Riding a motorcycle is not rocket science. Once you've mastered the clutch, throttle, gears and brakes there's only one thing holding you back from being the next Valentino Rossi - your head, at least according to Mind Racing's Ashley Cole, who's sorted the minds of many top racers. "Everything we do has its motivation in an emotion," says Ashley, "and that emotion determines when we'll stop or continue doing it.
The emotion of fear determines when your mind tells you that something is no longer acceptable: 'I will not continue accelerating into the corner', 'I will not stay off the brakes any longer'. And your fear threshold is very different to Rossi's, that's all it is."
How much fear you have depends on your beliefs and state of mind, and to beat your mate all you need to do is out-psych him. Here's a list of things to do to improve your state of mind while messing up his - a necessary evil to establish your greatness.
Top six things to do for yourself to feel good
In order to ride fast you must relax and enjoy it. Tension, anxiety and nervousness are all symptoms of fear that will hinder your performance. Here's what to do to keep them at bay
1. Stick to the five Ps
Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance - not only does it roll off the tongue nicely, but preparation will give you confidence in both yourself and your machine's performance. "To racers, I say your race weekend begins on the journey home from the previous meeting," says Ashley. "For guys doing track days, they need to be thinking about the track day in the week leading up to it." So exercise, eat well, sleep well, don't drink any alcohol the night before and prepare your bike to a high standard - the feel good factor you get from all that is worth a lot.
2. Use visual rehearsal
Do this in the days leading up to the track day and in-between sessions, remembering all your markers (ie braking and turn-in markers). "Spend some quiet time mentally rehearsing going round the track as this breeds familiarity with the circuit," says Ashley. "Before the day, if you've never been to that circuit you can do it just as well by looking at the circuit map and imagining what it will be like." (And there's always Playstation and on-board videos on the web.) In between sessions, try and visualise a hot lap - the clearer it is in your mind's eye, the easier it is to nail it. "Your unconscious mind doesn't know the difference between something you've imagined and reality, so it's like doing extra laps," explains Ashley. And the more laps you do, the more confident you get. On the morning, be ready in advance for the first session to be first behind the instructor for the sighting laps. This way you'll be observing his lines rather than those of a wobbly first-timer.
3. Set yourself a goal for the day
Don't just go out there thinking you'll do the best you can - you'll never know when you have and you'll get caught up in pointless riding around, says Ashley. "Say something like, 'I'm going to do Croft in 1min29s', or 'I'm going to Cadwell to master The Mountain'. It must be something specific that you can work at. This channels your energy and thoughts and you'll improve and go quicker."
4. Think about what you want
Not about what you don't want. To clarify, Ashley asked me to concentrate on following his instructions: "Don't think of a blue tree." So I thought of a blue tree. Didn't you? Ashley says it's because our unconscious mind cannot process negatives. "On the track, if you're thinking, 'I don't want to run wide', all your attention is on running wide, so you do. If you're thinking, 'I don't want to crash', all your attention is on crashing, which will make you nervous. So think, 'I want to hold a tight line' rather than, 'I don't want to run wide'." Thinking, 'I want to hit my braking point' is very different to 'I don't want to out-brake myself', and it will make a big difference to your riding.
5. Relax between sessions
"Most people will stand by the pitwall to watch others go round," says Ashley, "and if they're in the slower or middle group they'll scare themselves watching how quick the fast guys go. It's much better to sit and relax, so bring a chair if you can. When you sit down your breathing changes, you're conserving energy and you have time to think about how you performed in your last session and how you can improve. For instance: 'I braked later than I ever have going into Paddock, and I'm pretty sure I could brake even later than that'." Relaxation eats away at fear.
6. Be in control of the conditions
Firstly, the weather: "People will say, how on earth can I control the weather?" says Ashley. "But when you go out on track, the weather you've got is the same for everybody. And whether it's dry, damp, foggy or windy, it's perfect because it's the only weather you've got. Everyone would prefer to have a nice sunny day for their track day, but we live in England so you can't always get that. What's important is how you deal with it - your mind must control its impact. Most people stand outside the pit garage and go, 'Oh no, the cloud's coming. I hope it doesn't rain'. They're setting themselves up to feel bad if it does rain, so they're building on the fear. Kevin Schwantz would walk out of his pit garage, put his hand out, feel the rain drops on his hand, clap his hands together and say, 'Fantastic, it's raining'. By doing that you've already got a mental advantage over others." The same applies to your bike set-up - thinking it's anything less than perfect will affect your performance. Ashley says: "Instead of thinking, 'The back is soft' or 'I don't like these tyres', think 'If Valentino were on my bike, how quick would he go?'" Focus on the positives because you get what you focus on.