Learning How to Learn to Improve!

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Learn to improve

I face a common scenario when coaching: a driver makes some progress in driving a track faster and feels that they’ve gone as fast as they can, but still wants to go half a second faster. I suggest to that driver that they go back to the hotel, think about the progress they made that day, do mental imagery of driving the track half a second faster, and then go to sleep. And guess what? Most times, the driver is half a second (or more) faster the next day.

Was it the thinking about the day that made the difference? Doing mental imagery? Sleeping? Or me reassuring the driver that they will faster the next day? Yes.

However, there is a great deal of research that shows that sleep is one of the most important parts of the learning process.

Resting Helps Rebuild Your Muscles

Sleeping racecar driver

When you lift weights, you stress the muscles to the point where they begin to tear down a little. Then, with rest, the muscle rebuilds stronger than before the weight lifting. Without rest, in fact, the muscle will not rebuild, and it begins to deteriorate.

In discussing long distance runner Deena Kastor in the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness write, “It’s all the things she does when she isn’t training that allows her to do what she does when she is.” It’s the rest, and the type of rest, that allows her to train so hard.

The same thing occurs with mental activities. When we stress our minds, then give it time to rebuild, it builds stronger than before. Sleeping provides the brain time for the neuro-pathways to fully form.

Give Your Brain time to Process

A skill is built through rest – time for the brain to process what it’s learned and turn it into a mental program.

Also, a skill is built through struggle.

Struggling with something, such as lifting an additional ten pounds of weight, is a positive part of the learning process. Think about a time when you could not figure something out – a math problem in school, a puzzle or a hiring challenge – and someone showed you how to solve it. Now think about a time when you were faced with a similar challenge, but you struggled through it on your own, or you didn’t get immediate help. Which did you learn the most from?

If you feel your driving is on a plateau and you’re not improving, rest. Then push yourself, harder than ever before. Make yourself a little uncomfortable, just as you would when pushing to do one more rep when weight lifting. Then, rest again. Do something different, working outside your comfort zone.

Rest. Give your mind time to process and turn what you struggled to do into something you do without thinking.

Big wave surfer Nic Lamb said, “It’s only when you step outside your comfort zone that you grow. Being uncomfortable is the path to personal development and growth. It is the opposite of complacency.”

What are You Doing When You’re not Training?

In other words, what are you doing when you’re not driving on track to help cement what you learn when on track? Giving your mind a chance to soak up what you’ve learned, and reinforcing it in a restful, non-pressured way will move you beyond any plateau. Rather than studying in a very analytical way, view your video, look over the notes you made at the track, read things that relate to driving – but are not necessarily your driving – and let it soak in.

Personally, I learn as much about driving and how to help drivers improve by reading and listening to non-driving/racing content as I do studying data, video, and the details of my driving. Maybe more.

Data review - two day formula program

I find that when I make connections between driving and other activities, it’s even more meaningful and has more of an impact. Okay, I know I’m not normal (who is, in this sport!), and I think about everything in the world from the perspective of a performance driver. But when I take information or an experience from one world and relate or integrate it with what goes on behind the wheel of a car at speed (often, this is the necessary, difficult, struggling part of the process – like lifting weights), the insights I gain are what make a difference. And this is especially true when I allow what I’ve learned from another source to sink in, through rest. Not thinking deeply about it, but just letting it happen.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the leading authority on what helps humans get into “flow,” outlined a process that almost all great performers go through:

  1. Immersion: total engagement in their work with deep, focused, strategic practice.
  2. Incubation: a period of rest and recovery when they are not at all thinking about their work.
  3. Insight: the occurrence of “aha” or “Eureka” moments where new ideas, skills and growth in their thinking just happen.

Move beyond your current level of driving by “struggling,” pushing beyond your comfort level, then rest. Integrate information, experience, and knowledge from other sources, and let that sink in. Do your homework. Then go back to the track and push. And experiment; do things differently than you have in the past.

– Ross Bentley – speedsecretsweekly.com

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