When I think about common sources of motivation, phrases like "meditation", "self help books", "my grandmother", "that yoga guru", and "affirmations" pop up - "supercross riders" have never been on my list, but maybe they should be.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with a supercross legend, Ricky Carmichael, the current star Ryan Dungey, and two up-and-comers, Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac, about what it takes to build the courage to compete in a sport wrought with unpredictable danger, frequent injuries, and intense rivalries, and how to settle into the sweet mental state that often results in a big win.
As we talked, I expected a slew of technical terms I wouldn't understand to be thrown at me, but instead, I received poignant and thoughtful responses on what it takes to go all in when committing to the challenges of supercross, and a life riddled with obstacles.
Following are gems of wisdom from a few dudes who have made a career out of conquering their mental doubts and physical limitations.
1. It's Not Failing, It's Learning. The term "failing" is not in Ricky Carmichael's lexicon, instead, he uses the term "learning." He views a mistake as an opportunity to wipe the drawing board clean and build a new and better way to tackle the challenge at hand.
Ryan Dungey seconds this sentiment, believing that his ability to objectively view a mistake, tweak his strategy, and fully commit to implementing that strategy during practice allows him to move into his next race with a refreshed mental state, which is important because . . .
2. Success Comes With a Sound Mental State. As Ryan Dungey puts it, "You can be the fittest guy out there, but if you don't have it going on mentally, the physicality doesn't mean anything."
When life throws you into a high intensity situation, be it on a field or track, in a boardroom, or even a tense conversation with a spouse, a healthy mental state is the best tool to not just make it through, but find favorable results on the other side.
But, that healthy mental state doesn't live in the realm of overconfidence, or the domain of timidity - it lies somewhere in the middle. As Eli Tomac says, "You don't want to bring overconfidence because you might get caught sleeping, but, you don't want to be too nervous and lose your way - try to find the middle."
Sounds great, but how to do we find that mental middle ground . . .
3. Preparation Is Key. All four riders reiterated that preparation is, as Ryan Dungey says, "the best way to be ready for the challenge." And when asked if he had any rituals before a race Ricky Carmichael reminisced that his only reliable ritual was preparation.
So folks, if at first you don't succeed, do as Eli Tomac does and "go all in with preparation." And the more you prepare, the easier it is to . . .
4. Keep your cool, and focus on yourself. In our social media obsessed culture it can be easy to get lost in what everyone else is doing - becoming despondent if someone scored a goal you've been vying for, feeling "less than" if a colleague is able to log more hours of prep than you, or getting distracted by irritation if a competitor seems adamant to goad you. Ryan Dungey battles this by "keeping my cool, and focusing on myself."
So, if you become overwhelmed by the doings of others, circle back to your own unique talents and abilities, devote your energy to putting in the work towards your goal, and allow the resulting sense of power to return you to a lovely state of equilibrium.
And above all else . . .
5. Be in it for the long haul. In supercross (and most things in life worth working for) a championship is not won in one race, it's won over a series of races. Losing perspective, by becoming ruled by the outcome of one event in a series, pulls you out of the long-term focus and lasting spirit you need to conqueror the ultimate win. Ken Roczen described it as, "Being out of for blood, but not overreacting." Love it.
Want to see how this advice pans out for these boys? With the exception of retired Ricky Carmichael, these three riders just began their 2017 supercross season that is sure to offer an intriguing seventeen rounds, leading to the crowning of a champion.