Professional motorcycle racer, Elena Myers Court, knows full well the level of grit and determination it takes to make continual breakthroughs in racing progress. In a recent article for McGraw Motorsports, she explained: “Once you can control your approach and mentality, and harness your will, you’re really capable of anything”.
Court has mastered the art of the mental and physical preparation that the sport requires of its riders. When combined with ongoing skills practice, implementing elements of self-coaching and having a set plan in place makes a rider more disciplined. Ultimately, discipline leads to a more capable and adaptable rider.
In this post, we will discuss the research behind self-improvement, how it leads to becoming a better rider, and real-life examples of ways in which this method can be put to the test.
The Science Behind Self-Improvement
Self-improvement isn’t just a fancy, a new-age phrase reserved for those involved in business or searching for a sense of spiritual guidance. In his book “The Science of Self-Improvement’, Steven Handel states that “Being able to exercise greater control over our lives is the primary lesson in The Science of Self-Improvement.”
The various techniques for self-improvement carry over into all realms of personal life, including helping to create more successful athletes and hobbyists. As riders, most want to improve the least element of their riding experience. Whether it’s learning to relax and enjoy the ride more, brushing up on race lines, or developing a killer pre-race planning ritual, most all riders employ goals that help them achieve a better sense of overall satisfaction with riding.
In terms of science, we know that a portion of our brain called the basal ganglia is responsible for the formation of habits. “When we get into habit mode…our brain works more efficiently”, explains Charles Duhigg, in his book “The Power of Habit”. He continues “By freeing up mental RAM from our cerebral cortex, our brains can use that mental energy for more important stuff like creating a plan”
Neuroscience tells us “once our brain encodes a habit into our basal ganglia that habit never really disappears. It’s always there looking for that certain cue to initiate the habit sequence That wouldn’t be a problem if all out habits were good for us. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t distinguish between good habits and bad ones”.
This is where self-improvement comes into play. Part of this technique is being able to identify healthy habits, as well as bad habits.
Some riders may shrug off the notion of self-improvement because they believe it will be overwhelming or tedious. But this simply isn’t the case. What matters more is a commitment to improvement and to creating healthy habits.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at what good and bad habits make look like in a real-life riding scenario.
Example of a good rider with healthy habits: This rider will have the track printed out, his gear ready, bike set-up, his stomach full on a good healthy breakfast and hydrated the night prior. Prior to going out on the track, he will study the track map one more time to understand what to expect. He may repeat a chosen mantra to help him focus and get in the zone. His first goal is to learn the race lines. After his first session, he now knows the race lines. He will relax while waiting for his next session he makes marks on his track map of where he believes he needs to brake on turns one through three. After he masters these turns, he will work on the following turns.
This rider is focused on continual improvement but also celebrates his successes and learns from his errors.
Example of a bad rider without healthy habits: He will not have the track printed out, and maybe will have only eaten a few snacks. He talks to a few friends, perhaps loses track of time, and gets caught off guard that it his session to go on the track. He hops on the bike right away and is haphazardly speeding at 100 mph on the straightaway and doesn’t really know the race lines. It may require a solid five minutes for him to really focus in and thus he may not be making improvements. After his session, he is distracted by what he did wrong and sets the sole goal of being faster. With no actual game plan, he will just focus on gunning the throttle and taking turns faster.
This rider thinks short term and forgets the progress to be made in thinking long term and continually assessing his successes and failures.
While these examples may sound exaggerated, they aren’t far off-base from what many riders experienced or have witnessed. Riding a motorcycle has, literally, many moving parts. This includes the intentions and mentality of the rider as well as the dynamics and mechanics of the bike.
How Self-Coaching Impacts Riding
Creating and maintaining a positive mental mindset can take on many forms when it comes to the sport and hobby of motorcycle racing. Our previous blog posts offered solid advice on the elements of “getting in the zone” and having a ritual and mantra. Yet the possibilities are endless for the ways in which a rider can harness the lessons learned from both poor performances and successful performances.
By becoming intentional with planning, and assessing performance afterward, a rider learns the positive dynamics of self-coaching. Self-coaching is a simple way of explaining the method of motivating yourself and becoming self-reliant. This can translate to any aspect of your life, but often includes those involved in a performance sport.
In an article titled “Why Self-Coaching Can Be a Good Thing”, author Mackenzie Madison explains that the benefits of self-coaching include:
- Taking credit for your own success
- Becoming your own motivator
- Knowing your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else
- It’s free!
Madison goes on to say “You become more aware of your body and its responses to a variety of training situations. Self-coaching makes you tune in closely to your body’s responses and make honest assessments.”
As motorcycle riders, we are all aware of how important it is to stay attuned to our body’s cues, both large and small. When we pay attention to things such as our reflexes, change in heart rate, breathing patterns, and even the release of sweat, we learn how to integrate that important mind-body connection that can make or break a good race or lap.
Honest assessments, as Madison mentioned, can play out in the way we are able to process through the mistakes we may make as riders. Instead of just getting angry or embarrassed by a mistake, we can learn how to better prepare for next time. This also allows a rider to be less apprehensive for the next performance.
For example, it is rare for even the best of riders to have a perfect lap. Not every turn will be taken perfectly or the timing of every gear shift or braking technique. Many times, riders will become frustrated when they know they didn’t take a corner correctly and will obsess, thinking that they’ve ruined their performance. Instead, self-coaching can help a rider learn to observe quickly and then release any fears or unnecessary frustrations. These riders will know they can start the lap at the next turn and have a better chance of being more focused.
It’s important to be aware that there are many different and fundamental skill sets to learn before becoming a faster and more technical rider. Each of these skills takes dedicated practice and it isn’t plausible to learn them all at once. Some examples include:
- Race lines (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60mpzDGCWVI)
- Straight line breaking (Breaking in a straight line)
- Trail Breaking (Breaking while in a turn)
- Downshifting (Going from 3rd gear to 2nd gear etc.)
- Body position (Leaning properly)
- Timing of all of the above
As dedicated riders, it behooves us to break down these skills using self-coaching, planning, and the creation of good habits in order to become highly capable in our sport. As many riders can attest to, burnout can occur much more quickly when one tries to cram an entire set of practical skill learning into a high-pressure timeframe. Those situations usually end up embarrassing, exhausting, or downright dangerous for the rider.
The Power of Preparation and Planning
Elena Myers Court continued to share this relevant wisdom in the article she wrote: “I eventually came to realize that while mental preparation starts with physical preparation, it doesn’t end there. It’s really about creating peace of mind, so you can be totally in the moment when you’re out on the track. Over time I learned a key for me to feel mentally prepared was making sure I had a routine for getting all of the predictable activities squared away so I could deal with anything unexpected that would come up last minute…”
Check yourself occasionally on what your goals are with the sport. Assess if you are on track to meeting your goals of if you have found yourself off course. Remind yourself why you dove into riding in the first place and what keeps bringing you back to the bike and the track. If, perchance, you are feeling burned out, then take a break to rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit.
The racetrack deserves the best of you.