I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know... it happens. I mean, bad stuff happens in our sport. To you and me. I'm kinda known for looking for the good in things, but every now and then, it's important to recognize when things don't go the way we want. And then look for the positive. With that in mind, I'm taking on the feature article this week, all about when “it” happens. -Ross
I was having lunch with a good friend recently, and the subject came up of what to do when things don't go well. He'd had his fair share (maybe more) of "bad stuff" happen to him lately, and we talked about it.
It doesn't matter what level or type of motorsport you're involved in, it's pretty much a given that bad stuff is going to happen to you. Things like:
A blown engine, or some other type of mechanical failure
You crashing and damaging your car
Someone else hitting you, damaging your car
An official making a decision that goes against you, when you know you're innocent
Someone in your network of friends and/or helpers/team members doing something that either pisses you off, or worse
Not being able to turn the same lap time as you did in the past, and beginning to wonder if you've lost it
Someone - a friend, or someone you barely knew - getting hurt at the track. Or worse.
As I've said many times, there are two types of drivers: Those who have crashed, and those who will. If you spend enough time driving fast around a track, you will crash. If you haven't crashed yet, you will (or you won't drive fast enough or long enough to crash). It happens.
Pretty much the same thing can be said of having a major mechanical failure. You may have caused it (an engine over-rev, an mis-matched downshift, driving over the curbing at the exit of a corner and damaging the suspension, or whatever).
If you're human, and I suspect you are, then it's only a matter of time before you have some level of doubt about your abilities... at some point in time. It may not be in the beginning, it may not be right now, it may not be in the near future. But I can guarantee it will happen at some point. You either have, or will have confidence issues.
No matter how strong your beliefs are about yourself, if you participate in this sport long enough, you're going to doubt yourself at some time. Hey, I would bet that even Lewis Hamilton has doubts about his abilities every now and then. He might not admit to it, just like you might not, but it happens. The best superstar athletes in the world have doubts about themselves at times.
Have you felt that way? Have you ever started to doubt your abilities, wondered whether you ever had any ability, or whether you'll ever get this sport figured out?
You're not alone.
It's what you do when **it happens that matters, right?
As you may know, there is a relatively new part of psychology called Positive Psychology. Throughout history, psychology has mostly been focused on how to help people with psychological "problems." But recently there has been much research around "what are successful people doing that others can learn from"? (Watch this talk by Shawn Achor for a glimpse of what this is all about - you'll be glad you did, as it's not only informative and instructive, but very, very funny).
This approach appeals to me, and I've used a similar approach with my driver coaching: what can be learned from the most successful drivers can be applied to everyone else.
One of the practices that positive psychology practitioners recommend is taking a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on the good things that have happened that day. They suggest you write down three things that you're grateful for, and/or that were positive and successful experiences.
For some reason, as humans, we tend to find it easier to focus on the negative than we do the positive. If nine positive things happen in a day, along with one negative thing, we tend to focus on that one negative thing. We complain about it. In doing so, we reinforce it.
When we focus on that negative thing, it puts us in a less-than-ideal state of mind, and I think we would all agree that our state of mind has a big impact on how we perform.
By focusing on positive things, and even replaying a past success, it triggers a "performance state of mind," one that is going to help us perform better. I've had tremendous success using this strategy in my Inner Speed Secrets program and coaching for years - drivers improve their performance significantly simply by being in a better state of mind.
The challenge with your state of mind is that it's easier to focus on what's wrong, rather than on what's right. Again, that's human nature. How many times have you caught yourself telling others, "I'm in a bad mood today, so stay away from me"? What you're doing is focusing on the negative, rather than on improving.
When things are not going well, take some time and review your list of things that have gone well. Look back for a few months, and recall all of the things that were positive.
When things are not going well, it's hard to think logically. That's when you begin thinking, "This always happens to me," when a logical analysis would result in recognizing that it rarely happens to you.
I can tell you to think logically, but in the heat of the moment, when things are not going the way you want, that's difficult to do.
I've had drivers tell me that they seem to have "lost it," that they're not as fast as they used to be. To help them think rationally, logically, I ask if they've woken up recently and noticed a puddle on their pillow - a puddle of talent and skill that's dripped out of their head over night? With a chuckle, they get it. Talent and skill don't just go away. There are times when it's harder to access them (when not in a performance state of mind), and skills can get rusty. But once learned and developed, they're there forever.
Keep that in mind the next time you're doubting your abilities.
Following the advice from positive psychology, take a few minutes at the end of each day - at least, the end of each day that you're at the track or participating in some way with your sport - and write down three things that went well. If there were things that went wrong, don't worry about them. Ignore them. Just write down what went well. I don't care if the only thing you can think of that went well is "I got out of bed," or, "I found my way onto the track," that's okay. Write it down.
Things suck sometimes. It happens. What are you going to do about it?
P.S. - If you have a significant other in your life who is not particularly fond of your sport, you might want to keep this article out of his or her sight. You don't want them to think about what can happen. There's no point in awakening the giant.
P.P.S. - There is always an upside to every situation. I've had terrible situations lead to meeting the nicest, greatest people. Keep that in mind.
P.P.P.S. - When you blow up an engine, hang on to the broken bits - as they make nice pieces of artwork and have other uses. A piston with a broken and bent connecting rod makes for a great bookend!