Driving Mastery

Turn Passion into Glory

1.9 - Practice and Habit

The techniques covered in this text provide the reader with a foundation for driving mastery. However, they must be practiced in order to improve one’s skills. Ever time that you get behind the wheel, you are practicing your driving. However, if your current way of driving deviates from the aforementioned techniques, then you are practicing bad habits. It takes deliberate practice to develop new habits. You must set the intention to practice these techniques every time you drive in order to apply them to your skill set.

So much of what we do to get through the day is unconscious; rightly so. It would be very difficult to function in the world if every action required our full attention. We would have no spare bandwidth to deal with anything else. Think of a time when your attention was so focused on one thing that time passed quickly without realizing it; a time when you were so engrossed in what you were doing that you had no sense of the world happening around you. Now imagine living every moment of your life in that state. These moments of intense focus are great for productivity, but people who lack bandwidth to handle unexpected situations are prone to accidents. For example, if you were entirely focused on the action of driving, then you wouldn’t have extra bandwidth to identify potential dangers, like the kids playing in the yard who might run into the street at any moment.

With this in mind, there is naturally a period of adjustment that requires extra focus and attention in order to change one’s behavior. During this period of adjustment, it is necessary to minimize distrations

As mentioned in the learning process, there is a risk of getting stuck in a state of unconscious competence or incompetence. This is when we operate primarily on auto-pilot. Keep in mind that unconscious auto-pilot is still a useful state to operate in as it frees up our consciousness for other things. The pitfall comes in practicing without intent. It is not necessary to practice for 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. However, it is possible to practice for 10,000 hours and not achieve mastery. Without a specific intent, a driver’s practice is simply repeating and reinforcing the same old patterns and habits.

Our objective in practice is to reach a state of unconscious competence in the skills being practiced so that we can ingrain that knowledge and move on to developing new skills. We want to operate on auto-pilot in every other area so that we can focus on the skills that we are practicing. For example, how often do drivers pay conscious attention to what their hands or feet are doing? For the most part, the mind says, “speed up,” and the foot applies more pressure to the throttle pedal; or, “steer into the corner,” and the hands turn the wheel. It can be distracting constantly thinking about where to place our hands and how to move our feet. However, this is exactly what we are going to do: apply deliberate practice to areas which we may believe that we have already perfected.

Unfortunately, we are taught how to drive by people who have not applied deliberate practice to their own driving and therefore they drive in ways that are unconscious and potentially lazy. Even professional driving instructors often use a cookie-cutter approach to teaching teenagers how to drive. For the most part, we learn from watching our parents and we draw our own conclusions about driving by observing them before we ever sit in the driving seat. We think we understand without having any experience whatsoever. And that is typically the foundation that we build our driving skills upon.

In deliberate practice, we select one area that we want to focus on and allow the others to operate on auto-pilot. For example, while we are training our peripheral vision, we allow our hands and feet to operate on the sub-conscious level. The street is actually a good place to apply these practices because the speeds are low enough to allow us to dedicate a lot of attention on perfecting the basics and then move on to the more advanced concepts. At relatively low speeds on the street, we have sufficient bandwidth to focus on our technique and still have awareness on traffic, signs and signals, and all the potential dangers around us. These practices can also be applied on the track and it is a good idea to check in with each skill from time to time. Nonetheless, it is far more efficient and economical to develop good habits on the street, which can then be carried over to the track.