath in. Pull the energy up over your calves, all the way to your knees. As the energy encloses your lower legs, feel them fill with positive, calming energy. Exhale and relax your calf muscles completely. Then sink into the bed (or chair) like jelly.
Continue relaxing each of your body parts. Go slowly and take as much time with each muscle as you need. One by one work on your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, core, chest, back, biceps, triceps, hands and neck. Spend extra time on your face, covering one by one, your mouth, jaw, eyes and scalp.
Take a Trip
Now that your entire body is relaxed you can go anywhere you want. This state of relaxation, almost like a trance will help loosen the hold you have on your old negative thoughts and make you very susceptible to new ideas. It is important to make this is authentic as possible. Include sights, sounds, smells and touch.
”You stand looking over a cliff at the edge of a green forest. A slight wind blows and the sun warms your face. Looking down, the abyss is so deep you can barely see the bottom. Sitting at the edge of the cliff is a solidly built wooden crate with a large impenetrable pad lock on the lid. Open the lid and one by one place your negative emotions inside. First take any stress, any anxiety you have and put it inside the box. Now take any negativity, any pessimism and put it deep inside the box. Search out any depression or sadness and put that inside the box. Take any worries, any issues, any arguments that you are having at work or at home and put them in the box. You don’t need them right now, they are not helpful to you right now. You can always come back to them tomorrow.
“Close the lid and lock it tightly. Hear the solid click of the padlock as it is closed. Now with a strong shove, push the box over the edge of the cliff. Watch as it drops, farther and farther away banging against the rock face as it tumbles down this bottomless chasm. It’s gone now leaving you with nothing but feelings of confidence and relaxation. The issues aren’t gone forever, but for the moment, you’ve let them go. You can come back to them later but only if you want to.”
This is the part of the trip that gets personalized depending on the unique needs of each subject. I will outline a very basic beginning, giving you the tools to create your own trip whenever you like.
”Turn away from the cliff to the woods behind you. Leaning against a nearby tree is your bike. It’s your old bike but in perfect condition. It’s clean, the tires are new and fresh, the bar tape is wrapped perfectly and the drive train is shiny and free of grime. You are suddenly overwhelmed by an incredible desire to ride that bike. You haven’t felt this urge so strongly since maybe even the first day you learned to pedal.
“Noticing for the first time a road meandering through the forest, you mount up and begin to pedal. The bike has never ridden smoother. The bars feel like they were made for your hands, the saddle like it was designed uniquely for your butt and your shoes like they were fitted for your feet and your feet only. The shifting is smooth and perfect, the saddle is at a perfect height, the wheels are true and the tires pumped to an ideal pressure.
“The road is perfect, smooth, flat and newly paved. The bike glides over the pavement like it is on a rail and a gentle tailwind pushes you along. Your legs feel amazing and they turn over in smooth, perfect, effortless circles. You begin to pick up speed. You are now working a little but you feel amazing, free, inspired. As your speed picks up again, your legs and your chest begin to burn but it feels great. The harder you push, the better you feel. As the intensity grows you find yourself only wanting more. You want to push, you want to hurt, you want to suffer.
“You’ve never felt better on a bike. You remember why you ride. This sense of freedom, perfection, precision, everything flowing and graceful.”
If climbing is your limitation, the road can begin to ascend a long mountain pass.
”As it gets steeper you feel stronger and stronger. You climb like a mountain goat, light as a feather. Your pedal strokes are soft but powerful, propelling you forward with each circle. You eventually make it to the top having never conquered a climb with such ease and strength. You feel a confidence in your riding ability that you have never known before.”
If descending is your Achilles heal, then you might find yourself at the top of a winding mountain descent.
”As you begin to go down, you feel more relaxed and more confident than ever before. Your shoulders are relaxed and your hands are loose on the bars. You ease your bike into the first switchback, taking the perfect line, barely touching the brakes. All the while you stay loose and supple on the bike. You begin to pick up speed taking the next corner even faster and even more perfectly. The bike is your friend. It wants to take you to the bottom, quickly and safely. Allow it to become a part of you, feeding of your energy and strength. You make it to the bottom feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment.”
You can create similar experience for pack riding, sprinting, cornering, whatever area you want to work on. After each session, know that you can recreate this experience in reality, anytime you want. It is now a part of you, as real as any other ride you have ever done.
Of course, I vary it to adapt to the mood of the room or the personality of the client but this is the basic structure. Read through it once, but try not to just read it. Try to experience it with your whole being. You don’t have to memorize it completely. Once you have read through it a few times, you should be able to use the script for your own self hypnosis. It can be incredibly effective done just before bed, but you can even use excerpts from it out on your rides or just sitting around the house. Add your own twists and turns depending on your personal areas of limitation. Prepare for the end of the old you and the beginning of the new rider who you will become.
For more information about one on one mental coaching check out Josh’s Ultimate Psychology website..
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.