Friday, July 23, 2010

Visualize success!

A while back I was teaching the classroom session for our ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) course. A man asked me a question.

"How do you keep from freezing up?"

This man had recently run off the road after getting into a corner faster than he was prepared for. Rather than take any steps to successfully negotiate the curve despite his higher speed, the guy froze up. Fortunately there was no major damage to either the bike or rider. It was this experience that prompted him to enroll in our course.

I gave him what I thought was a satisfactory answer at the time. In the meantime, though, I've spent a lot of faceshield time thinking about the situation. I believe I have come up with a more complete answer. Not only does this answer help a rider conquer their fear, but I believe it goes a long ways toward preventing the condition in the first place. There are several factors involved, but there's a simple way to sum it up.


We should all be aware by now that the bike's direction and smoothness is greatly influenced by where we point our nose. It's all about target acquisition. Broaden the scope a bit and think about it a little differently. Doesn't the same thing apply mentally?

Believe it or not, I do other things besides ride motorcycles and take photos of Ryan. I also read extensively. A couple of books that deal with how our mental pictures affect our life course are "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Another is "You'll See it When You Believe it" by Dr. Wayne Dyer. There are countless articles and books on visualizing success in business and sports. Why shouldn't the same apply to riding a motorcycle successfully?

So let's bring this back to the guy who "froze up" in the corner.

There are two aspects involved in successful cornering. The same thing applies to other situations in riding. I'm going to focus on curves because that was what the guy asked about. Anyway, the two things are having the physical skills handy and then being able to visualize ourselves experiencing a successful outcome.

We tend to pretty much focus on the practice of physical skills. Which is a great thing, don't get me wrong. Knowing what to do and how to do it are critical to success. I've already written about developing motor skills and keeping the mind-muscle connection fresh and sharp. During the class my fellow instructors and I were able to help this gentleman to more fully develop his physical cornering skills. We couldn't help him with was his mental pictures, though. He will have to do that for himself.

On a physical level we tell students to look at the solution, not the problem. That's because target fixation is a surefire way to run into something. Where do we look mentally?

For example, in the photo below my bike is heading for a guardrail. For whatever reason that's my path of travel. Maybe I got into the corner too hot because I either misjudged it or was distracted. Maybe my head turn was weak and I ran wide. Maybe I moved to avoid something in the road. Pick something from the list. Whatever the cause, here I am. What is the picture in my head?

Do I have this clear and vivid mental picture of impending disaster? Guess where I'm most likely to go? Exactly. Right where I'm looking in my mind. Picture defeat, suffer defeat.

In contrast, I could have a different mental picture. Like the clear view below. I could have a technicolor movie of myself playing in my head where I am the hero. I clearly see myself putting the bike back on the path it needs to be on. In the movie it's very clear that I am doing the correct things physically. Picture success, experience success.

This is another case where giving in to our natural instincts can get us into trouble. I've always claimed that riding a motorcycle successfully is an unnatural act. In other words, our inborn natural reactions aren't always the right way to go. We have to develop new reactions.

Think about it. When humans are faced with a really stressful situation, where does their mind go? In my experience most go to the worst possible outcome in their minds. People stress out over things that haven't happened anywhere except in their heads, yet. Think about it for a while and you'll see the truth of what I'm saying. Heck, it even still happens to me now and then. I'm able to overcome the natural reaction because I've trained my brain to show a different movie.

That mental training is as critical as the physical training. I would urge riders to spend time making new mental movies.

Take some time off the bike to visualize success. The "off the bike" part is critical. Probably shouldn't be driving or operating heavy machinery, either!

Success will have two parts. First, and most importantly, mental visualization will cement the physical and mental skills that keep us out of trouble in the first place. Always the best option, staying out of trouble in the first place is key. We are humans surrounded by humans, however. Things go wrong. Visualization is especially critical at these times. Here's how to prepare.

Mentally put yourself into stressful situations. Then visualize yourself doing the right things and experiencing success. Visualize a corner where you look to the corner exit and press the grip to lean more. See yourself emerging unscathed out the other side. Your bike seat may need some attention, though. Picture an emergency braking situation. See yourself keeping your eyes up. Watch as you smoothly apply both brakes with firm progressive pressure on the front brake and light to lighter pressure on the rear brake. Celebrate as you successfully deal with the situations. Fear will be replaced by confidence.

Do these mental exercises frequently. When the time comes, you don't want the hard drive of your brain to have to look very long for the right file.

We go where we look. Visualize success!

Miles and smiles,



seanny said...

Spectacular post, and excellent advice as always.

Young Dai said...

If I may be so bold as to add a couple of lines to one of your sentences.

"press the grip to lean more ".. and remember you are on a bike not in a car.

To expand on that thought. In a car if you want to turn left you tend to push with your right hand, so that the steering wheel moves counter-clockwise into the curve and the car goes where you want it.

But on the bike should you forget the affect of counter steering at speed, lean on the right hand side of the handlebars, and off you go to the right, no matter how far you are cranked over to the left. (It's not fun but you can try it on the roads or in PLP at low speeds to get some idea.)

Now dial in an :'Oh my god I am going to die!',bend that is tighter than you first thought. The if that is what is swamping your concious thought, as you have said before, the rest of the body is running on learnt muscle memory and reaction, so you try to steer towards the bend, as you would in a car. ..... where in fact you are applying counter steering input to the bike and in entirely the wrong direction.

The bike will then run wide and perhaps hit someting immovable

This happened to me 12 years ago at less than 20 mph, so I healed and the bike was repaired.

Now for many years I thought the cause of the bike running wide was me braking in mid corner. We then had a presentation from an accident investigator at my riding group, about the number of single vehicle accidents on corners involving middle-aged men on summer Sundays, where he put up that theory.

I thought back over my own accident and I now firmly believe it was me introducing the wrong steering inputs that actually put me across the kerb and into the wall.

SonjaM said...

I can only hope that I will come to think of this post should I happen to encounter a situation that rewards this state of Zen. Another valuable lesson! Thanks Dan!

R.G. said...

Hey Dan, been away from the blog land for some time but now that I am back yours was the first blog I looked up. You got staying power Irondad. Always enjoy your insights and words of wisdom Zen master.

bluekat said...

Me thinks someone is trying to tell me something. This week I've had two blogs speak to me about mental attitude.

Great post and good food for thought. I've not had a good moto-week, so visualizing anything positive is a struggle today. I'm much more inclined to go off and feel sorry for myself, but that won't fix anything, so perhaps it's a good afternoon to go work on getting my head somewhere more positive and successful.

I'm not putting on all the gear just to sit in the backyard and visualize success though. :)

irondad said...


Thank you for gracing my blog by reading! Warm wishes back to VA.

Take care,


irondad said...

Young Dai,

Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. It is accurate informatin. In the distilled form, that's what happens to a lot of riders who are unsuccessful in trying to swerve around something, too.

They try to steer around it. Converted to countersteering, they actually head right for the hazard.

Take care,


irondad said...


Best to avoid the need in the first place. If it does happen, though, better to be mentally prepared for success. If you wear your bright yellow crocs while meditating, you should probably keep your eyes shut. Avoiding distraction and all that, you know!


Welcome back and congratulations on the new granddaughter. Yes, I checked out your new blog.

I think about you whenever I ride by Willamette Falls. I'm honored by your comment.

Take care,


irondad said...


Bad moto-week? If you care to share I care.

I rode Battle Creek today in your honor. Think I found your downhill curves. The secret is third gear for me. I have that post on my list, by the way.

You don't have to wear a helmet to meditate. A riding jacket might help you connect to riding, though. Just pick a shady spot!

Take care,