Have this ready when your friends or loved ones rip you for spending too much time riding your bike:
In other words, riding your bike isn't a waste of time (as long as you don't forget to show up in other parts of your life)
So why is riding bikes such a fantastic tool to learn how to get good at anything? Because unlike other aspects of life, your inputs quickly manifest as outputs.
With twelve weeks of good training, you can go from the couch to dropping people in races. Conversely, you can put in twelve good weeks at work, and no one will notice.
Nothing in life compares to feeling like you can improve your life with effort. Self-agency intoxicates.
To put it another way, if you can get good at riding bikes, you can get good at anything. The same principles required for you to excel on two wheels transfer to every other part of your life.
If you have any finger on the self-improvement zeitgeist, then you’ve heard of James Clear and his book Atomic Habits. He claims that the real driver of outcome is habits, not goals, so if you want to achieve something, ironically stop putting your energy into the endless goal achievement pyramid schemes and do three things:
Why are habits so powerful? The compounding effect.
You’ve heard about the compounding effect before – it’s one of the things your parents were yelling at you when they staged a surprise financial intervention when you were 25- too bad you blacked out – you might be a lot richer now.
The compounding effect says that any small difference becomes a big difference with the multiplier of time.
How does the compounding effect work?
Example: 1 missed workout a week
1 missed workout a week doesn’t seem like much, but consider:
- 50 weeks in a training year.
- So 50 missed workouts a year at an average of 1.5 hour/workout = 75 hours of training missed.
Result - 75 hours missed.
1 missed workout a month
1 missed workout a month is admirable compliance. What’s the impact?
- 50 weeks in a training year.
- So 1 missed workout every 4 weeks comes out to roughly 13 (rounding up) missed workouts.
- 13 missed workouts at an average of 1.5 hour/workout = 19.5 hours of missed training.
Result - 20 hours missed.
- If you average 1.5hrs/day for a year, that’s roughly 500 hours a year.
- Broken down by month, that’s roughly 40 hours a month.
- So if you miss one workout a week that’s…
...like missing 1.5 months of training every year.
His insights into habits as the determinants of outcome turned some heads, especially mine. Unfortunately, James didn’t let us get off that easy – his analysis of habits dove even deeper into what motivates the habits.
He contrasted individuals who base their habits on outcomes versus those that base their habits on identity.He found that the most successful don’t just focus on habits instead of goals to achieve an outcome.
Successful people focus one layer deeper and change the identity that drives their habits.
OK, take a typical (gravel) cyclist. Let's say they want to "Finish Unbound Gravel." Cool.
The conventional way of approaching this challenge is to write ‘Finish Unbound Gravel” on a sheet of paper and overlay some goal achievement framework on it. Worst case, you’d write your goal down somewhere prominent and stare at it a lot – because staring at your goal every day guarantees you’ll achieve it. Best case, you determine and work on actions to give you a shot at achieving that goal.
Using the best case scenario above, you’d write down “Finish Unbound Gravel” and thus needs to do X, Y, Z.
Cool. That makes sense, and hell, it even fits in with James’ theory because you could habitualize the ‘do’ part of the equation. James calls these ‘outcome-based habits.’
Outcome-based habits work, but the catch is that something else works better - identity-based habits.
Let’s start over. You still want to ‘finish Gravel Unbound.” That’s still cool.
Now, this time, instead of asking ‘What actions lead to that outcome?” you ask, “What kind of cyclist do I need to be to finish Gravel Unbound?”
See the difference? It seems subtle, but the difference is glaring. The goal binds an outcome-based approach, but the identity-based process is bound by what you’ll become. And there’s the rub – goals are finite – you either achieve them or you don’t. Your identity, though?
There isn't an endpoint - only refinement.
What does this have to do with basing one’s habits off of outcome versus identity? The athlete who identifies as a cyclist will outperform the athlete who wants to achieve a goal because an identity-based athlete allows time to multiply the compounding effects of habit more than an outcome-based athlete.
As soul-crushing as it is for many athletes to accept – their progression may not improve on the arbitrary timeline they set for themselves. Your FTP might increase 50 watts, but it might not happen in twelve weeks – it could take three years – your body doesn’t care what your outcome-based goals are. The majority of outcome-based athletes fold in the unknowable months and years before expectation and reality finally meet.
If you’re identity-based, that won’t happen because you don’t care. Your ‘win’ isn’t increasing your FTP by 50 watts. It’s executing your intervals at threshold well for months and years. The pornographic wattage you produce after years of training well is an afterthought compared to the daily reward of acting out your identity as a cyclist.
Identity-based athletes usually outperform outcome-based athletes in outcomes because, ironically, they don’t limit their potential outcomes by trying to guess what it is. Back to the 50 watt FTP increase example – why 50 watts? Why not 49? 51? Why not 75?
It’s Realistic based on what? A data set of 10,000 athletes training hard for seven years on which you’re running Python queries?
“I guess it’s a feeling I have.”
There we have it – you pulled that number of thin air. The danger in ballparking an outcome is that if you don’t achieve it, you’re a failure, and if you do, it doesn’t make you a success, because what if it was too conservative and you could have improved more?
as ryan gosling once said:
OK, enough about that – I bet you never want to hear the word ‘identity’ again. Well, too bad – we’re not done!
So how can you become identity versus outcome-driven? Ironically, you have to spend time rewiring something that produces garbage results in the long-term – motivation.
It bears repeating that if you need motivation to act, you will not succeed because motivation is an unreliable catalyst. If you want to succeed, you need to act.
That said, if you don’t examine the motivations that underpin your actions, it will be difficult to successfully create an identity-based habit.
We’re going to lean on the genius of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s motivation model here. They advanced the concept of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation.
You might think that the best athletes are only intrinsically motivated, but that's not true.
Human beings are social creatures, and we outsource the problem of our sanity, so we require a certain amount of extrinsic motivation to keep our intrinsic motivation not just dynamic but healthy.
But let’s not lose the point here – to become identity-based, you have to examine your motivations and explore your intrinsic motivation.
This sounds hard, but James Clear’s playbook makes this so easy to generalize it to you. Ask yourself:
"What would a fast cyclist do?"
You can ask yourself this before you train, while you’re training, and after. The question is still valid at when you eat when you go out, and when you sleep. You’ll find that asking ‘What would a fast cyclist do’ applies to parts of your life you didn’t even consider contributing to your performance.
- Educate yourself.
- get a training plan,
- hire a coach,
- learn as much as you can as fast as you can..