Another exploration of sailing thinking with Racer Rob and the Doc. "Strategy" from our November/December 2011 issue.
Doc: Hi Sue … Hi Rob
ROB: [muffled grumble]
SUE: Hi Doc.
Doc: I’m guessing from the look of you that you didn’t have a great race today.
SUE: We had a “shouty” race today.
Doc: Oh! They are never much fun … Sue, you can release the headlock now. [Rob stretches his neck.] What happened?
ROB: We had a lousy start, couldn’t pick a shift to save ourselves, T-boned Godzilla at the top mark, and Sue did a nice job of collecting this evening’s shrimp with the spinnaker.
SUE: … and Rob was keen to point to all and sundry the errors of their ways …
Doc: … in language that was not entirely endearing?
ROB: All right. So I blew a fuse. It happens sometimes. [Sue and Doc both raise eyebrows.] The point is, why is it that getting upset generally means things get worse rather than better?
Doc: Psychologists love that question.
SUE: [to Rob] Be careful what you wish for! [Rob cringes].
Doc: OK. In simple terms, here’s how it works. When you experience a perceived loss of control with regard to outcomes that are important to you (like winning yacht races), that creates uncertainty about what to do—a sort of helplessness—which leads to anxiety.Loss of control leads to uncertainty, which leads to anxiety.
ROB: I knew he would go for anxiety.
Doc: And depending on how strong that anxiety is (and who the person is), it leads to a mixture of three things—energy, hyper-vigilance, and defensive behavoir.
SUE: … and shouty races.
Doc: That is, anxiety leads us to the three responses that are designed to keep us safe when we feel threatened. Now, those things aren’t all bad. They are actually a fairly primal and important self-preservation response set. Unfortunately, unless they can be harnessed, and focused on the right things, they can drag us away from the important tasks that help us win yacht races—like clear decision-making and smooth maneuvering.
ROB: Is that what “choking” is all about?
Doc: It’s certainly a big part of it. People feel the pressure, and the sense of control starts to slip away. Then, everything starts to fall apart.