Understanding one's individual Peak Performance State (PPS) and how to consistently attain it, is perhaps one of the most important things a driver needs to learn and it is possibly more important than ultimate skill level as a predictor of performance. When you are in your PPS you will be able to deliver 100% of your current skill and experience without interference from conscious thought. In sports science PPS is also described as ‘Optimal Arousal’ and ‘Ideal Performance State’.
What is arousal? - In mainstream sports science PPS is directly connected with ‘Arousal’, for us in motorsport perhaps a better way of describing arousal is our level of focus and intensity.
Inverted U Hypothesis – Using the diagram above, a driver will reach their Optimal Performance (PPS) when they reach their optimal level of arousal. A driver who has low levels of arousal will not be ready for the intensity and challenges ahead of them and as a consequence they will under-drive and under-perform. As arousal increases, performance will improve up to an optimal point where you reach your PPS. If arousal levels continue to increase beyond a driver’s PPS, driving starts to become more conscious (trying) and they will start to over-drive. This excessive level of arousal leads to loss of task focus, increased muscular tension, poor decision making and disrupted rhythm.
For a driver to learn about their PPS they need to clearly understand the three basic states of driving:
Under-driving (low arousal)
PPS (optimal arousal)
Over-driving (high arousal)
The challenge in finding your PPS: Your PPS is possibly one of the most elusive things you will ever search for and once found it’s not guaranteed that it will be there tomorrow. This is because it is directly related to your emotional state, something that as infinitely variable and as changeable as the wind. But, that should not distract you from your real objective which is to operate as close to your PPS as you can knowing that sometimes you will be more cautious and sometimes you will be pushing too hard, depending on the situation you are in. This applies to F1 drivers as much as for a club racer, the only difference is that the margins either side of the inverted U are smaller for F1 drivers.
The following are some simple ideas that can help you find / manage your Performance State:
Trial and error – If you are relatively inexperienced it will not be possible to do anything until you have experienced all three performance states over many outings.
Score your performance state every time you drive on your Training Assessment (sim and track) – When you are out of the car it is easier to bring perspective to your state during that session.
Start to bring mindful awareness to your performance state whilst on track – Start to bring awareness to your performance state when you are in car so that you can start to make corrections during the actual session.
Understand your trend – With experience you will be able to identify a personal trend – are you on average an under-driver or and over-driver? This will help you bring more awareness to this particular state and catch it sooner.
Early recognition is essential – It is important to catch these states instantly as once they are established during a session they will become very hard to break.
Understand that under-driving can be driven by your self-preservation instinct – Your self-preservation instinct is very powerful (it is an ancient instinct that has evolved to keep us safe) so you will have to be very firm with yourself and have good technique that will support more intention.
Understand that over-driving is driven by your fight or flight instinct – Your fight or flight instinct (again another ancient protection) is ten times more powerful than logic so again you will have to be very firm with yourself.