Thoughts & Writings

Finish before you start

Stop arguing with yourself once you're on the road

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I do a little cycling every once in a while. Nothing truly noteworthy, not the Tour de France or anything but I do have a lot of fun with it and it keeps me fit. There's one thing I've learned doing some serious uphill tracks: Don't argue with yourself when you're halfway. Decide to go for the finish line the moment you start riding.

There are a few trips I've done, mountains I've climbed that I'm really proud of. A tripple Alpe d'Huez in a single day, a tripple Mont Ventoux also in one day, the full 240km Amstel Gold Race, the 127km Ronde van Vlaanderen and some more.


That tripple Alpe d'Huez was my first serious challenge, however there was one preceding it: I had been training a bit and in this progress to the Alpe I wanted to test myself in an endurance ride. I had never riden over 100km but I applied for the 150km Amstel Gold Race. The day of the race started reasonably dry, but it's the Netherlands, so it started to rain pretty quickly. I was soaking wet, cold to the bone and not even halfway the ride when I started to argue with myself. "I can go home any moment, shower, eat real food instead of ultra sweet bars & gels" etc.. I convinced myself everytime that I had to continue. The only reason I kept going was because my cousin was there a couple of meters in front of me, stubornly going on and a friend of mine was some kilometrs behind fighting his way through the rain. The argument that kind of kept me going was that I didn't want to be the first to quit.

Now I made it, with cramps all over my legs I conquered the Eysenbosweg, the Keutenberg, many others and finally finished uphill on the cauberg. But the hardest part was not the cramps, nor the hills. The hardest part was arguing with myself to keep going.

The only reason I kept going was because others were there and I wanted to keep up. If no others were there with me I would have lost the argument and quit. Seeking motivation outside yourself is never a smart thing to do. It makes you dependent of variables you have no control over.

Don't argue, focus on your effort

So the next challenges I took upon me I decided I'd rather put my energy in my legs than in arguing. I consciously made a deciscion on the foot of the mountain to only focus on cycling. Not a single argument would be valid. The only thoughts allowed were about weighing the minimal amount of energy I needed to keep a steady pace and finish in time. Now this was a whole other experience! It still wasn't easy, but the lack of arguing made the ride a lot more effecient and fun!

This arguing is probably worse in a scenario where you're doing something that's not really necessary like sporting. Let's be honest, riding a bike for more than a hours and ending up at the same place where you started is acutally pretty stupid right? Solid arguments to quit are easily made. But also in day-to-day cases there are situations where we loose huge amounts of energy in arguing whether to continue or not. I'd recommend to decide to finish, don't accepts arguments and then just do it™. At a steady and comfortable pace, keep going and kill that mountain!

One thought to consider: This only works, in a healthy way, if you know the target is reasonably in reach. Don't start climbing the Mont Ventoux if it's your first ride on a bike ;-)

But wait..

In ancient history we actually had a word for this marvelous method. But it's been unfairly deprecated. The magic word is "discipline". We tend to use it for the punishment of rogue kids to get them back on track, which might have given it the negative association. Or maybe the association Discipline sounds hard if there things you'd rather do, things that feel better. But when you can train the discipline you have yourself, it may start to be one of your most precious strengths. Not the "punishment" discipline, but the subtle strength to decide not to loose energy over arguing with yourself, just do what has to be done and then fully enjoy all the rest.


Don't argue with yourself once you have a reachable goal set. Go for it, keep it steady and enjoy the ride.