We all know that to become a race-winning driver we need to combine our skills with mental and physical strength. We often discuss what separates race winners in terms of their skill and physical abilities, but quite often the biggest differences is on their mental approach.
So, what is the race-winning mindset? How do our conscious and subconscious minds affect our on-track performance?
Our subconscious mind is constantly taking in millions of data points every lap without us even noticing. It takes this data and stores information on things it liked or didn’t like and actually can lead us to make changes to our driving without even noticing.
Ever go through a corner and really want to attack the throttle at a certain point, but your body is just holding back and won’t let you do it? That is your subconscious mind holding you back.
So, how do we train our subconscious mind to improve? Well, there isn’t one answer to this. It is a combination of building consistency surrounding many different areas and we will highlight the main areas here:
Do you unload at the racetrack with lots of prep work to get your car ready to race? Does that lead you to additional stress and pressure to hurry up and finish it to get out on the racetrack?
If this is you, you are immediately putting yourself in a less than ideal situation before you ever hit the racetrack. Now, we know not everyone has the time to be able to do all of their prep work at home before you get to the track. But, the more you can do ahead of time so that you can spend more time relaxing in a quiet spot at the track to get your mind quiet and calm the better you will do.
This point sounds so basic, but do not overlook it. It is one of the most important things you can do for yourself!
This is an area we have to be careful with. We don’t want a routine to become a ritual. We often see athletes with a specific ritual that they absolutely have to perform to be in the right mindset. One of the most famous instances of a professional athlete with a routine that he has to do is tennis professional Rafael Nadal.
Take a look at his ritual here.
Now, we all know that Rafa is a legend of the sport, but he has done this despite his rituals, not because of them. When we have rituals and don’t have the time to do them all perfectly, that sticks in the back of our mind and actually becomes a distraction.
A good routine is a much more general one. For example, making sure you have all of your stuff prepared and going through your checklist and then finding some quiet space to take a short nap.
Notice the big difference here between superstition and a good prerace routine.
The first step of good goal setting is making sure you set an achievable goal. If we are unrealistic with our goals, then we will constantly miss them and that will hurt our confidence.
It is all about finding the fine line between goals that are too aggressive and too easy. Working with a coach can really help with this!
Do you have a plan when you get out on track? If not, you need to change your approach. It doesn’t matter if you are just driving at a track day or heading into the final race with a world championship on the line, having a plan or a strategy for when you get out on track is vital.
A good plan needs to be simple and highly focused on just a few things. We don’t want to be working or focused on too many things at once.
Our strategy and goals need to work together. Once we have identified our goals, we need a plan of how we are going to achieve them. While we are on track, we don’t want to be focused on the goal or the result.
To achieve our goals, we must concentrate on our techniques.
Wherever we can, think positive. We want to think, I can do this, never think about what you can’t do. If you are farther back on the grid, don’t think, “Oh no, I am back on row four or five. I am screwed.” Rather, you should be thinking, “Right, I’m back on row five, but I know I am strong on the brakes in Turn 5, so I can setup overtakes there. I know at the start a gap will open up somewhere. I just need to be calm, see it early and strike decisively.”
This positivity flows into our subconscious and can give it a huge confidence boost. The importance of positive thinking cannot be overstated.
Breathing is probably the single most impactful thing you can do as you get out on track or as you are waiting for the race start.
Breathing has a huge impact on our heart rate, our anxiety, how busy our minds are and more. If our breathing is shallow and fast, it will actually increase our heart rate and anxiety, which stiffens our body and actually makes it harder for us to feel our car, and it also lowers our vision.
The simple action of slowing our breathing down and ensuring we are breathing down into our abdominals and not just in our chest can help us relax, calm our minds, relax our body so that we are truly in the moment.
Focus On What You Are Out There To Do
This comes back to our plan. We can adjust our plan depending on what our goals are. For instance, do we want to use this practice session to improve our race starts? Do we want to use this session to work on setup? Or are we using this session to improve our braking technique in Turn 8?
All of these require massively different plans, so we first develop that goal, then we develop the on-track plan to help us achieve that goal, and then we need to ensure while we are on track we use our breathing to quiet the mind and ensure we are focused on the plan we set for ourselves.
Focusing isn’t something we think about only as we get out on track. Throughout the session, we have to have the ability to check in on where our mind is and ensure it is still on the plan and that a distraction hasn’t popped up and taken our mind off-track.
Enjoy What You’re Are Doing
This can be so easy to lose sight of, especially for those of us that have been competing for many, many years.
Taking a step back and just thinking about how lucky we all are to be working toward finding our vehicle’s limit and our limit around a racetrack can be instrumental on helping us loosen up. When we no longer enjoy what we do, we have no hope of improving. So, never lose sight of the enjoyment part of our sport!