Visualize This!

vi·su·al·i·za·tion noun
\ˌvi-zhə-wə-lə-ˈzā-shən, ˌvi-zhə-lə-, ˌvizh-wə-lə-\

  1. formation of mental visual images
  2. the act or process of interpreting in visual terms or of putting into visible form
  3. the process of making an internal organ or part visible by the introduction (as by swallowing) of a radiopaque substance followed by radiography
  4. (Psychology) a technique involving focusing on positive mental images in order to achieve a particular goal

Visualization, also known as guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or meditation, works for me. If I can concentrate enough to actually visualize rather than just thinking about “doing it right.” A lot of my skill practice is done by using visualization techniques. I was first introduced to the technique by my therapist while doing trauma-work in order to process and heal from a nasty case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) I had developed after, well… after “something had happened” that was a little above my natural coping abilities. I would say that visualization and processing through imagery (artistic expression) were the two main tools that helped me overcome the experience and move on with my life.

While reading my first book on racing technique I had occasion to become reacquainted with an old friend that had served me well in the past. I had not a clue that visualization could be used with great success in the field of sports performance. There are some differences between the therapeutic method of “feeling” and the performance enhancing method of “seeing”. One is more intuitive and is based upon abstracts and individual perception; the other is based on empirical data, the interpretation thereof and then the manipulation of skill application for best possible outcome.

So exactly how do I go about using visualization for my riding skill development? It’s not really all that complicated, once you know what it is and how to use it properly. Visualization requires a set of pre-acquired data to work in the enhancement of applicable skill.

One must know the environment said skill is to be applied in. You cannot visualize yourself getting through a turn faster unless you know the turn’s geometry. Is it downhill or uphill; flat, banked or off-camber; does it have a constant or decreasing radius; is it tight or sweeping; is it a true double-apex (compound curve) or a single apex turn? What does it look like? Where are the curbs, the brake markers, the paint lines, the skid marks, is the pavement rough in texture or smooth, or a combination. And to know that you have to have been there. The more details you have about the turn and the more clearly you can see it in your mind, the better visualization will work. Mind you, if your recollection is shoddy and your references sketchy or erroneous, you will inadvertently introduce errors in your visualization and therefore you may even hinder rather than enhance your progress.

Once I learn a track layout, I use visualization to remember all that hard-earned visual data I’ve collected, so next time I’m there it won’t take me but a fraction of the time to get reacquainted.  If you can run a lap in your head with your eyes closed in about the same time you can do it in real life, then you’ve got it down. If you are faster in your head, you’re missing something. If you are slower you are unsure. I think I took that particular page out of Keith Code‘s book, A Twist Of The Wrist, but I’ll have to double check that. I’ve devoured so many skill books from so many different people that it is hard sometimes to keep it all straight and give the kudos to the proper person.

I use it to find errors in my riding, too. But I don’t like to do that on my own, I usually run that by someone who is a better rider than me and also knows the track and can help me interpret my visual data and analyze what exactly went wrong or what could be done better. Then I come up with a plan and during the next session, I will see if it helps. Lap times don’t lie. If your analysis was correct and your application was optimal you should eventually see a marked improvement in your lap or section times. If you are slower at first, don’t worry just yet. You have to reach a certain level of comfort with the “new and improved way” before it’ll show. If you stay slower consistently, then you have cause for worry and should revisit the problem and its original solution.

I also use visualization to stay cool, calm and collected under pressure. It helps me to not freak out and panic and cause myself a world of calamity and pain. Panic and its related reactions have no place while you are on the bike. You may wipe your butt and freak the hell out when you’re back at the pits (or pulled over safely on the side of the road). When the ass is connected to the seat of your bike, failure is not an option. We are human, we will make mistakes, we will miscalculate and misjudge. Visualize yourself getting out of the trouble you’ve created for yourself and more often than not your cool head and muscle memory will prevail and let the machine do its thing and get you out with the shiny side where it belongs and rubber side down.

I also use it to calm my hyped-up nerves before I go out on a session. Instead of worrying about how embarrassing it would be if I did this or that in front of a bunch of people, like dropping my bike or missing a shift or totally screwing up a start, I see myself being perfect. And I haven’t done anything stupid in front of a bunch of people in a long time. It also helps me not to throw up when sitting on the grid. 🙂

Visualization is my weapon of choice.

If you visualize it, it will come true. See yourself failing and you’ve made it favorable for the outcome to be just that: a huge fail of epic proportions. See yourself succeeding and you’re on the way. Don’t be afraid to be your best.

And no, we are not having a narcissistic moment when you catch us watching a video of ourselves riding our bikes over and over and over again. Panning, shuttling, slo-mo, pause and stare. I know of one other person who does this (or admits to doing it anyway) and I bet my Dainese two-piece leathers that she is doing it for the same reason I end up spending countless hours drooling over my own ass sliding around on a sport bike. We like the way we look. We are awesome. We are THE shit! But that’s really beside the point. 😉 It’s an important step in visualization. The acquisition of visual data, analyzing and processing said data and finding the weak spots in our riding, so we can see ourselves doing better next time. If I had to make another wager, I would put my money on all the better riders doing this to one degree or another, whether they know it by its term or not.

2 Comments on “Visualize This!”

  1. Dandooligan says:

    I know I understand something once I can visualize myself doing it. I know the muscles still don’t know what to do when I can’t “feel” it in my mind. Brilliant post! This is such a good tool for those who can do it.

  2. Faceyman says:

    The comments regarding visualization are so important…if gives you a picture of where you are going and allows you to plan how you will get there. Visualization is a trait that is important not only in competitive sports, but in everyday riding as well. Good post & have fun at the track!

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