Don’t fall victim to Learned Helplessness – lessons from getting smashed by a black belt

As a coach I read a lot of books that deal with psychology and motivation. The human mind is an amazing thing capable of overcoming and achieving almost anything and the lessons I’ve learned from these books have helped me and my clients a lot over the years.

With enough focused practice you can become great at anything but first you have to believe that the practice can make a difference.

However, along with all the great stuff I’ve found about the power of the mind I’ve also come across the dark side of the topic as well, namely how the mind can sabotage us and hold us back. One way in particular stood out to me yesterday while I was being crushed under the BJJ black belt I train with.

Called Learned Helplessness, it is a mental state where you just give up trying. For me being Mounted or pinned under Side Control by someone who knows how to hold me down has this effect – I keep catching myself just lying there waiting for them to do something because I know I can’t get out.

Getting smashed...

Not me getting smashed but you get the point…

The problem with this state of mind is that it stops the leaning process, which means you don’t grow from the experience. Instead of focusing on what you can do and what skills you can work on to improve even more you focus on all the reasons you can’t do something.

As I was thinking about this after class I realized that this is the same thing a lot of riders go through with standing pedaling. Between their bad experiences and the constant reinforcement from other riders that it is “hard” they’ve induced a state of Learned Helplessness.

The problem is that – just like with me being pinned under a black belt – it is a lie.

You know it is a lie because you’ve seen other people do what you want to do. I’ve seen people escape a tight Mount or Side Control and you’ve seen riders stand up and pedal at will.

This means that they know something we don’t and we just need to figure out what it is. It all goes back to seeing your experience as one of learning and not just doing.

With enough focused practice you can become great at anything but first you have to believe that the practice can make a difference and that all starts with being on guard against the Learned Helplessness mindset.

If you find yourself saying things like “I’m just not genetically gifted” or “They’ve got more natural talent” or “I need a different bike to ride like that” then just know that you’re setting up artificial excuses to justify your Learned Helplessness.

This is really at the heart of MTB Strength Training Systems – you can become the rider you’ve always wanted to be through focused practice and effort.

So as you go on about your day pay attention to the conversation going on in your head and be on guard against Learned Helplessness in your riding, your training and your everyday life. Life’s too short to be held back by lies so don’t let them get to you.

That’s it for now, if you have any tips you’ve found helpful for overcoming this problem please leave a comment on this blog post. Also, if you’d click on of the Like or Share buttons while your there to help spread the word I’d greatly appreciate it.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. Jon Laterveer says:

    Yeah, it is a very bad trap!

    Reply • July 31 at 11:28 am
  2. Dan Metivier says:

    One of my regular trails I ride has a set of steep, loose, and tight switchbacks. I can ride down them, but I had unsucessfully tried many times to ride up. I stopped trying, I was sure it couldn’t be done. Everyone I saw come up to this section, got off and walked. One rider even made the comment that the section was made by and for hikers. That just reinforced what I thought. Until one day I saw a guy ride up. I couldn’t believe it at first, but I started to attempt the section. Now, I’ve cleaned all but one turn, but I know I will do it. I know I can do it. It’s amazing how the mind can limit you, or help you develop as a rider. Good article!

    Reply • July 31 at 12:49 pm
  3. Micah Friedman says:

    Hi James,
    I’ve read your site more or less daily for the past few months. I just wanted to let you know that in addition to getting a ton of great info on different exercises and using good technique, your posts frequently provide me with much needed inspiration and encouragement in other areas of life. So thanks

    Reply • July 31 at 1:29 pm
  4. Slow says:

    Success only comes after we can recognize our failure. Great success James. Loved the story.

    Reply • July 31 at 9:55 pm

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James Wilson