Speed Secrets: Programming Your Mind to Win

By Ross Bentley

February 28, 2018

Your brain is like a computer, in that while driving, information is input into your brain from your senses and thoughts. Your brain then processes this information based on your programming, and you get an output or result. In this month’s column we’ll take a more detailed look at this process, and specifically how it can make you a better racer.

When I say “programming,” I literally mean the software in your mind. For example, if I asked you to walk to the refrigerator to get a glass of milk, you would not think, “okay, pick up my left leg and move my left foot ahead 18” and place it on the floor; pick up my right leg and place right foot 18” ahead; raise left hand and grab refrigerator door….” In other words, you don’t need to consciously think through each detailed step required to accomplish the “get glass of milk from refrigerator” task. The reason is, of course, that you have a mental program to do that.

The same thing applies to race driving. The very first time you ever drove a car, you had to consciously think about each step of turning the steering wheel, applying the brakes and throttle, etc. But over a short period of time it became a habit, something you didn’t have to think about, a subconscious act. It became a program in your mind.

Now let me ask a question: which do you do best, the things you have to consciously think about, or the things that you do subconsciously “without thinking about”? The subconscious things, right?

So, the more things that you can accomplish at the subconscious level behind the wheel of your car, the better you will be. By far! And for at least two reasons. First, your subconscious mind is quicker. While your conscious mind can process 2,000 bits of information per second, your subconscious can process 4 billion bits of information per second.

And second, the more you do with your subconscious, the more your conscious mind can be used to observe and be aware of other things going on around you. I’m sure you’ve experienced being so caught up in thinking about what you were doing (braking later for a corner, for example) that you didn’t notice a competitor attempting a pass on you. If you hadn’t had to think so much about braking, if it had been a programmed act, you would have been aware of your competitor.

So an obvious goal then becomes getting as many driving tasks as possible programmed down to the subconscious level. How do you do that? Both physically and mentally. You practice them both physically on the track, and mentally in your mind.

Most racers know a fair bit about, and use, visualization. They think they are programming their brains. And they are – to some extent. Unfortunately, they are most likely not programming the most effective way. By visualizing (by the very definition of the word), you are placing imagined visual images only into your brain.

By simply adding imagined kinesthetic (feel) and auditory (hearing) input to the process, your programming becomes much more realistic. This is what I call “actualization.” It is mental programming. If you have any doubts about the effectiveness of mental programming, try this experiment.

Make yourself comfortable in a chair and then close your eyes and breathe deeply. Relax. After you a few minutes of relaxing, imagine there is a table in front of you. Mentally see it. On that table is a bright yellow lemon. Mentally, and physically reach out and grab hold of that lemon – actually reach out and pretend to be doing this. Feel the lemon in your hands. Notice and feel its shape and texture. Then imagine and pretend to pick up a knife from the table, and cut the lemon in half. Again, actually pretend to do this. After cutting the lemon in half, bring it up to your nose and smell it. See the juice running down the face of the lemon. Move the lemon to your mouth and stick out your tongue and lick it. Taste the citric acid. Now you can open your eyes.

What happened? My bet is that your mouth began to pucker and it filled with saliva. Why? Because your mind cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined event. Which means that a very vivid imagined event is as good a way of practicing as physically doing it. The better you get at using all your senses in your actualizations, or mental programming, the more effective it will be. And, like anything, mental programming takes practice. The first time you attempt to incorporate kinesthetic and auditory input into your programming, it may be difficult. But the more you do it, the better you will get.

I bet that many of you reading this article already do some form of mental programming. But, I’d also bet that most of you only use your vision when doing it. Use all your senses when actualizing. Imagine holding and turning the steering wheel, working the pedals, and feeling the g-forces pushing in the seat. You may even want to do this while sitting in the kart. Hear the engine note, the wind noise passing your helmet, and the sounds from the tires. The more realistic, the more like a virtual reality environment you can make it, the more effective it will be.

Speed Secret: If you can’t do something in your mind – in your mental imagery – you will never be able to do it physically.

When you consider the cost of mental programming versus physical on-track programming, the mental version quickly becomes an even more valuable tool. In fact, in my mind, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to ever go onto a racetrack without having already done what you’re hoping to accomplish in your mind first.

Speed Secret: Drive in your mind before driving on the track.

Ross Bentley


For more information about Ross’s tips, coaching, eCourses, newsletter, Virtual Track Walk videos, and other resources to help you drive at your best, go to www.SpeedSecrets.com