Having a Mantra

The deep, ominous sounds of the motorcycle engines warming up on the paddock.  The thrilling and anxious tones of bikes shifting as accelerating as they pass on the track.  The image of racers gearing up, the rush of the mechanics in the pit, and the curves and lines of the bikes in motion.  The smell of sweat signaling a memorable day at the track.  The captivating sight of a rider and his bike in harmony, moving as one nimble entity through space and time.  This is the potent world of motorcycle racing.

For a professional motorcycle racer, the dynamic and competitive world of racing entails unshakable determination, sharp focus, and relentless self-discipline.   The most renowned in this sport remain racers both on the track and off by developing an intentional approach to being staying motivated and avoiding non-complacency.

While some of these approaches are evident, such as continual performance practice and development of advanced skills, others may not be so conventional. One of the methods that many racers employ is the element of defining and practicing a consistent pre-race ritual.

Known for his riding rituals, former Superbike World Champion Scott Russel would famously flip his helmet visor down and whisper the mantra “I’m a fucking badass” before heading to the track.  This steady mantra was an auditory way to strengthen the mind-body connection that is critical in competitive racing. Russell went on to win the Daytona 200 a total of five times in his career, making him a beloved mainstay in the sport.

Racing legend Valentino Rossi, multiple MotoGP World Champion, is also notable for his consistent and quirky rituals prior to mounting his motorcycle.  This has been dubbed the “Rossi Ritual”, which includes bending down and reaching for his boots, crouching down to bow his head before his bike, and adjusting his leathers.  Rossi also has revealed that he always puts on boots and gloves in the same order, as well as gets on and off his bike in the same way.   He told interviewers at MotoGP.com that his ritual began for practical reasons but evolved to help focus concentration.

Benefits of Rituals

Putting a solid ritual in place has a plethora of benefits for anyone wishing to up their game when it comes to meeting goals or increasing productivity.

Rituals can:

  • Help empower an individual in staying motivated
  • Bring a sense of “being in control”
  • Alleviate stress and reduce uncertainty
  • Increase alertness
  • Effectively alter the mind-body connection
  • Aid in creating and accomplishing meaningful goals
  • Dismantle fear
  • Build courage and tenacity
  • Improve health

The Research of Rituals

The science behind why symbolic rituals can successfully influence one’s outlook is rooted in the way the brain is wired to constantly reshape its connections in response to our experiences.   Our brain learns to associate sensory rituals, such as mantras or repetitive actions, with the practice at hand.

Applied to the sport of racing, this can mean that a racer is literally training both the body and the mind to help shape their thoughts, beliefs, and performance. Rituals can also be thought of as a type of relaxation technique which can decrease heart rate and blood pressure and allow for a centered state of mind.   This can lead to a greater ability to transform the senses.

In an article in Scientific American, behavioral scientists Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton explain “These findings are consistent with research in sport psychology demonstrating the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence.”

A solid practice of a fixed, repeated set of actions can help alleviate anxiety, subdue fear, and boost confidence in all areas of life.  As a racer, bringing this ritualistic practice to the track helps to provide a seamless transition for the clarity and precision needed once in the game.

How Rituals Can Impact Performance

A rider often takes on an immense level of preparedness. From maintenance checks, to loading gear, to track day responsibilities, a rider’s mood can quickly go from excited to overwhelmed in a matter of hours.

It is imperative for a rider to stay in the zone with his goals and to ward off mental-fatigue as much as possible. In this way, the precarious nature of motorcycle racing requires a tremendous amount of drive, resourcefulness, and a reliance on keen reflexes and instincts.

The well-documented effects of adrenaline, in conjunction with high speed sports such as racing or an open track day can take a toll on the body.  Negative effects include increase in anxiety and anger problems, as well as heart disease, insomnia, and depression.

As a racer, staying healthy and in peak shape can make the difference between a win or a loss, or perhaps help prevent serious injuries. Preparing in advance with practices such as rituals can help maintain a strong body and improve crucial concentration skills.

 The Key to Building a Consistent Practice

 For those who want to incorporate elements of ritual into their racing practice, it is important to not only build one but to work on maintaining it.  The key to achieving the most effective benefits from a ritual include:

  • Don’t stress. This means that rituals don’t have to follow any set of rules and can be unique to each individual.  They can be something that is done physically, a routine set in place, or even a phrase repeated before, or during, a race.  Rituals do not have to be complicated and can arrive organically.
  • Ensuring it is intentional, meaningful, and purpose-driven. Know your action-oriented goals and objectives and work on linking those to the rituals you create.  For example, your goals may include safety, focus, performance, challenge, balance, or even fun.
  • Give yourself ample time to include your ritual in your practice. Make it a habit to take the few moments or minutes it may take to engage your mind and body.   Don’t worry what other people may think or say; this is your time to prime yourself for the ride and reinforce your goals.
  • As with any technique, if it doesn’t feel good or isn’t serving you, ditch it. There is no harm in changing a ritual or eliminating it all together if it isn’t effective.   Check in with yourself before and after a race to reflect on your performance and the ways you prepared.   There is no such thing as failure when it comes to self-growth.

This level of preparedness helps to alleviate a feeling of arriving at the race in a dazed or frazzled state.  Of course, being overwhelmed and nervous are often unavoidable with such a formidable sport.  However, being proactive in the way you adapt and organize for your ride can elevate you from daft to deft.

Examples of Rider Rituals

 For many riders, rituals can also be rooted in superstition as a way to ward off back luck.  Interestingly, science once again backs such a method, surmising that superstitions help people feel protected from negative situations or outcomes.

According to Donald Saucier, professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University, superstitions “Provide meaningful psychological benefits because they give us an illusion of control, especially in uncertain situations.  We can now believe that we can influence events, whether or not we actually can.”

Essentially, the physical movements associated with superstitious behaviors help individuals to connect their fears to the gestures and relieve their stress.

Many riders swear by certain gestures or are insistent on wearing their favorite lucky gear.  In an article from Motosport.com, seasoned motocross riders gave a few examples of consistent and favorite superstitious rituals, which included:

  • Dropping a brand new helmet on the ground. This superstition arrived with the belief that the first time a rider’s helmet hits the ground, their head won’t be in it.
  • Playing a specific song or type of music
  • Wearing a pair of worn out gloves to prevent feeling restricted
  • Reciting a prayer or a mantra
  • Putting on gear in the same order
  • Eating something specific before the race. The article explains that “Kailub Russell eats an orange before racing because it settles his pre-race nerves.”

Superstitions are as unique as the riders themselves.  Many of these such rituals have become synonymous with the racers and fans enjoy keeping a fervent eye out for new and old ones.

Zoning In to Avoid Zoning Out

In the end, a stable and determined mindset is one of the most valuable components to achieving a rewarding career or hobby as a motorcycle enthusiast.  It can have an impact on both safety as well as the level of enjoyment and success.   Including rituals in the sport of motorcycle track racing is just one way to equalize the grit necessary to stay alert and to eliminate burn out.

Meaningful mantras and rituals can also include elements such as healthy eating and exercise, creating checklists for race day, getting plenty or rest and hydration, and enjoying life outside of the track.   As in any sport, balancing play with work can be the key to a sustained and enjoyable career.

A rider can often position himself for success by being mindful of the comprehensive strategy needed for eliminating distraction both on and off the track.    When fear, doubt, or mental fatigue begin to set in, rituals can be a powerful way to re-calibrate both man and machine.

References:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/

http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/ritual-science

http://www.businessinsider.com/surprising-benefits-of-superstitions-2014-7

http://www.motosport.com/blog/motocross-superstitions-rituals-10-best

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