Maintaining Focus and Motivation When Riding the Same Route (Over and Over Again)

By Megan Flottorp

After months of facing week after week of largely predictable days, we’re all familiar with the strain that monotony can have. For many, the bicycle has served as an escape during this strange time but what happens when even that starts to get a bit repetitive and motivation wanes?

In the face of cancelled cycling trips, apprehension surrounding group events, and general uncertainty, this summer of cycling presents a unique set of challenges and you might be finding it harder than usual to stay focused on your cycling goals. Although we tend to encourage repeated rituals and preparations when planning your training strategy, that might not quite be what you need right now. If you’re finding yourself less than thrilled to take to the same route for the one zillionth time this year, read on to find some tips and advice for breathing new life into your same old ride.

MTB Woods
On a cycle trail in autumn forest. © Gorilla / DPphoto / Profimedia

Understand what’s happening to your brain

Experiencing a sudden lack of interest in something we normally feel passionate about can be confusing and even frightening. What’s more, is that it tends to operate a bit like a contagious disease. It starts off small, with a short ride feeling a bit more tedious than usual, and can quickly escalate into a total lack of inspiration to ride at all.

The reason we often hear that variety is the spice of life is that our brains are programmed to seek the next reward and seeing or experiencing something new gives us that hit of dopamine we’re always after. It’s harder to tap into these happy juice reservoirs when our brain is confronting old patterns or repetitive tasks because the novelty aspect isn’t there as a stimulus. In order to evade this contrivance of the brain, it’s necessary to take a proactive approach and incorporate new angles in order to keep our repetitive activities fresh and interesting.

Focus on the bigger picture

Especially if you’re looking to achieve a specific cycling goal, it can pay off to spend some time reviewing your past accomplishments in order to prepare for and get yourself excited about your next ride. By reminding yourself that every major achievement in your life has consisted of a long list of minor victories, you’ll be able to more easily appreciate the value of seemingly insignificant and repetitive endeavours. Situating your current activities into a larger framework or anatomy of success will bolster your confidence and focus thanks to the satisfaction of past triumphs and the anticipation of future targets.

l'Etape 2019
The start of the 2019 l’Etape du Tour.

Get acquainted with your discomfort

Another drag of repeating the same ride over and over again is that any minor discomforts quickly take on a starring role when there’s nothing to look to for distraction. It might be easy to ignore burning legs when you’re chasing an incredible view but less so when you’re slugging through familiar territory you know like the back of your hand. Sure, training sessions always involve a little discomfort but even if you subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” mantra, it can be frustrating to spend the whole ride focused on it. One way to recontextualize this sensation and turn it into something empowering is by owning it rather than trying to disassociate with it. Think about how the burn is just small muscle fibres breaking down and getting stronger, and how you should make the most of it while you’re there. Start having a conversation with your body and realize that you have the power to alter your mind’s opinion about the strain or discomfort you’re currently experiencing.

Find creative ways to boost morale and motivation

As you’ve likely come to appreciate over the last months, the little things really can make a big difference. Small pleasures that were easy to take for granted in a stimulus-drenched existence are once again proving themselves special. Use this to your advantage by promising yourself a particular post- or mid-ride treat. Plan to stop by and say hi to a friend or to listen to a new piece of music you’re excited about while on your ride. If it’s in your budget at the moment, buy a new jersey or even just a pair of socks. It might feel silly to use these little treats as motivation but it will certainly generate more excitement and tap into some of the pleasurable feelings you normally associate with cycling.

Cycling socks
Even new socks can change your ride.

Give yourself a break

We all know that stress is a motivation killer, so give yourself permission to take it one step at a time and work with what you’ve got on any given day. It is totally normal to be disappointed that you had to cancel your trip or event and you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving yourself some time to lament that loss. There are a lot of things that seem to be out of our control right now and that inevitably takes a toll on our energy and motivation levels. That being said, spending time on your bike also provides a great opportunity to train your mind to cope with the unexpected and find pleasure in the seemingly mundane. Hopefully by reminding yourself of the many benefits cycling has to offer, the ride won’t seem so boring or tiresome after all.