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Fighting Imposter Syndrome In Mountain Biking

At Bike Glendhu, we’re dedicated to the betterment of our environment, and part of that includes the mental health of our mountain biking community. We wanted to take the time to do this topic justice so grab a coffee and get settled into your comfy chair – we’ve gone all out on this one.

Imposter Syndrome 101

Ahhh, the ol’ classic inner critic. Something we all have (literally everyone) yet tend to sweep under the rug. Imposter syndrome in the sporting world is rife, especially if you’re someone who is oriented toward learning, progressing, and doing your best.

Let’s start with a basic rundown of what imposter syndrome is before diving into the how-to.

What: Imposter syndrome is best described as a thought, or a series of thoughts about the self that are critical, and unhelpful. These thoughts can be repetitive in nature and usually stem from an emotion triggered by an external circumstance.

Where it comes from: We’ll try our best to explain this without turning this blog into a therapy session. Essentially, your inner dialogue or your “self-image” is formed between the age of 0-7. Ages 8-14 are also significant to the influence & engraining of your core self-image. Major life experiences can also impact your self-image. For example; divorce, the death of a loved one, or attaining an injury that affects your long-term mobility.

What you “think” you believe about yourself comes from a time when you had no control over your environment. When we’re young, we don’t have any emotional regulation tools, so we center ourselves in our world and start to feel/believe that we are the reason for our external circumstances.

If your mum left you crying in the pram for a minute too long because she was picking up a coffee, BAM, your self-image is forming. As a baby, you’ll take things personally and install a self-image that you’re in some way, shape or form “not good enough”. Don’t go parent-blaming here, this is simply life and something that as adults we all need to take responsibility for (or not! Do you).

Everyone’s imposter dialogue boils down to the same thing: Not being good enough. Back in the old days if we weren’t good enough or didn’t fit into our tribe, we’d be exiled and die. So, to our reasonably primitive brains, it’s a matter of life or death.

The specific vocabulary used to describe the “not good enough” self-image will be unique to every individual, but at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of flesh and bone wanting to feel like we are loved, that we belong and won’t be exiled and die.

The good news is, with a little bit of mindfulness and self-detective work, you can get a solid hold on your imposter syndrome reasonably quickly and start making healthier choices that’ll greatly impact your life & performance.

Imposter syndrome, AKA those critical thoughts, are simply a set of stories that you’ve had on a loop since childhood. So next time you’re on a ride and that little voice is whacking you over the head with its same-old script, you can chillax knowing that it’s actually not true; it’s just a habit that your baby brain engrained in you before you knew better.

***Just a note here: Mental health is extremely complex and unique to every individual. This is an oversimplification for context and basic understanding, if you’re struggling to manage your thoughts or feel overwhelmed, we strongly recommend getting support from a professional.

Phew, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into some tangible tools to help manage these pesky thoughts.

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Get Noticing

By reading this, you’re most likely starting to feel curious about how imposter syndrome shows up for you. The only way to really do this is to start noticing when critical thoughts pop into your mind. It’s like taking a mental inventory. You can write it down if you’re that way inclined, but simply recognizing “oh, I’m doing that critical thinking thing again” is winning in our books.

Awareness is power, friends.

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“You Are Not Your Thoughts”

This a classic but powerful statement by Eckart Tolle that is very popular on Instagram quote tiles. What is valuable to take away from it is this; your thoughts are literally just that, thoughts. While our rational mind is helpful for functioning in this world, it tends to fall short when it comes to figuring out what we’re actually feeling.

Thoughts are triggered by your emotions, which are sensation based, often irrational, and mostly nonsensical. Trying to “figure it out” with your mind is where most people get stuck. This is a paradigm shift as we live in a world that prioritizes rational, thought-based living.

A better way to objectively filter your mind chatter is to reconsider what thoughts are helpful and unhelpful. It’s also realistic to know that thoughts won’t stop. It doesn’t matter how much you meditate; they’re not going to go away. How you deal with them on the other hand, can change.

Next time your inner critic is beating you up with a slew of harsh critiques after coming off your bike, instead of believing them, we dare you to ask yourself what you’re feeling instead.

“You screwed that line up” – I’m feeling disappointed, and that’s okay.
“You suck at this” – I’m feeling frustrated, and that’s okay.
“You’ll never get this right” – I’m feeling nervous, and that’s okay.

You get the gist.

Downhill Mountain Biking


Don’t Believe It

It’s helpful to bring in a bit of separation and decide that you don’t have to believe everything your mind is saying. Recognize and assert that this is just a thought you’re having, you don’t have to take it on and make it mean something about you.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to install personal boundaries like these. No amount of social media likes, competition wins, perceived success, or therapy sessions can do this for you. It takes practice, but it’s within everyone’s power.

Don’t expect perfection, you’re human, do your best, that’s enough.

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Focus on the good stuff

It’s all too easy to nit-pick where you’re falling short, especially if your social media feed is full of pros with tons more experience. It’s great to be inspired and to see what’s possible. It’s more important to stay level-headed and focus on the wins that you’re having with your riding.

Go at your own pace and turn your attention towards your personal progression wins rather than what isn’t measuring up to someone else.

Being the best doesn’t necessarily equal success. Success is also enjoying what you do and enjoying how you’re doing it.

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Building Something Better

Building a better thought network is like building trails – it takes time & resources. And just like biking, practice makes better (not perfect, because let’s be real, perfect isn’t real). If you’re mindful and consistent at choosing thoughts that are helpful, over time this will become your new normal.

Downhill Mountain Biking in New Zealand


Have Some Bloody Fun!

Alrighty folks, we’ve made it through the real talk and now it’s time to come back to why we’re here in the first place – to have a good time!

At the end of the day, it’s all about enjoying yourself. If you’re someone who tends to get a little “heady” when riding, the best you can do is come back to the ol’ faithful here-and-now.

You can do this by listing in your mind the experience of your current environment. List 5 things you can see. 4 things you can hear. 3 things you can feel on your skin. 2 things you can smell. 1 thing you can taste.

Voila! You have arrived in the present moment where your future fears or past worries don’t exist.

Again, it’s a practice, just like riding your bike, you need to keep doing it to get good at it.

Mountain Bikers in New Zealand

As we mentioned before, mental health is a serious matter. If you feel like you may need support, there’s plenty of options available. Jump on Google and look for your local chatline, research some of the free peer support groups hosted in your community or, simply reach out to a friend who gets it.

Fresh air, exercise and nature are a handful of proven mood boosters too. So, if you’re needing some headspace, come on down for a ride with us at Bike Glendhu.