Updated: Jun 20, 2020
The US Navy Seals are famous for possessing one of the toughest mentalities in the military. In training their brains are programmed to override fear, even in the most life-threatening and stressful environments.
Through their training, they learn the four main pillars needed for mental toughness, to override stress and fear.
The race track can be a highly stressful place too, using the techniques outlined below you can start to take what the Seals learn in their environment to stay relaxed, maintain focus and perform at their best with you to the race track.
# 1 Goal Setting
While in training they found that the trainees who successfully passed were the ones who set many goals. Not just any goals but very short-term and very specific goals. These successful trainees were able to stay focused on the current task instead of worrying about what might come next. Concentrating on achieving their goal one at a time. Neuroscientist interviews with trainees who dropped out of training were found to have few or no short-term goals.
At the race track, this also applies, with goal setting having a direct correlation to performance. Instead of getting distracted and thinking about everything that is going on around you, focus only on the goals that you have set for the next time out on track. In the work, I do as a performance coach in motorsport we focus on one goal at a time, which will get you through that session, then from there, we create another goal that moves you forward each time through the entire race weekend.
# 2 Mental Rehearsal
Mental visualisation has been used in many sports to hone their skills. Putting time aside to visualise themselves practising perfectly. Studies have shown that mental visualisation can have a huge impact on performance and can be as powerful as the actual physical practice itself.
During Navy Seals training, the trainees have to wear their scuba equipment and perform emergency drills while underwater. They are then harassed by their instructor who would cut off their oxygen supply and tie up their scuba pipes. If the instructor found that the trainee was not calm enough for the task, they would fail the test. But for those who passed, neuroscientists found that they practised mental visualisation.
In racing visualising perfect laps will calibrate your mind to that level of performance and repeated over time will deliver that performance in the physical world. Pole position lap times or race-winning performances rehearsed in the mind will help the subconscious create the new neuro-pathways to generate that performance at the racetrack.
#3 Positive Self-talk.
Do you know that we talk to ourselves at a rate of up to 800 words per minute? We have up to 60,000 thoughts a day with 80-90% of them being negative. What we think and what we tell ourselves affects our state, which affects our actions and then our results.
Navy Seals are taught to focus on positive self-talk to keep their spirits up. They frequently remind themselves that no matter how hard the going is, it won't last forever. With positive self-talk like ”Tough times don’t last, tough men do“ and ”Pain is just weakness leaving the body”.
Positive self-talk will help with the challenges in your racing also, focusing on "can do" instead of "can't do" will help focus the mind with a mental approach that blocks out the irritations and distractions others are susceptible to. Positive self-talk will keep you on point and focused on the goals you have for your race weekend.
#4 Arousal Control
Controlling the mental state is crucial for a Navy Seal to stay alive when all hell breaks out around them. Many knee-jerk reactions are built into humans by nature. Some examples of these reactions include widening of the pupil, shaky hands and sweaty palm that are evident in fear or stress. It’s a very natural body response that is aimed at helping you stay out of danger or protect yourself. Producing powerful hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to power our flight or flight responses.
Navy seals are required to perform at their peak in very stressful and demanding situations. One of the ways the seals control the effect of these hormones is through breathing techniques. When they are in a dangerous environment or overwhelmed, they will focus on the breath and simply breathe their way through it, controlling their inner environment and creating a calm and centred state.
This technique can also be utilised during the race weekend, in the downtime away from the track where overthinking and mind chatter can overwhelm some racers or during the nervous pre-race minutes sitting on the grid. Controlling your breathing will maintain a focused, calm approach to the task in hand.
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