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How I Ditched the Mean Girl

By Ursula Cafaro

Getting rid of negative self-talkIt was stinking hot, it was humid, it was summer in Ontario. I was out riding with a group I don’t normally ride with. For starters I’m more of a trail rider and these nice people were hardcore roadies. They had planned on riding 80 or 90K, a short stretch on account that it was so stinking hot. Did I mention they were hardcore roadies?

Remember that movie a couple of years ago it was called, “There will be blood,” you kind of knew what you were getting into right from the start? This ride on this particular day, would have been called, “There would be hills…followed by a great deal of whining.”

I know, hills are hard, that’s why they call them hills and everyone suffers climbing a steep one, but I’m not a fan, not even a little bit. So, not to put too fine a point on it, as we rounded this one particular corner, I felt like a horse rearing on it’s hind legs. Not too far in the distance the yellow centre line just shot straight up, right up into the sky.

I looked for another option, a side street that would miraculously circle around to the main road so I could bail, but there was nothing, I was trapped.

“What were you thinking?” She said.

“Huh?”  I said.

“I mean, what were you thinking riding with these guys?”

“Ya, I know, I was doing so well now this.”

“You know you’ll never make it to the top.”

“I’ll just gear down and take my time.”

“Don’t even bother, you suck at hills.  Besides it’s so hot and humid. Aren’t you thirsty? You’re going to have to get off the bike and walk it up. How embarrassing. You don’t have the legs for it, may as well start walking now. They’ll drop you right here and you won’t know your way home.”

Wow, I thought. Who invited her?

You’re probably thinking, “Who is that? If someone talked to me like that I’d kick them to the curb.” But guess what? You’ve got a friend just like that.

Meet Matilda. The mean girl that lives inside my head. What’s your mean girl’s name?

Naming your mean girl gives you a little distance from her nasty remarks. It’s true she doesn’t mean to be nasty, she can’t help it, she’s just trying to save you from Sabre-tooth tigers. Yes, I know, we don’t see many of those in these parts, but Matilda is my primal brain, the lizard brain, or resistance. Her job is to keep me safe. Since there aren’t any real Sabre-toothed size threats in most of our lives today, she overreacts to smaller stuff. You can rely on her to raise resistance and overreact to anything that even remotely smells of change, achievement or risk.

What’s really important to remember is that Matilda isn’t you. I know, it sure sounds like you because the voice is inside ‘your’ head, but here’s how you know it’s her and not you. She’s bonkers. She’s irrational, and if not kept in perspective, she gets out of control.

How many times has ‘that voice’ activated fear in your body that was completely disproportionate to what you were about to do? For example, tackling a hill on your bike, your heart starts beating faster, you sweat, you hyperventilate, feels like a flight or fight response doesn’t it? Is that disproportionate? You bet. The hill isn’t going to kill you, but your primal brain sensing a hesitancy sends your fear response into overdrive. Seth Godin says, “…resistance grows in strength as we get closer to the truth of what we really want.”

The truth is that you will never be rid of Matilda. That’s just a fact. So rather than spending time trying to exorcise her, learn to ignore her, especially when reality is telling you that you’re not in the crisis that Matilda is trying to convince you you’re in. Interestingly, when you ignore her, when you climb that hill anyway and feel exhilarated for doing so, Matilda is on a lunch break, nowhere to be found.

The good news is that by pushing ahead, by keeping Matilda’s rantings in perspective and being aware of the fear but moving forward anyway, you’re building ‘courage muscles.’

Don’t worry, ‘courage muscles’ won’t make you look like a bodybuilder, well maybe not on the outside. But how cool would it be to exercise those courage muscles so often and so affectively that you wouldn’t think twice about ditching that mean girl and climbing that hill, riding the extra kilometres, signing up for that criterium?  Very cool indeed, I would say.  To the curb you go, Matilda!

cycling to freedomWhen not riding fat-tires along the Trans Canada Trail through Caledon Ontario, Ursula Cafaro is leading an optimal ride indoors.  Ursula is also a writer and a documentary filmmaker with a focus on empowering women.  She is currently working on a multi-media project entitled The Flight Imperative,http://flightimperative.blogspot.com.

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12 comments to How I Ditched the Mean Girl

  • Carmen

    OMG, I absolutely love this article! I’m going to name my mean girl and start using this concept. Already looking forward to it. Thanks for this, very inspiring.

  • Kim, Rebecca, and everyone else who’s left a comment, I truly appreciate your feedback and value so much knowing that it has resonated for you.

    This is why I write – hoping that it’ll make a difference to someone.

    Courage muscles to you all ~ Ursula

  • Kim

    This is a great article! I’m recovering from an injury that I sustained last year and hills are a challenge, they are always a challenge – even without the injury but I could do without Matilda on the group rides and after reading the article, I think it’s time for me to ditch my mean girl and just do it. This is a great article for any woman, not just a cyclist.

  • Great post! Every woman (and man, for that matter) should read it. While the humor of the article kept it light, the very heavy truth is that we all have “Matilda” just waiting to dash our spirits, steal our joy, and most importantly, crush our self-esteem. What a simple way to explain the biggest detriment to our successes!

    Thanks, Ursula. We all need pep talks and, since we rarely get them from others as often as we need, we all need better techniques to give them to ourselves. Love it!


  • My thoughts are with all of you, Hey Linda, Vicki, Deb, Anne, doing the ride for the cure this weekend. More than strong legs or a tricked-out bike, it’s what’s going on in your head – how well you keep your Matilda in place that will make the difference this weekend. Remember above all to have fun — that, if nothing else, will really annoy your Matilda.

  • My Matilda has been gearing up for a meltdown this week trying to psyche me out for my first ride for the cure this weekend. I’ll try to keep her in check with your words.Peace.

  • Sarah I applaud you – if you don’t show your son to kick his mean boy to the curb who will indeed — him knowing the difference between the voice in his head and who he really is this early in life will make a significant impact on how he lives his life. What an amazing example you are.

  • Sarah A

    I know this mean girl all too well, she kept me off a road bike until 11 months ago. Oddly enough she was the main reason I finally tried it. My 6 year old son has a mean boy in his head and if I don’t show him how to tackle it who will?! 11 months and 2500 miles later she is still with me but I have found that cycling like life is a work in progress. Thanks for reminding me I’m not the only one with a mean girl in my head:)

  • Thank you for liking the post. It’s so amazing that even though we know all of this and have different ways of coping with the negativity in our head, Kat’s ‘fake it till you make it’, is a good one, we still take it personally. But that’s okay too, we remember eventually, and, more importantly, support each other as Susen-Marie suggests.

    Right back at you Clair – sistergirl!

  • I ditched my “mean girl” just this year! What a revelation. Now that I’ve identified her, she’s lost a lot of power.

    Thing is, if you stop letting her “wheel suck” on a ride, she’ll eventually stop “sucking the life out of you” every other time too.

    Thanks Ursula for a wonderful and insightful article.
    You’re the best, most awesome sister a sister could have!

  • susen-marie

    i ditched her years ago and hallelujah for that! now i wanna copy this article and hand it off to every woman i ride with that struggles almost to a comatose state with the mean girl. we are all strong in our own individual ways BUT should never have to be haunted by meanies or bullies!!!!!

  • Kat

    Great post. I’ve had these moments training with groups. The why-are-you-here, you don’t belong feelings. I used the “fake it ’til you make it approach”, slap a big smile on, and tell myself, I’ll finish this, even if I’m last. Everytime it get a little easier.

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