Skidding Into Focus – Part 3

In 1993, I was preparing to compete in the Indianapolis 500. I was driving an Indy car down the front straightaway at 225 miles per hour, entering the first turn with my right foot pushing as hard as I could on the gas pedal, attempting to take the turn at full throttle for the first time. As I turned the steering wheel to initiate my entry into the corner, two conflicting instincts tried to kick in. First, my sense of self-preservation wanted to take over and lift my foot off the gas pedal. Instinct said, “Slow down before you crash!” At the same time, my racer’s gut feeling was telling me to push the pedal to the metal (well, carbon-fiber and aluminum, to be exact) and go faster. I had made the mental commitment and had spent time prior to getting into the car to prepare for this moment, and that’s why my right foot stayed down—in fact, “planted” is the best word to describe it.

The second instinct was to look at where I didn’t want to go. In this case, I glanced toward the concrete wall surrounding the turn. In that instant (and at that speed I was traveling the length of a football field in less than a second), the memory of that night fifteen years earlier in my Lotus popped into my head. My eyes immediately focused through the turn and that’s where the car went.

It’s impossible to describe what a thrill it is the very first time you take Turn 1 at Indy at full throttle at over 220 miles per hour. No written word can do justice to that kind of speed and sensation. Imagine you weigh 175 pounds. Cornering at 4.0 g, it’s like having 700 pounds pushing sideways on your body. These g-forces are incredible. Four times the force of gravity, 4.0 g is something that only fighter jet pilots, astronauts, and race drivers experience on a regular basis. It feels unreal. It is so unnatural that it seems to deny the laws of physics; even if Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein could explain it, I’m sure they would have a hard time believing the feeling of having their bodies smashed against the side of the car’s cockpit. It takes huge heaps of faith—blind faith that the car will stick to the track—to hold your foot to the floor.

But what I proved to myself at Indy is that my foot would never do what I wanted it to do if I wasn’t looking where I wanted to go. My eyes controlled my foot and my hands.

Over my career, I’ve witnessed so many people in so many different activities who fail to look where they want to go. Instead, they get hung up on where they don’t want to go. Rather than seeking the solution, they focus on the problem. I’ve seen people in relationships focus on their issues rather than the fixes. I’ve watched businesspeople fixate on their company’s challenges to the point where they can’t see the solutions. I’ve seen golfers focus on the water trap in front of them instead of where they want the ball to end up.

And of course, I’ve seen drivers focus precisely on just what they should avoid instead of where they want to go. They looked at the scenery on the side of the highway and drove off the road; they saw the car that pulled out in front of them and crashed into it; they got into a skid and saw where they were going to crash. And they did.

Focus. It’s one of the most critical success factors in driving, in business, in sport, and in life. If drivers were taught, “To control a skid, just look where you want to go and you’ll automatically steer into the skid,” the world would have fewer crashes. And if everyone focused on solutions more than problems, the world would be a better place.

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