PITS: Part 2 of 2

As the title suggests, this is part 2 of a  2 part post, so if you didn’t read the first part last week, check that out first.

Where were we? Oh yes, imagine you’ve just been in an incident and you are now in a state of Post Incident Trauma Syndrome. You’ve lost your cool and bad stuff is more likely to happen (also, your lap times are suffering). How do you regain your sense of calm? How do you get back in the zone?

To get good at handling yourself in the aftermath of an incident, you have to train yourself to deal with it. I don’t think anyone would suggest crashing cars on a race track, so what can you do? Three separate and complementary activities: (1) Pre-programmed thought (2) Mental imagery (3) Simulation training.

What is pre-programmed thought (PPT)? Most professional athletes practice not only the physical game, but the mental game that gets them in the zone. Some people recite a mantra, others perform ritualized behaviors. There are a variety of books on getting into a performance state of mind, one of the most famous being “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. The one I’m going to recommend is “Ultimate Speed Secrets” by Ross Bentley because it’s about racing. In the “Library” section above, this is the first book I recommend. Buy it. Read it. Read it again. Buy it for a friend.

If you’ve never used pre-programmed thoughts before, it may be useful to hear other people talk about them. Ross gives a few examples of his own PPTs, which you can read in his book. I’ll share a few of mine.

Sometimes I find myself becoming complacent. My concentration will slip a little and I may miss an apex, brake too hard, or delay throttle application. None of these are a big problem, but they point to an erosion of focus. When that happens, I become more vulnerable to errors. I first noticed this long ago in tennis, and I now use the same pre-programmed thought in driving. I say to myself “pressure or be pressured”. That is, if I don’t put pressure on the opponent, the opponent will put pressure on me. If I just push the ball back in play, I don’t win many points. But pressuring the opponent doesn’t mean going for winners either, because that creates errors. I play my best by maintaining a balance between aggression and consistency. Feeling pressure is not bad. One should be on “yellow alert” when in a performance situation. Even though “pressure or be pressured” is not completely appropriate for driving, especially if I’m all alone on track, it gets me into a performance state of mind because I’ve used that PPT for a long time.

For minor errors, like going 2 wheels off, I need to get out of the moment, stop thinking about what just happened, and get on with racing. To do that, I think about the corner after the next corner. This is something I picked up from one of the attendees at a Ross Bentley (there he is again) webinar. I don’t remember who it was who suggested this, but it’s such practical and simple advice that I pretty sure it was a seasoned racer. It’s easy to think about the next corner when you’re approaching it. But thinking about the one after that immediately puts your mind into a calculating and non-emotional state. Try it.

For more major errors, I have a PPT that is somewhat embarrassing. I sing to myself “We’re not gonna take it” by Twisted Sister. There’s not much to recommend Twisted Sister. They’re an 80s band that wore stupid costumes and sang about rebellion while raking in cash. They were a bunch of clowns. But “We’re not gonna take it” is a catchy tune, and it reminds me that I’m a bit of a clown myself. Since music is such a powerful means of conveying emotion, it can be a very good PPT trigger. I find that humor is a good way to get out of PITS.

For important but stressful situations, such as trying to make a pass on the last lap, I am reminded of a Boris Becker quote (sorry for all the tennis references). When asked how he got through the really important points in a match, he said he reminds himself “it’s just a game, lives aren’t being lost”. Having a PPT to proactively destress yourself can be useful. Other people in the same situation may need a PPT to amp themselves up. Your PPT library is a very personal thing. Experiment and see what works best for you.

One way you can practice your PPTs is through mental imagery. This is what Ross Bentley suggests. It’s free, and you can do it right before you nod off to sleep when your mind is in particularly receptive state. He has lots of advice on that in his books. Basically, imagine bad stuff happening and you dealing with it. The more vivid you can make this, the better it works.

Another way to practice PPTs is while sim racing. While not free, it is still cheaper than wrecking real cars. You won’t need to manufacture trouble with online racing, it has a way of finding you. For more on sim racing, see the “How To” link at the top of the page.

It wouldn’t be “you suck at racing” without a video clip, so enjoy this nice compilation from Wreck Spacer Ford.

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