What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: The Seven Day Mental Detox

It’s one week before the first race of the season (at least it is here in sunny Southern California) and your training has been good, but not great. You’ve missed some important workouts and you haven’t quite lost all that holiday weight. What’s the prescription for a one-week, best ride of your life, last minute training program?

You’re wondering, what kind of workout can I do to improve leg strength and leg speed, increase my threshold power and VO2 max and lose 10 pounds in just one week? Unfortunately, no such miracle workout exists. It takes weeks, even months, to see significant changes in the body through physical training alone. However, there is something you can do in just seven days to significantly improve performance, motivation, focus and confidence; not just in your cycling pursuits, but in every aspect your life. I call it, the Seven Day Mental Detox.

A disclaimer: this is not something I invented. During my journey through the world of mental training and sports psychology, I’ve come across this concept several times in a variety of incarnations. I’ve heard Tony Robbins, Emmet Fox and even Deepak Chopra talk about it. It’s a simple program in the sense that it doesn’t require intervals, meditation or hypnosis. In fact, you don’t even have to set aside five minutes a day to work on it. Nonetheless, it takes a great deal of concentration and, above all, a true desire to change your mental game for the better.

This is not an easy plan and I’m not afraid to admit that even I have never made it through the entire detoxification. I’ve started it a few times, but I’ve never seen it through to the end. However, right now as I write this, I am making a vow to start it again on Tuesday morning when this article is published. I’m hoping the knowledge that some of you reading this will come along for the journey will give me that added incentive to see it through to the end. Afterwards, I look forward to hearing your stories of success and, let’s not say failure, but abandoned attempts. Let’s face it, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

This program is so simple that I can give the instructions it in just one sentence.

Only think positive thoughts for one week.

Restricting thoughts to those with only positive connotations for seven days will permanently change the deep-seeded thought patterns in your brain and the brain chemistry that has developed around them to keep them in place. Negative, self-deprecating thoughts are like an old worn out pair of sneakers. They’re bad for your arches, the hurt your knees when you run and they look like your dog’s been using them as a chew toy, but they are comfortable and you are used to them so you keep them around.

These thoughts, though negative, are comforting and reassuring, not just because we’ve cuddled up to them for so long but because, let’s face it, they give us an excuse to fail:

– You get dropped on the group ride = I’m too old to keep up with these guys.

– You are the last one to make it to the top of a local hill climb = I’ve always been a terrible climber.

– You skid out in a corner on a fast descent and nearly go down = I’m a terrible bike handler.

These thoughts take the sting out of failure, but they don’t help us move forward. In fact, they allow us to sink deeper into our own negative misconceptions about ourselves and prevent any chance of achieving success in these areas. It’s time to change all that!

This comfort with negativity is what this program aims to eliminate. Let’s go back to the shoes. You buy a new pair. They are stiff and uncomfortable. They give you blisters at first and you are afraid to wear them out of the house lest they get dirty. But after a week, you break them in. The blisters turn to calluses and suddenly you are running faster and longer than ever before.

The feelings you will experience when you begin the withdrawal process are similar to those you might feel in the first few days wearing new sneakers. You may even relate it to the feelings of withdrawing from an addictive drug like nicotine. Your brain has actually become physically addicted to those thoughts. They’ve worn comfortable tracks into your mind like the groove in a record. You will actually become physically uncomfortable as you enter the mental detox. You will feel a desperate pull to return to those negative thoughts like an alcoholic might feel when he walks past a liquor store.

The first few days will be the hardest. After that, the positive thoughts will begin to flow more freely and the pull of the old habit of doubtful, negative thinking will dissipate. After a week, the new positive thoughts you’ve been filling your mind with will have scratched out the old grooves that the negative thoughts created and worn their own, new grooves. Now, the positive, hopeful, optimistic thoughts will be the ones that pull you in – your new, healthy addiction.

The Detox Program
This is what you must do. For one week, you can not say or do anything negative. You must immediately banish negative thoughts as they come into your head. You must do this not just with cycling, but with all aspects of your life. Not only should you avoid thinking about what a bad climber you are or worrying that you might crash or get hit by a car, you also must not worry that you might lose your job, worry that your girlfriend will dump you or even get angry when you see suffering and injustice on the nightly news.


And trust me, you will want to. Perhaps some of you are thinking, I’m a pretty positive person, this should be no problem for me, but consider the following emotions that must be completely avoided on this detox. Anger, sadness, irritation, impatience, doubt, worry, insecurity, resentment, hatred, bitterness, dislike, nervousness, disgust, worry, depression, dejection, despair, unhappiness, anguish, misery, anxiety, angst, dislike. You can’t be too hot, too cold, itchy, hungry, uncomfortable, tired, sore, or bored. You can’t get angry at the driver who cuts you off in traffic or the rider in front of you who forgets to call out a pot hole on a group ride. You also can’t get angry when you ride into that pothole and get a double flat and you can’t get upset when no one stops for you and you have to shell out $30 for a cab ride home because you only brought one tube. Doesn’t sound so easy now, does it?

The Technique
So how is it done? How is it possible to simply banish negative thoughts with the snap of a finger? Although it is a difficult process, the technique for doing it is actually quite simple. First of all, do not try not to think of negative thoughts. Try this exercise. For the next 10 seconds, whatever you do, don’t think about purple polar bears. How did it go? Not so well I’d imagine. This time, for the next 10 seconds, instead of trying not to think about purple polar bears, instead try to think of something else like yellow panda bears. How did it work out this time? Better, right?

The technique for adhering to this mental cleansing is just as simple. Instead of trying NOT to think something negative, try TO think of something positive. In one word, affirmations. Every time a negative thought of any kind starts to sneak into your mind, you must IMMEDIATELY cancel it out with a positive thought or affirmation. You must have this affirmation ready at all times, somewhere in your mind where you can quickly and easily pull it out like a gunfighter with his six shooter. The affirmation can be any positive phrase. Anything with any positive connotation whatsoever. I have two that work for me in just about any situation. When I’m on the bike or in a cycling setting, the one I have my trigger finger on is, I’m a great bike racer. In any other situation, I’m a great person seems to work pretty well.

The words themselves don’t necessarily mean anything. What counts is the function that they serve, which is to block the negative thought before it takes root in your mind. Try to come up with a few affirmations that are unique to you, that trigger a positive feeling in your mind. Think of the feeling or thought that you wish to banish the most. Then think of the inverse, positive version of that doubt or fear and make that your affirmation.

Set Sail
Now that you have an understanding of the monumental task ahead of you, you are ready to embark on your journey. Before you begin, you must decide if this is really something you are ready to do. You may even want to think it over for a few days before you start. It’s a huge commitment and it’s not something you can casually approach. Prepare yourself for the possibility that it will be harder than you’d imagined and that you may, at many points, want to quit. Once you’ve purposefully determined your intention to complete this task, approach it like you’d approach a new goal on the bike. Love the challenge and even the pain and always keep your eye on the end goal of crossing the finish line, winning the race and having your best day ever.

About Josh:

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.

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.