Have you ever listened to professional racecar drivers while they are in communication with their crew chiefs and spotters while doing 180 mph and dicing through traffic? At times, you would think they’re sitting in a recliner having a martini.
I recently returned from a hunting trip in Northern Colorado. It was while I was holding my scope on a monster mule deer, which was “extremely” far away, that I noticed my breathing was as normal, as if I too were having a martini. After I made the perfect shot and finally stood admiring my prized buck, I reflected on other attempts over the years when my heart was pounding out of my chest, my hands were shaking terribly, my breathing bordered on hyperventilation and my head was filled with doubt — better known to hunters as “Buck Fever.”
Because I had fired so much lead downrange, even at extremely long distances, and I had so much confidence in my equipment, there was little doubt as I squeezed the trigger the shot would be placed perfectly.
Racing is no different. If you practice and have confidence in your equipment, you will yield satisfactory lap times. The challenge is to simply execute what you know that you are fully capable of doing when it really counts.
It sounds easy enough, but unfortunately, our minds don’t always cooperate. Feeling nervous about having a great performance is certainly natural. However, when that feeling turns to panic, your mind has defeated you. You will not be able to focus on the task at hand. Every competitor feels this pressure to execute to the best of his ability. The challenge for you is to channel this same pressure constructively and not to let it overwhelm you.
Your subconscious is in control of your physiological reactions. If your hands start shaking, your palms get sweaty, you can’t think straight because you “feel nervous,” it is because you’re thinking of the situation negatively instead of as an opportunity for success. Here are some steps to help deal with pressure, anxiety and nervousness:
1. Concentrate on pleasant, thoughts rather than worrisome thoughts.
2. Keep your mind on the present, on the pass you’re going to execute right now. Live in the moment. Remember, anxieties are always about what just happened or what might happen. Let go of those anxieties.
3. Assume or even know the best is going to happen.
4. Dwell on your strengths.
5. Feel as if you were destined to have good things happen to you. Know you can succeed.
6. When you start to feel tension, take deep, slow breaths like those NASCAR drivers.
Honestly, I think performing through nervousness is what racing is all about. Racing is supposed to teach you how to deal with your mind and emotions. Ultimately, when you’re in a situation that makes you nervous, you need to remind yourself that this is right where you want to be … this is what you’ve been dreaming about! For God’s sake, bring it on!
Researchers and sports psychologists have done a lot of work on mental training, which are applicable to drivers, as well. Research shows that when an athlete/driver needs to perform a highly skilled action, it must be the subconscious that does it, not the conscious. Our minds must be relaxed and in the subconscious mode to do so. The left and right sides of the brain must be in harmony, and there must be no conscious self-talk or doubt before the action takes place.