Driving Mastery

Turn Passion into Glory

1.6 - Mental Bandwidth

Mental bandwidth is the amount of information that we are able to take in, process and action upon. Our senses and our brains have limited bandwidth before becoming overwhelmed by stimuli. One of the main functions of the brain is to filter out information that is deemed unnecessary so that we can focus on more important tasks. When we are young and just learning to drive, the stimulation of driving can be overwhelming. Adding extra tasks like talking with passengers, talking on the phone, or even listening to music can easily distract inexperienced drivers, which is why teen drivers are the most accident prone of any age group. As we get more experienced, we learn which information is important and which can be disregarded. As you can see, experience does not increase mental bandwidth but it does help to filter out the less important information. However, this can create issues for experienced drivers that get complacent behind the wheel.

If we extend the bicycle example from "The Learning Process” into the area of mastery, then learning the basics is not enough for many cyclists. Throughout our lives we learn to switch from foot brakes to hand brakes; we learn to use multi-gear systems; we learn to use toe-clips; etc. You can see that there are many facets of cycling beyond learning the basics. Furthermore, competitive cyclists must analyze every facet of their performance and develop new skills to improve. As drivers, we must be willing to do the same if we want to improve.

As we develop new techniques in our daily practice, it is important to focus on specific areas before moving forward. As mentioned in the forward, I suggest working section by section rather than trying to take in all of the information at once. Remeber that you may experience some discomfort or feel that your skills are regressing while your attention is focused on one specific skill. This is because your mental bandwidth is being pushed to it's limit. It can feel frustrating and mentally exhausting. This is very much like maxing out your muscles in the gym. And just like in the gym, the more you practice, the more your ability improves. When you focus on one specific area, you develop muscle memory and subconscious abilities such that you can direct your mental bandwidth to further development or performance.

Allow your brain to digest the information through practice and give yourself time to adapt to each new technique such that it becomes second nature. In this way, we can insure that we do not exceed the available bandwidth for learning while also being well aware of our surroundings. Overwhelming the brain with too much information at once will result in reverting to old, unconscious habits and getting stuck in the learning process.