Lining up for his 12th Bathurst 1000 start, David Reynolds and his Erebus Motorsport team didn’t expect to offer a text book case study on how our own thinking and physiology affect our ability to perform. But an excellent one he did (sorry David) and it was the perfect opportunity for us to to learn a little about how High Performance Thinking (the role the mind and various mind states play in our ability to make good decisions in the moment when it matters) can drastically change the course of our day.
First, some background (and no - you don’t have to be a Bathurst fan to keep reading)...
Our ability to make good decisions changes moment-by-moment every day. At some points, we're as clear and strategic and effective as it is possible to be. At other moments, we cannot decide which T-shirt to wear.
Our mind state and body have a huge influence on this ability. This part’s not rocket science - you know this already (think: being intoxicated leads to poorer decisions). We don't drink and drive, and we know why. You've probably experienced the 'trivia night mind blank', where - under pressure to get an answer you absolutely know that you know, - you simply can’t think of it.
You may also have felt the different skill level in your decision-making at other times. Have you ever made a poor decision when you’re angry? How about when you’re tired? Or distracted?
The bandwidth of consciousness is very limited and most of your decisions are made non-consciously. Different states-of-mind can then further reduce this already limited 'conscious influence' in your decisions.
Over the past six months, I've been partnering with Moly-Cop to teach their employees how ‘this stuff’ works to improve safety and performance. How to make better decisions in the moments when it matters. Not being a motorsport enthusiast myself, I was thrilled to hear some of the staff I’ve been working with raise the David Reynolds Bathurst exit with me as an example of what they've been learning.
On that note - let’s look at what happened to David Reynolds.
He and his team were winning the biggest race of the Australian motorsport season. Due to a range of reasons, he became fatigued and dehydrated, was cramping and couldn't think straight. They tried to pump fluids into him, but it was too late. He cramped and spun the wheels in the pits, which cost him a time penalty and by the time the team swapped out the driver, that was too late as well. David and his team went from first place to 13th.
So, what has this got to do with High Performance Thinking (HPT)?
Fatigue (being physically tired, but also being dehydrated) reduces our ability to think clearly and make decisions. We tend to become less flexible, less proactive, slower to respond and allow key moments to slip by. Just like when you’re tired your physical movements are slower - your brain is slower too and decision making suffers.
Stress, pressure and the desire to win produces a similar result - for different reasons. We get stuck, focused on the plan and talk ourselves into pushing on. We get ‘stuck’ on an idea, unable to respond flexibly.
We tend to justify our thinking, we tell ourselves "this is a grueling race", "we're the elite, this is supposed to be exhausting", and so the management push on. The driver battles on, thinking they can do it, feeling like ‘this must be what it takes to win’. However, BECAUSE the driver (David) is exhausted and under pressure, he is not ABLE to think clearly about just how exhausted he is.
BECAUSE the team manager is so focused on the strategy and is, himself, under massive pressure, he keeps asking the driver, "what do you need?", and because the driver is unable to decide anything, laps go by and no-one does anything.
The knee jerk response is to give David some electrolytes and a Berocca, but no-one is clearly seeing what would be obvious to those not in the hot seat: the driver is in danger and needs to get out of the car.
The real danger is in their mind states themselves; the combination of:
- stress - physical and emotional,
- the desire to win and keep going, and
- their beliefs and values about the sport itself and the people they are ("it's supposed to be tough and we're the elite, we're supposed to endure")
Each of these mind states alone will impair High Performance Thinking to some degree, but combined - they create a lack of flexible and timely decision-making, mistakes and ultimately a very dangerous situation (given we've got a driver travelling at 300 km/h who is cramping up and not able to concentrate or think clearly).
I really do feel for the people involved in David’s situation. Improved knowledge and planning in the build-up could have made a difference. As stress rises, our ability to be flexible, insightful and strategic reduces. I wish them the best of luck next year and hope they take steps to ensure their drivers are well-rested, hydrated and that they have contingencies in place for what to do next time.
If you find people being inflexible, short sighted, procrastinating or sticking to strategies that are not working, then you might look to build some High Performance Thinking skills in your teams, or your organisation.
Apply the science of the mind to everyday work and life with High Performance Thinking.
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