Train your brain!

Get some sports psychology help: give your mind a success workout as well as your body with Karen Darke 

There are times in life when we face a goal or a challenge that seems daunting. It may feel beyond our capabilities in its magnitude or difficulty. A challenge, whether we choose it or whether it ‘appears’, is a gift in itself: we have something to stretch us, help us grow stronger (physically, mentally and emotionally), and a focus to work on. We face a choice though: to commit to the challenge, or not.

So this challenge could be anything, but here we’re talking about cycling and Tour O The Borders (TOTB). It’s likely you have already set a goal for yourself (to finish, do a certain time etc.), or are considering setting yourself one. And it’s likely you’ve already begun your physical training…but are you doing anything to help your brain get you there too?

A sports psychologist once asked me what percentage of performance I might assign to mental attitude versus physical form. “80% physical, 20% mental” I mused, and for a while I wondered what was the ‘answer.’ Apparently, Ranulph Fiennes attributes his success in climbing Mount Everest at age 65 to being 90% positive mental attitude and 10% physical ability. There is, of course, no right answer – it must be different for each of us and will vary from day to day. There is no doubt, though, that if we go into any situation thinking we’re going to fail, or that we are the underdog, we probably will do / be just that. Maintaining a positive mental attitude at all times is a vital ingredient of success, and having a clear goal and knowing why you are doing it, are two vital ingredients to help your brain get off to a good start!

Karen Darke

1 | So, what are you aiming for? What is your TOTB ‘Quest’?!

Write it down…make it as specific as you can.

e.g. My Quest is to get fit enough to complete the 88km TOTB route and enjoy the ride;  My Quest is to train X hours / km a week, and complete the 120km TOTB in under Y hours.

The hardest of challenges can be so much easier and more fun when we have decided we want to do it, and therefore commit to it.


 To get off the fence and fully commit, a useful question to ask yourself is WHY are you doing this?


2 | What is your motivation?

Write it down. It may take a little time to really find what your motivation is, but play around with it, until you find the description that nails it for you.  It might help to ask yourself What change do I want to see? Maybe you want to get the ‘current’ you, to a ‘new’ you with a change in your health, mindset, abilities, performance, or any other reason.

e.g. I’m doing this so I can feel more confident about myself;  I’m doing this to see just how fast I could be if I commit to training hard;  I’m doing this to give myself some regular exercise /to help me lose weight / to get time out from the normal routine and demands of my life…

When you find your motivation, you know what is driving you, you have meaning and purpose, and that makes it much easier to get yourself into the saddle, or off to the gym at whatever time of day that might be! Finding our inner meaning drives us to strive higher, push harder, and to accomplish things we thought impossible: making it much more likely we will accomplish our ‘quest’. It might help you to get a few words together that remind you why you are doing this, and…


3 | What could be your motivation mantra?

It might help to write your mantra somewhere you see it a lot: maybe a password for things, on a sticky on your fridge, a screensaver on your phone…whatever works to regularly remind you.

e.g.  my mantra in bike training this year is “Happy, Healthy, High”  (to remind me to stay balanced with my training, so that I am not over-trained, feel healthy and still aim for high performance…).

Once we start working to a purpose like this, it can at times feel like there is some magic going on, with unforeseen things helping us towards our goal. I love the popular quote, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” (Goethe)

Decide on your quest, and connect to your motivation…then begin, and with meaning, purpose and a motivation mantra as your allies, enjoy the journey!


The prize is free ‘brain training’ with TOTB ambassador, Paralympic Champion, adventurer and ‘brain coach’, Karen Darke (

Karen will coach you with 7 Keys to help you achieve your Quest over 9 weeks before TOTB.  To enter, email Karen your answers to the questions above (1) Your Quest  (2) Your Motivation (3) Your Motivation Mantra, & tell her why you would like some ‘brain training’ to help you. Don’t forget to include your name, email and phone number. Karen will pick a winner out & you’ll get started asap J

Entries close 5th July 2019, Email:

Karen has 10 years experience as a professional athlete, an MA in Development Training, a Masters in Sports Psychology and High Performance Coaching, & is a qualified Performance Coach.

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This post was written by Alex Simpkin