Speed Secrets: Six Elements Required to Achieve New Goals
By Ross Bentley
January 08, 2015
Nothing better than holiday meals. Well, nothing better, other than getting back in the swing of things for the upcoming season by resuming a fitness program. Yep, two days off, then back at it (although I did see a photo of Simon Pagenault working out on Christmas Day...). Ingrid Steffensen, author of the great book, Fast Girl, is back with a little inspiration. - Ross
Happy New Year, Drivers! Make any resolutions? Got any goals for 2015? Is this the year you learn to heel-toe, start a driving journal, run a 5K, or lose a few pounds? Goals are great things, but if you’re going to achieve them, you’re going to need willpower—lots and lots of willpower.
Ah, willpower. No question that to be successful in life, you need willpower. I extend that to driving, where willpower is called for in all sorts of ways. Willpower keeps you going, but it also keeps the emotions in check. Willpower maintains mental and physical focus; willpower gets the car in shape, and the driver in shape, too. The best drivers I know are extremely disciplined people. They seem to have superhuman willpower reserves.
So what exactly is this willpower, and how can you can get more of it?
I see two basic types of willpower. First, there’s what I think of as positive willpower: doing the thing you don’t want to do. Some people, like my Mr. B, actually enjoy the process of cleaning their cars after a weekend at the track, but not yours truly. It takes physical willpower for me to knuckle down and go clean the klag off my car. Or, there’s getting up in the morning—for work, for the racetrack, for that early morning run in freezing temps. Mr. B is a robin, so getting up early seems to come naturally to him. Me—it’s physically unpleasant to pull myself out from under the covers.
That’s physical positive willpower. Then there’s psychological positive willpower—doing something that’s mentally hard for you to do. What that is depends on who you are. Going out and meeting new people, making new contacts, may not require much willpower for the extrovert, but it costs me plenty because I’m an introvert. Taking notes about my driving sessions, organizing my classroom instruction modules—that’s easy for me, but might be hard for someone who would rather be out driving or interacting with others than sitting alone in the trailer analyzing his (or her) last session.
Then there’s what I think of as negative willpower—not doing something that you really do want to do. The most universal example of that is the all-you-can-eat buffet. We’re biologically programmed to eat—and it’s not optional. So when we’re faced with an enormous holiday spread, pretty much all of us want to eat more than we need or is even good for us. Pushing the plate away is really hard. That’s physical negative willpower, the kind you need to quit smoking, or not to buy that tasty new piece of equipment or the latest model Porsche when what you really should be doing with the money is replacing your hot water tank or paying the tuition bill.
Maybe hardest of all is psychological negative willpower, which would have to be defined as not engaging in ingrained mental habits. For me, that would be the fight against negativity. I’m a perfectionist and my own harshest critic, so the mental habit is to rip myself apart. I find it super easy to tell myself how badly I’m doing, and have to exercise my limited resource of willpower not to engage in that negativity and substitute something positive instead. This happens very often at the racetrack, which is a more challenging mental game than it is anything else, and where I am always thinking that I could be better than I am.
Willpower is, numerous recent studies confirm (although, frankly, their conclusions fall in the no-sh*t-Sherlock category), much like a muscle that requires regular exercise in order to strengthen—but, like many other things, we have limited resources of it. We do better the fewer things we have to exercise willpower for, and, interestingly, we also do better earlier in the day than later (so make like the Marines and do all the really tough stuff before lunch). The knowledge that our reserves are limited, and that it is possible to both strengthen and husband willpower, can be transformed into useful increases of that precious resource.
One thing the studies tell us is that people who seem to have great strength of will may not have any more of it than the rest of us, but instead they’re making unthinking habits of certain unpleasant things. Mr. B sets his alarm for 5:40am. Yecch. But he doesn’t even think about it. He’s so programmed to do this that the alarm usually doesn’t go off at all. By not making a conscious decision about it, he saves his willpower for other, more important decisions. For me, I only stock whole grain cereal for breakfast. That way, it’s not a question of Willpower Versus Glazed Doughnuts. It’s just what’s there, and I can save the hard choices for editors’ deadlines or tax returns.
It’s also possible to strengthen willpower through exercise. My brother believes he should do one unpleasant thing each day. He’s an even more introverted character than I am, so for him, that unpleasant thing may be calling someone, making a new contact, or going to a networking event when he’d rather be home with his kids. He’s also a packrat, so it might just be throwing something out. I’m a writer, and writers are famous for procrastinating. The hardest part is sitting down and getting started, so I make a habit of noting a time at which I will start and a word-count I will reach. At dinner, I leave something on my plate, even though I’d prefer to remain a member in good standing of the Clean Plate Club. As a result, others have commented on my willpower, but I don’t actually think I have all that much of it.
Hardest of all has been a conscious revision of my mental programming, willing myself to disengage the persistent negative thought processes that so often bedevil me both at the keyboard and at the dashboard. This is a little bit like not thinking about pink elephants, but a way around it is to practice - both mentally and verbally - positive vision and positive mantras. If I make a habit of willfully forming positive images of goals both large (a new book) and small (pass that Bimmer I’m thisclose to catching), I find I get nearer to breaking that bad mental habit and installing a more useful program instead.
So if you’re serious about a goal or resolution for 2015, the first thing you probably want to do is to take a tiny bit of that willpower and sit down and formulate it. I have some suggestions:
1. Be specific (not: I’m going to be faster, but: I’m going to master Turn 3 at my home track).
2. Be realistic (not: I’m going to be Lewis Hamilton, but: I’m going to work out twice a week).
3. Make a plan (not: tomorrow, or someday, but: by April 1st or every Monday and Thursday).
4. Set intermediate goals, waymarkers of achievement: the first two pounds or the first $500 saved towards that upgrade.
5. Revisit and rework those goals as needed—a plan that isn’t flexible gets tossed out as soon as it first seems to fail; can’t catch that GT3?—right, then set your sights on a different competitor, or, even better, make a goal specific to yourself: I want to graduate to the next run group or make my first solo run this season.
6. Reward yourself!—mark your achievement with a celebration, whether it’s buying some new driving gloves or signing up for a new event.
Where there’s willpower, there’s a way. May you enjoy many safe and speedy miles in 2015!