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.

The Dingleberry Chronicles: Today Is A Good Day To Die! NOT!!!

Good freaking GAWD! What the HELL is WRONG with you people!!!! Learn how to drive you motherhumpers! Now, with that out of the way, maybe I can calm down. ARRRGH! Ok, maybe now. SHIT! Nope, still not there. Gawd-freakin’-dammit I am not ready to be a grease spot on the expressway! FUCK! Ok. I think I got it. *inhales deeply, then exhales slowly*

I narrowly escaped being sideswiped by some fucktard in a full-sized pickup truck! I suppose the necessity of him making his exit was more important than my life. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the right lane on the 45-mph starting section of the Calhoun Expressway. I was rolling at a pretty good clip, so there’s no way I annoyed some speed demon on four wheels who is late for whatever-the-hell. I knew he was there, but didn’t expect him to speed up and cut me off to make the exit ramp that I was inconveniently blocking with my soft tissue and plastic parts. I can still see it, first the wheel caught my attention, then my vision came partially blocked by this huge front fender. I could make out the details of his headlight and turn signals. The chrome bumper with the black accent trim. Red. A nice red. Like a fire truck. My reverie (WTH woman?!?) is interrupted by the realization that if nothing happens here, our vectors will intersect very shortly, resulting in my Beemer’s nose being buried in his front wheel and me probably being high-sided into the left lane or even into the concrete divider, or worse, over it. My brain ceases all higher function. Snap! I realize that my throttle is being ripped wide open by my hand, I notice in amazement the bike quickly diving right then straightening back out as the S1000RR hurls itself forward. It’s like I’m watching myself from the inside, but using somebody else’s eyes. A discernible detachment. Like a first-person perspective, but not my own. As I realize that I have narrowly escaped (I don’t ever want to find out how close I came to certain death today) I experience snapping back into my body, I let go of the throttle, crank my torso around to my right and give the asshole, who is now making his way down the off-ramp, an enthusiastic one-fingered wave. Then I lose myself again. I faintly notice that my heart is hammering hard against my chest. I swear I can actually hear its staccato-like beats. My hand returns to its place on the throttle grip and I run. Run for my life. I can’t stop, I take the first curve of the expressway at almost knee-dragging speed. I’m not sure how fast I am going, but I’m sure it’s a little over the speed limit, which has increased to 55 mph. I think I’m going to throw up. I slowly return to myself and get my throttle hand under control and center myself back on the bike. I am surprised how quickly my systems return to normal, but my spirit is still preoccupied with the what ifs. I’m still feeling a little weak in the stomach. A few miles down the road, a wind gust picks up my front tire and sets it down slightly to the left. Holy crap! I don’t need THIS right now. I really don’t. As I make my way through a curve, another gust hits my broadside and the bike feels like it is being picked up. The suspension partially unloads on BOTH ends! How the hell is THAT possible? I’m running wide but compensate by more lean and a pinned throttle. Now I’m on the verge of having one of those girly freakouts. I’m putting as much weight over the front end as I possibly can without actually sitting on the tank and continue on. I need comfort food! Now! I decide to get back on the Interstate and hit a Mickey D’s at a nearby exit. I hate Mc Donald’s, but for some reason it is where I need to be. I need cookies, hot chocolate and some nasty fries. As I accelerate up the ramp and crest the top while merging left, another gust of wind hits me with full frontal force and causes my front end to get extremely light. I’m still on the gas, and no doubt have no contact on the front wheel. As I go over the crest of the ramp and into the traffic lanes I feel like I’m flying. Literally… I think I just caught some air, consequently I also end up in the left lane a heck of a lot quicker as anticipated. Luckily that is where I was headed anyway and there was no traffic to give me a second chance to kill myself today. I’m sick of this. I want to be off this cursed rocket and want to stuff myself with gross fast food.

It’s amazing what muscle memory can do for you to save your ass when your brain has gone bye-bye on a personal holiday. Thanks be to the God of Speed and his most faithful followers, who by printed word, formal instruction, and video tutorial have taught me well. If it wasn’t for you, I’d surely would have been on my way to transcend, to cross over with John Edward, to push up daisies, to meet my maker, to take a dirt nap, to enter the Underworld,…

Today was not a good day to die.