Matthew Hayman: Not trying hard to succeed

Not trying hard to succeed, a protective factor against burnout.

Matthew Hayman is one week away from turning 38 years old and just outlasted and outsprinted some of the best cyclist in the world to win the gruelling 2016 Paris-Roubaix. Not trying too hard to succeed is a strategy that has seen Mathew Hayman amass many outstanding results during his professional cycling career and can be a protective factor against emotional burnout.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald on his recent victory, Hayman said “I can’t believe it, I broke my arm five weeks ago and missed all the racing, I just raced a race in Spain last week. I am not sure myself how I pulled it off…I was pretty calm in the final and I was prepared to lose.”

Just imagine if we could all be more successful by caring less. Freeing ourselves up from the anxiety that comes with wanting it so badly?

Matthew Hayman in the 2014 Paris-Roubaix
Matthew Hayman in the 2014 Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Graham Watson

As a junior cyclist keen to successfully finish his year 12, Hayman pushed himself too hard in order to succeed. The harder he tried the worse he performed. He became anxious and fatigued until he found a way to turn down the dimmer switch on his negative self-talk. When he worried less his body felt less tense, his heart rate slowed and his breathing calmed. This more relaxed state was confusing however because Mathew had always associated worry and striving as really caring.

It didn’t feel right not to worry about wanting to do well in things that were important to him such as his studies and cycling.

However Mathew found when he worried less he performed better and whilst it took some time to get used to this new feeling, it yielded tremendous results.

Of his early cycling success Hayman said “It took a while to get my head around medalling at the world (cycling) championships by learning to care less.” Nearly two decades later and after his 2016 win in the one of the world’s toughest road races the Paris Roubaix he said “This is my favourite race, but this year I didn’t even dare to dream.”

Hayman knows he doesn’t really care less and he does still dare to dream, he just found a way to stop the negative thoughts which pour unhelpful stress chemicals into his body when he cares too much.

A more relaxed mind creates a more relaxed body. Hayman concentrates on putting his energy into his physical performance rather than wasting his energy focusing on possible outcomes.

It is okay to feel anxious before big events – it is normal – but it’s not good to adrenaline burn too often or for too long. Non-physical threats, such as the fear of making mistakes or performing poorly, can trigger anxiety to the point of being debilitating. If you are tapering for an event and less physically active, there is nowhere for the tension caused by anxiety to escape. It becomes trapped inside your body.

Burning too much adrenalin for extended periods of time can tighten and fatigue the body, lower the immune system, interfere with concentration and decision making and negatively impact mental performance and mental health.

So remember, it is okay to feel anxious. Just turn down the dimmer switch when it gets to be too much by caring less. Smash the crystal ball if all you see is uncertainty ahead. Take off your gloomy glasses and be excited by the challenge of what you can do rather than being driven by a fear of not performing well. Stop comparing yourself with others. All you can do on any given day is what you can do and the result will take care of itself.

Individuals who are more self-aware can change negative and unhelpful ruminations by reframing their experiences in more helpful ways. When we learn this as athletes we perform better and are more equipped to make the transition out of sport because it helps us to develop a resilient mindset.

I have told Mathew Hayman’s story a hundred times over because it is a simple, insightful approach that has worked time again and again for Hayman and it can for you too. Congratulations Mathew, Caroline and Gracie!!!