cycling · fitness · Guest Post · motivation · Zwift

Moving my own goalposts (Guest Post)

by Jennifer Szende

A little over a week ago, Samantha wrote about giving herself permission to quit, and it was just the push I needed. You see, I had been struggling with Zwift Academy for a few weeks and I had just about come to the decision that I should quit the program. I was hating it and avoiding it, but still in denial. I kept setting up my bike on the trainer, then doing other things. Or, just not setting up the bike at all. I would look at the schedule of Zwift Academy rides for the next day, and then find conflicts with all of them. I was going days in a row without doing any Zwift rides, let alone Zwift Academy rides. I finally motivated myself to do a group ride by choosing one of the easiest rides I could find. I was running out of time to complete the rides before the two month long “Zwift Academy” program closed. 

I had finally reached the point of naming my problem: Zwift Academy workouts are hard. Really, really hard. I would find myself either yelling or on the verge of tears trying to complete the workouts. On the plus side, I was really doing what the rides are aiming for: leaving it all on the field. On the downside, I was hating it to the point of avoiding it. I was making excuses to myself. And to make matters worse, the rides are so popular that they seem to also be prone to bugs. I had at least one ride where ERG mode disengaged, and it took a ton of effort (and was virtually impossible) to hit the required cadence/wattage combos on the workout. And I had another ride where I lost internet just minutes from the end of the cool down, so the ride didn’t upload, and I had to do it again to get it to ‘count’. So, I was finding Zwift Academy frustrating, too. Finally, the parameters of the rides are genuinely designed to push a rider to their limit. That means that the rides were genuinely designed to be difficult. Naming the problem was the first step towards recognizing an obvious solution: I could quit. 

After all, I was completing the program for fun, and not competing for a contract. Why continue to torture myself? Why continue with Zwift Academy once I realized that it was demotivating me to Zwift at all? This is supposed to be my fun. It’s a game, and it’s exercise. It’s endorphins, and serotonin. It felt like I wasn’t getting any of that, so why was I doing this again? 

I have always been motivated by the game of Zwift. The game aspect usually helps me to complete hard tasks that I wouldn’t otherwise attempt. It helps me break them down into manageable chunks, provides additional external motivations, and quantifies them. Since joining Zwift just over a year ago, I have completed a series of challenges: the Off the MAAP Tour; the Tour for All; Tour of Watopia. Each of these gave me specific ride-tasks to complete in a specific timeline, and I felt motivated to work for the completion-reward (usually, completion would unlock a virtual kit to wear in the game, or a virtual bike to ride in the game. Occasionally, completion would unlock a code to purchase a real-word jersey). The game aspects of Zwift generally help me stay motivated and goal-oriented. I like the game of Zwift.

But Zwift academy felt different somehow. I would look at the hard task, and think, “That’s too hard.” I was giving up without even attempting certain rides. Samantha blogged about it here, and discussed how the rides feel a lot more contrived than other ‘group’ events on Zwift. All of the comments and discussion are pre-programmed, and there is nobody monitoring them in real time. So, when the ride flashes a message on the screen saying: ‘Great job!’, it feels much more disingenuous than usual. And Zwift workouts are also designed to adapt to your FTP. They are designed to be hard for everyone, in approximately the same way. Zwift Academy does this extremely well. 

Along came Samantha’s post. When she pointed out that she had tricked herself into completing a race, by reminding herself that she could always quit, I saw a way forward. After all, I had already decided that quitting was on the table for me. I could walk away without finishing ZA, and that would be fine. The next day, I started a Zwift Academy Segment –Three Sisters ride which was an incredibly long ride with a lot of climbing, but no timer, and I gave myself explicit permission to quit. I didn’t just give myself permission: I told two people that I was giving myself permission to quit. I vocalized it, and gave myself accountability. I wanted my ‘permission to quit’ to be meaningful. And, it worked. I finished the ride: 13th out of 13 riders and completely exhausted, but I finished it. 

Completing that one thing helped me feel better about Zwift Academy. It helped me tick off another ‘accomplishment’ within the game. And it also served as a reminder that completing something feels good. I didn’t have to hit a particular performance marker. After all, I came in last in the segment ride. But even so, the feeling of completing something difficult helped me get back on the bike. The feeling of accomplishment was real, even if the challenge was slightly easier than it could have been. 

I realized that the only way that I was going to finish Zwift Academy was if I gave myself permission to quit each time. But the workouts were still incredibly hard. So I gave myself permission to lower the bar, just a bit. I didn’t have to excel. I didn’t have to perfect the workouts. I could *just* finish, if that was all I could manage. And I did. 

I ended up completing my last 4 Zwift Academy rides (3 workouts and 1 group ride) in the last 5 days of the program. I used the group ride as a ‘rest’ between two workout days. I completed some of them well, and some of them just barely. But I completed the entire Zwift Academy training program with a day to spare. 

The phrase ‘moving the goal posts’ is ambiguous between two possible scenarios: making some goal harder to achieve or making a goal easier to achieve, but doing each while the game is already in progress. Make the goal bigger, or make it smaller. By giving myself permission to quit, I made completing Zwift Academy a bit less likely. But by giving myself permission to *just* finish, I made finishing a bit easier. I don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of anything. After all, I was ready to walk away with nothing. At the end of the day, I’ve walked away having left it all on the field, having accomplished something hard, and feeling good about my accomplishment. Permission to quit felt like I was walking away from the game, but in the end, it helped me stay in the game. So, I moved my own goalposts, and it felt great. Sometimes, admitting the possibility of defeat, coming to terms with failure, and letting go of a goal, can help you succeed. And sometimes, coming to terms with walking away is its own success. Sometimes, I just have to move my own goalposts. 

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.