Heading towards the first climb at Red Cliffs, I mentioned to the gals, "this hill is one of my challenges." A newer mountain biker, I've tried to ride it numerous times, both up and down, but the top corner, deeply rutted through the center, had proved to be a nemesis.
As we approached the hill, my mind tapped in on trusty mantras. I heard Claire, an old cycling buddy, "Pull! Pull! Pull!!" And I heard the calm, smiling voice of my fiance, "kung-fu grip." And I heard my legs, "GEAR DOWN, WOMAN!" So I did; geared down to spin, pull pull pulled up the steep, kung-fu gripped through the rutted section and then...suddenly I was at the top!
"Victory is mine! Muwahahaha!"and "yay! fun," my inner cheerleaders said.
Kari and Laura, my ride buddies came up to meet me and high-fives were passed around. Known possibility had just altered with the rush of blood to my quads, calves and into my ears - take that, nemesis hill. Whoop whoop!
Riding as this trio was new for all of us but we proved to be well matched. We were all getting our legs under us for the season, shaking out the cobwebs of old hesitations and rode on sharing stories until harder steep sections forced a pause in our conversations.
I didn't even notice it had happened until Kari said, "Ok, ladies, enough of that talk. You can save it for the guys if you want but not when we're together." I hadn't even noticed, but Laura and I had derailed our conversation into the dark, dirty world of negative self-talk. Coincidentally, I had also just noticed I'd begun to ride slower and feel nervous, my kung-fu grip felt less grippy and the rocks and ruts seemed to be getting bigger. Boo.
How did I go from being a cheerleader to a nay-sayer? Were Laura and I trying to make one another feel better about insecurities? If I one-upped her on challenges or what I was bad at, maybe she'd feel more confident? (I know, dumb idea.) Was it that we felt safe enough with one another to express our fears or insecurities? Were we simply perpetuating the "popular social sentiment" within our mini group toward our own potential abilities?
Psychologist Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory and definition of self-efficacy would argue that we were observing each another's negative behavior, mirroring it back to one another, and also projecting it onto ourselves. If you think back to your Psych 101 class in college, perhaps you'll remember him, but his theory says that the "social observations" Laura and I were making with one another heavily influenced our beliefs about whether or not we are able to successfully perform and master this whole mountain biking thing. Talking about how bad we are at biking and regurgitating stories of when we ate shit, while occasionally funny, wouldn't help us stay upright or feel psyched about riding next time.
Whether Bandura got it right, or not, we needed to reverse our thinking and spin it towards the positive. What happened to those encouraging voices to "pull, pull, pull" and keep a "kung fu grip"? We started downhill, which ended our chatting for a while as we each picked up speed, leaving me to contemplate our downward spiral into the self-doubting chit-chat.
How often do I sabotage my ability to ride a challenging trail, or climb a route just beyond my comfort zone because I buy into and perpetuate negative social behaviors? How much am I contributing to the doubt my riding and climbing partners might feel - am I sabotaging them? (yikes!) Am I thinking too hard about this?!?! Maybe. But, its important to remember that sticks and stones can break our bones and words can really screw with our heads. Thankfully, there are friends like Kari who call us out, reminding us we don't need to give negative thoughts any legs on which to stand and then walk all over our day. Negative social behaviors might domino effect to others, but so can positive ones.
At the end of trail with our heads back in the game, more high-fives were passed out, along with hugs and cheers of a "great ride" and "awesome work." Next time: less dirty talking, more dirty, dusty and fun riding.