Have you spent the summer thinking you’ve prepared for your best cyclocross season ever, only to feel like there’s a few of those guys who seem to effortlessly pull away from you? Waiting for you at the finish line, they really dampen your spirits by telling you this is their first time trying cyclocross. For today’s column, Lee Waldman examines why putting up the good fight from a disadvantaged position is the best thing you could hope for.

by Lee Waldman

We all know a rider like this, who seems to be blessed with the level of talent and ability that we would give our right arm for. The world just isn’t fair because it appears, on the surface, this person doesn’t even need to train. He or she just shows up at the start line and the results just happen. It’s almost enough to make a “mortal” rider consider giving up the sport because it just feels as if we’ll never reach that level. Well, that’s one way to look at things but I’ve been doing some thinking… and learning and it has occurred to me that it might not always be a good thing to be that naturally talented.

An explanation now is probably necessary. I’ve done some learning lately about different types of mindsets. I think I’ve always known, on some level, that there’s more than one way to view ourselves and our place in the world. Let’s consider, just for a moment, the possibility of two different types of people. There are those who, for lack of a better term, have a fixed mindset. Then there are the others who have, well let’s call it a growth mindset. These aren’t my terms. They are borrowed from a book I’m reading, titled “Mindset” by psychologist Carol Dweck. She poses the idea that although people with a fixed mindset are, for the most part, accomplished, they are also hindered by those natural abilities while those with a flexible mindset, though not as accomplished are actually advantaged by that.

Why, you’re asking, and more importantly what does this have to do with me as a cyclocross athlete?

Riders who have a fixed mindset are steadfast in the belief that their ability is also fixed, out of their control and was given to them at birth. Because of that, they’re sometimes reluctant to challenge themselves. They shy away from courses that might not suit their skills, preferring to offer reasons for not racing rather than take a chance that they might not perform up to their expectations. This, Ms. Dweck says, is typical of people with a fixed mindset. Taking risks in any part of their lives is a frightening and foreign concept. If they were to take a chance, and “fail,” whatever that might mean in their world, which would put a dent in their belief system. Their ability is not god-given because if it was then they would have been successful.

For the rest of the world, those with a growth mindset, challenges whether in sports, academics, business, etc., are all opportunities to learn a new skill or to further develop one that we’ve been working on. Those with a growth mindset relish the challenge and the opportunity to grow and change. They see it as an exciting prospect, not something to be feared.

So as cyclocross racers does it even matter that we know that there are different ways to view the world? Well. . . yes, it does matter. First of all, if you’re one of those riders who has a fixed mindset. You believe that your ability is inate, you were born with it, and it’s set in stone. You might rethink that mindset because it might, just possibly, be limiting your growth as a racer. Yes, you’ve gotten pretty far on your basic talent. You might even have been a state champion or been on the podium at Nationals. But have you really explored the limits of your ability or have you shied away from really putting it all on the line because of the risk of failing? Be honest now, if not with us, with yourself, and begin to explore the possibility that there might still be room for growth for you.

And, if you’re a rider who is always looking for a challenge, for the next “hard” race, then pat yourself on the back. Maybe you’re always looking for more challenging competition. Possibly you’re thinking of traveling to one of the bigger races where you’ve heard that they are “wicked fast”. Be proud of yourself! What you’re actually doing is taking advantage of that growth mindset and giving yourself the opportunity to approach your full potential.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that one mindset is better than the other. I’m not even suggesting that there isn’t room to vacillate between the two, based on the circumstances. I’m just suggesting that one way to look at the world might be just a tiny bit more limiting than the other. Which would you choose, if you could?

Consider the possibilities. Fixed mindset and being satisfied with your level of achievement but never challenging yourself? Growth mindset, looking at the world as a set of opportunities? Fixed mindset with a strong work ethic which would take you to yet another level? I’m a firm believer in the dictum that knowledge is power. Does it matter which of the mindsets is you? Absolutely not! What matters is that you use that knowledge to maximize your potential. Because, after all, isn’t that what sports, and life, is all about?

Enough philosophy. Go ride your bike!