In Racing And Entrepreneurship, A Calm And Present Mind Wins The Race
March 29, 2023
You’re sitting behind the wheel of a race car. Two columns of cars are bumper to bumper on the pace lap; cars are accelerating and braking. You’re anxiously awaiting the green flag dropping as the pace car pulls away. The flag waves and you hear “green, green, green” come across your in-car radio. You accelerate through the gears crossing the start/finish line. Cars are moving in every direction, trying to find an open line as they narrowly funnel into the first turn, three cars wide.
From the moment you started getting buckled into the car on the starting grid, the butterflies in your stomach have been swirling; you are now well into your pre-race routine. As the green flag drops, your heart rate is peaking; the adrenaline is flowing. There are upwards of thirty to forty cars at the start of the race; every one of those drivers has a plan in their head as to how the race’s start and the first turn will go.
But for most of us on the track, very few of those plans will be realized.
We will quickly be forced into making “mid-course” corrections as the moments and opportunities present themselves. Risks will be realized or avoided—at nearly a subconscious level, each driver will make a million calculated microdecisions in real time as the race unfolds.
It’s no wonder a lot of race car drivers also happen to be entrepreneurs.
I became interested in racing after giving myself a driving course in 2019 as a milestone birthday gift. Six months later, I found myself as a self-described “wanna-be race car driver” competing in my first race ever at Daytona International Speedway, the “World Center of Racing,” of all places. Fast-forward three years later: I competed in 38 races across three countries in 2022 alone, with many more races planned for this year. On the track, I’ve learned many lessons that have informed my approach to running Canada’s largest data center company. The main one? In racing and entrepreneurship, a calm and present mind wins the race.
For Success, Entrepreneurs Can’t Rely On Adrenaline Alone
It’s often said that entrepreneurs are adrenaline junkies. As it turns out, that statement is backed by science. Research published in 2017 indicates that higher levels of
epinephrine (another word for adrenaline) and lower levels of cortisol (the main stress hormone) are “associated with self-employment.”
It’s safe to say that, on average, entrepreneurs have a higher risk tolerance than most non-entrepreneurs. But I believe that while adrenaline might push someone into entrepreneurship, it can’t sustain the journey. David Swink, the cofounder and chief creative officer of training and development company Strategic Interactions, Inc., explained it well in a Psychology Today article: “With a big hit of adrenaline, we tend to lose situational awareness,” meaning we might miss key details that can help us think more clearly and in turn, make better decisions.
A Calm Mind Fuels The Entrepreneurial Journey
At the start of the race, I’m hit with an adrenaline rush. As the cars find their way through the second, third and fourth turns, things begin to settle down. I, along with the drivers around me, begin to find a rhythm. The adrenaline dissipates, replaced by a sense of calm.
On the race track, you must be aware of every detail in your surroundings to make real-time, deliberate decisions in microseconds using muscle memory and experience. Just one wrong decision, one lapse in judgment or focus, can have dire consequences.
Whether I’m in the boardroom or on the race track, I have to take risks using my knowledge, experience, foresight and gut instincts, knowing full well that I still might fail. Rushed or emotional thinking could yield disastrous results. A calm mind is more likely to create great outcomes than a chaotic one. When you operate from a place of calm, you can more clearly evaluate your options, weighing the pros and cons to arrive at a sound decision with the highest probability of success.
Leading with a sense of calm also sets a good example for your team. Like race car driving, running a business is a team sport. Your team must be motivated; their heads must be in the game. You win a race and accomplish business goals as a team, not by yourself. According to McKinsey, business leaders who “act with deliberate calm and bounded optimism” can “help their organizations feel a sense of purpose, giving them hope that they can face the challenges ahead.”
The Importance Of Living In The Present
A calm mind goes hand-in-hand with a state of mindful presence, which is the greatest gift race car driving has given me.
Race car driving naturally involves multitasking; you are braking, turning in, opening your hands and accelerating, all while keeping your eyes focused down the track to where you want the car to go, aware of the competitors around you, and setting yourself up to take the next corner. With practice, you can handle those tasks at a subconscious level using muscle memory as if you’re on autopilot.
The real challenge is avoiding multitasking with your thoughts—the various thought bubbles that pop in and out of your head with everyday life. When I step into a race car, I know that to maximize my chances of success, I need to let go of the anxiety, frustration and pressure the outside world is giving me and just focus on the task ahead. It is not unusual to find myself concluding a business-related conference call only to find myself strapped into a race car less than ten minutes later. If I don’t live in the moment as I’m driving at 160 plus miles per hour, bad things are more likely to happen.
When you’re in the driver’s seat of your business, multiple thoughts probably rush through your mind at any given moment. You might be working on a project and simultaneously wondering who you should hire to fill an open role, when you should set a meeting with investors, what you want to eat for dinner and whether the kids remembered to let the dog out. On average, people have over 6,000 thoughts daily. But entrepreneurs need to reel in those thoughts and live in the present. According to researchers, when “predicting positive emotions and their ensuing psychological health benefits, dispositional mindfulness and perceived ability to savor the moment may play complementary roles.”
With a strong presence of mind, you can concentrate on what’s in front of you rather than jumping 10 steps ahead, catastrophizing and trying to predict the future.
Remember: We can only control ourselves. Race car drivers have a modified version of the serenity prayer, which is to control the things we can and accept the things we can’t on any given race day. I can’t control the weather, the decisions of my competitors or other outside elements when I’m racing. Equally, I can’t control the outside market conditions, political climate or my competitors when I’m running my business. But I can control my thoughts—and by extension, my decision-making—and ultimately put my business, my team and myself in a better position to succeed.
Read the Forbes article here.