When do you make the best decisions?
Is it when you are tense, upset and stressed? Or is it when you are relaxed and focused. I hope, for the sake of your blood pressure, that it’s the latter. People make better decisions when they are relaxed. By being more relaxed, the brain is able process data with a higher quality, and make more informed critical decisions.
That’s great, but what does that have to do with racing? (I know that’s the question you’re asking…) Being able to learn how to relax is a key skill that allows you to feel more comfortable on the racetrack, and have more confidence in your ability to make decisions when required. When a driver is relaxed, they are able to become ‘fully integrated’ which provides the ability to extract the maximum performance out of the machine.
So, how does one become fully integrated? There are two areas of relaxation focus to reach this state. Physical and mental. The two are interlinked, but have separate requirements in order to get the best performance from the driver.
Physical performance requires the body to be loose and limber, in order to react quickly to what the brain is anticipating will be coming. Warm-up exercises are one way to loosen up the body, before getting on track. Light stretching, and aerobic exercise can help the muscles warm up, and help to increase the flow of fluid between connective tissue in the body. (Personally I perfer to perform MELT exercises, and dance around while listening to my IPOD before a race.)
A relaxed body is more receptive to the feedback that the vehicle is sending through your hands, feet back and butt. By having the body warmed up, the driver will be able to improve their traction sensing abilities when the machine is at the limit. Your inputs will be more precise, measured and your reflexes will be more immediate. A relaxed body will be able to trust its reflexes with more confidence, than when the body is tense.
In the unfortunate situation that you do get into an accident, your body will be more relaxed and the risk of serious injury can be lessened.
Mental relaxation is the skill of developing positive psychological triggers, which allow you to focus on positive outcome goals. A large part of racing is the psychological effect on the subconscious mind. A driver’s brain is attempting to provide the outcomes on the track that he is focusing on. A lot of the driver’s behavior and reaction level is determined by the subconscious mind.
The subconscious brain does not understand the concept of “no” or “cannot”, so it provides the driver with the imagery he requests regardless whether it is positive or negative. It doesn’t know any better!
Don’t believe me? Try this for an experiment. Take a moment and try NOT to think about pink elephants. Are you NOT thinking pink elephants?
Guess what? Good chance is that you’re thinking about pink elephants right now.
A driver’s subconscious mind is the basis for his confidence in his ability to perform on the racetrack. What the driver focuses his attention on is what the brain focuses on bringing to reality.
So for example if the driver focuses on crashing, then subconscious mind will show him all of the ways that he could crash. This causes a conflict between the conscious (which is saying ‘don’t CRASH’) and subconscious of the driver, as he is trying not to think about what his brain is making him think about! (Which is CRASHING.)
This causes the body to tense up and reaction times to slow down, increasing his odds of making a critical mistake.
So how do we get the outcomes that we want on track? What a driver needs to do is synchronize his conscious and subconscious to reflect positive outcome imagery. This helps the brain focus on the positives, and it will to put attention on those positive elements on the racetrack.
What you manifest comes before you on track, so the driver must focus on getting what he wants out of his performance.
One way to generate this positive imagery is to develop a mental “pre-flight rhythm” to help focus the mind. This will help get the driver in the right mental state to naturally perform at a higher level. The driver must repeat this rhythm constantly in order to program the brain into believing them. It can be repeating a phrase, playing a particular song before a race, or go through any ritual that helps you focus.
Every time, just before I go out on track, I close my eyes, breathe in through my nose and repeat the following phrases:
- “I am an expert driver.”
- “ I am a world champion”
- “ Time to have fun out there”
What this process does is relax my mind, remind me to trust my instincts and to race without judgment of my ability or my performance. If I spent time judging a past action on the racetrack, I’m wasting time that could be spent analyzing a future action. Key computing power from the brain is wasted, if you spend it beating yourself up about the corner you just went through.
The key should be putting your attention on the upcoming corner. The one you can control.
My only conscious goals on the track are to have fun, and to get the maximum grip out of my tires. I know that the race will come to me, and that by focusing on what is happening, and not judging it, I will make a better decision every time. The rest of the race should occur in a subconsious flow.
There are several other mental strategies, but the goal is to get your mind in a positive space. In short, “Go to your happy place, before you race.”
Allowing yourself to be relaxed both physically and mentally helps the driver see more opportunities on the race track. You will enjoy your racing more, and find yourself faster as well.
Thinking about pink elephants? ;)
(Note: I will be defining the driver in the masculine tense throughout these articles, only because it makes it easier for me to write. (He, him, etc.) In reality, racing drivers can be both male and female. I actually encourage more women to get on the racetrack and start mixing it up!)