Why We Race

For any given race, there can only be one winner. For many of us, a win may come only once in a season, and that one fleeting moment is what makes it so highly addictive. Some of us never get to experience that indescribable feeling. We’re all competitive for different reasons and that’s part of what intrigues me as I consider the motivations behind the desire to race and to win.

If I’m honest, winning has always been about self-validation and ego for me. If I won a race, I felt like my position in the racing world would be elevated. I don’t win anything anymore, so my mindset has changed, but that self-validation was once a driving force.

As hard as this seems to believe, it’s clear that motivation among top drivers to be the best at what they do isn’t ego-driven like it was for me. They simply love the process and the spirit of competition. I am fascinated to see what drives others’ motivations, be it racing, business or whatever. The goals we set for ourselves can have a powerful impact on the joy we derive from being behind the wheel.

When we participate in any activity, we usually do it for one of two reasons: performance or mastery. Performance goals also are called “ego” goals. Generally speaking, performance goals center on winning. We feel that we have succeeded when we kick the other guy’s butt. Ego goals are about being better than everyone else and proving competence.

When we approach a performance goal, we feel that we can function at a certain level of competence, thus we have an approach goal. However, when we feel we cannot compare with others, we avoid participation.

In the case of learning or mastery goals, we participate in the activity with the goal of getting better or improving ourselves, but not necessarily for competition with others, just improving our own objective performance, and developing a sense of mastery over the task. This is akin to realizing better lap times.

Research shows these two types of goals are not the same. It is normal to favor one approach over the other. It also is possible to see improvement and feel more competent in one or not so in the other.

For example, a driver might only enjoy his involvement in racing for self-improvement. Such a driver, focused solely on technique, mastering a specific task and process, can become highly proficient. Similarly, a driver might only race for the glory. This ego-driven performance suggests that process must be endured, but it’s really the identity of being an elite driver that motivates the person. However, I strongly suspect that some of the best drivers combine the positives of both orientations. They are obsessive about the process and practice, and love to leave everyone in their wake when it counts.

I hesitate to warn those ego-driven drivers who unwittingly do not recognize that interest is maintained only if we succeed. This is hardly helpful in contributing to driver development, yet it’s all too common. Drivers who desire performance will experience greater levels of anxiety, and possess a stronger fear of failure. When we look at the way ego goals relate to being faster, we find that ego-oriented drivers tend to experience more negative responses. The bottom line is to learn as I have. Just learn to have fun!

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