At some point, you’ve undoubtedly heard the saying, “It is what it is.” In fact, you’ve probably said it yourself. While there are times when admitting that “it is what it is” feels like a passive submission to events that we don’t like or disagree with – as if we’re accepting of helpless circumstances with neither effort nor hope to change them – prevailing wisdom suggests a subtly different framework.
When we say, “It is what it is,” we accept that whatever “it” is, it’s beyond our control. Rather than waste a lot of energy on the event that we dislike, we can instead turn our focus to things that are more within our own control, or our own circle of influence.
This idea is better expressed by author, and billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio:
“My approach to life is that it is what it is and the important thing is for me to figure out what to do about it and not spend a lot of time moaning about how I wish it were different.”
While this concept can certainly be applied to various aspects of life, let’s home in on the reason that you opened this issue of National Dragster in the first place: competition and racing.
In my own racing, I pride myself on my preparation. Mental preparation, physical preparation, mechanical preparation… For years, I’ve leaned on intense preparation to build confidence. I’ve often said that it’s my edge. Admittedly, I can get pretty maniacal about it.
Prior to a competition – especially a big event – I like to check all of the boxes. From going over every nut and bolt on the car, to focusing on my sleep and nutrition, to pouring over logs and data from recent events and prior events at the facility that we’re heading to, to analyzing the weather forecast for the event, to reviewing the run schedule, studying likely potential opponents, and more. I feel best when I’ve visualized and planned for every run, every round, and every situation I’m likely to face. On my way to being thoroughly prepared, I’ve laid out the perfect event in my mind, often detailed in precise order.
Funny thing: The actual event never follows my perfect plan – not completely. This sounds obvious, but it took me far too many years to realize that planning for every contingency is simply not realistic (I’m not even sure it’s possible). There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of variables at every race that will differ from my plan in some way. The event schedule can change for any variety of reasons. I could lose lane choice in a critical round. It could… rain. There could be an oil down right in front of me on the starting line. My car could break, necessitating anxiety at the least, or perhaps even significant repairs in a between-round thrash. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What I’ve learned is that while my level of preparation often provides the edge that helps me succeed, it can be a double-edged sword. The more I prepare, the more I tend to marry myself to the circumstances as I envision them. All of that’s fine until inevitably, those circumstances change. I don’t know if this rings true for you, but I’ve actually found that the more I prepare, the more resistant I become to changing course – even in the smallest ways. It seems that while my sometimes maniacal level of preparation builds confidence, it does little to enhance resiliency. In short, if I’m not careful even the slightest variation to my perfect plan can really spin me out and negatively impact my mindset and ultimately my performance. I tend to grip my preconceived notions (developed in preparation) far too tightly. When inevitable changes and challenges occur, I often tell myself “No! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” Perhaps worse yet, I find that I far too often cling to those notions that obviously aren’t serving me in the moment: it’s like repeatedly trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, rather than simply realizing that there’s a square hole right over there, if I’d simply be willing to alter course slightly!
While it feels like my plight is truly unique, I would assume that if you’ve read this far at least bits and pieces of this resonate with you. The truth is, we’re all resistant to change. I’m afraid it’s human nature. Perhaps that resistance protects us in some manner, but oftentimes it doesn’t serve us.
“The root of being uptight is our unwillingness to accept life as being different, in any way, from our expectations.” – Richard Carlson
To be clear, preparation is necessary, but preparation alone is not sufficient. The manner in which we prepare is what can help us navigate those unexpected variables.
It seems counterintuitive to prepare for the unexpected, right? I mean, if I knew what to prepare for, then it wouldn’t exactly be unexpected, now would it? While we can’t necessarily prepare for the unexpected, we can prepare to be surprised (because, SURPRISE! It’s going to happen).
What if we prepared to underreact? To everything?
What if we identified not with the vision of the “most prepared competitor on the track,” but rather with the feeling that we get from adapting quickly to unexpected changes?
What if we actually could frame THAT as the variable that provided our edge?
Let’s say that round 4 of Super Stock was originally scheduled for 2:00 Saturday afternoon, but a series of oil downs pushes it back behind the Pro Qualifying session, closer to 8:00 that evening? You were prepared for a round in the bright sun, in the heat of the day. Now, six hours later, you’ll have to compete in the best conditions of the weekend and hit the tree at night. While you may not see this as optimal, guess what? Your opponent is fighting the same variables! And the winner of the round isn’t going to be the racer that was best prepared for the 2:00 run. Rather, it’s going to be the driver who best adapts to the current circumstances to make their best run at 8:00.
To this end, here’s one tool to share that takes this idea to the extreme. Instead of resisting inevitable changes and allowing them to throw our gameplan off kilter, instead of even working toward making the best of a bad situation… What if we framed these unavoidable variables in this way:
Whatever just happened (or whatever is about to happen) is EXACTLY what I want(ed) to happen!
Again, on the surface that sounds counterintuitive.
The fact is we can’t alter the thing that just happened (whether we’d planned for it or not). Days, weeks or years down the road, we could look at this unwanted occurrence as the silver lining that saved the day.
Why not frame this unexpected variable as the silver lining in the moment?
What if we challenged ourselves to prepare to respond in that manner? What if rather than relying on maniacal preparation to provide our competitive edge – only to have that edge derailed by adversity – we instead asked ourselves in those moments of adversity…
“How will this unexpected development create my edge today?”