I’ve ridden for over ten years now, week in and week out, and I am rarely happier than when I am winging my way down some amazing singletrack, totally engaged in the moment, getting the best I can out of my bike, and focussed on where the trail is going next. I love the feeling of riding just on the edge of my capabilities, excitedly anticipating whatever is coming next.
But for too long I’ve worried about what others think when I ride in a group. Will I be the one at the back who is holding everyone up? Will I be the one walking down trails while everyone else has already skipped, hopped and jumped their way to the bottom? Inevitably I compare myself to the others and often finish the ride thinking that I should be a better rider by now – and that doesn’t feel good.
Aware that this was affecting my confidence, I did some research and hit upon the differences between motivation that is intrinsic compared to that which is extrinsic.
When I ride purely for fun and to make myself happy, then I am enjoying intrinsic motivation.
Comparing myself to other, riding to win, or for a financial reward is extrinsic motivation.
It’s not that extrinsic motivation is wrong: in fact it can be very useful when it comes to getting fired up for a competitive events – but it can make failure hard to deal with.
Meanwhile, intrinsically motivated riders are out there for their own pleasure, like to focus on a task or build their skills and don’t worry too much when they make a mistake.
Let’s put it another way: unless you are riding to win a prize, the real winner isn’t the one who gets to the bottom of the trail first but is instead the one who gets to the bottom of the trail with the biggest smile on their face.
A while ago I was at Bike Park Wales and got to put this into practice. I was with a group of riders and we were having a great day out. The trails were some of the best I had ever ridden and I knew that it was a great opportunity to work on my skills.
Then one of the group suggested taking a higher ranked red trail. Technically, it wasn’t suited to my riding – I knew I would have to get off and walk in places because it had jumps that were too big for me. Before now I would have felt too embarrassed to say I wasn’t going to join them, but the intrinsic motivation penny had dropped. I was having so much fun and that was more important to me than losing face.
So we went our separate ways and, instead of worrying about what everyone would think, I spent the afternoon having my best time ever on two wheels. It was exhilarating because I built so many skills and loved every second, but also because I knew I had learnt an important lesson about motivation, being true to myself – and getting to the bottom of every trail with that great big smile on my face.