Riding confidence. Is it important? Can too much, or too little, be a bad thing? How can I become more confident? Are confident riders always competent riders? Some thoughts about confidence:
Can you ride in a straight line, keeping the bike inside an imaginary 12” wide lane? Sure! How about if the lane were a stable, well-supported foot-wide board over a long bridge? Whoa! That’s a different story. But what has really changed? The physical task is the same; keep the bike within a 12” wide lane. The rider’s well-developed muscle-memories and motor-skills have proven to be up to the task; how about the rider’s conscious mind? Well, the consequences of failure are different, but the only thing that has really changed is the rider’s degree of confidence in his or her ability to perform. And, don’t try this! Really!
We see the world as it is, we know what we know, and we know why we hold the beliefs we do. Or do we?
So, confidence in our abilities is an important riding asset. But does each of us have an accurate understanding of our abilities? How about the abilities of those we ride with, those we ride near? Interestingly, according to the authors of “The Invisible Gorilla - And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us” (Charbis & Simons, www.theinvisiblegorilla.com), displayed confidence in others is often perceived by others as an honest signal of actual competence, often with sad outcomes. Charbis and Simons describe this as one of the Illusions of Confidence. So, should we evaluate other riders by how they actually perform, or by how they appear to us? We all want to ride with others who display competent riding skills, responsibility and good judgment – we don’t want over-confident riders putting us at risk - but sometimes, we have to peel the onion a little to get an accurate understanding of our fellow riders. But now, let’s focus on you, The Motorcyclist.
How accurate is your confidence in your own capabilities? “Gorilla’s” extensive research finds that humans often have a tendency to overrate their capabilities, rather like Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon, where; “All the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Rider-training professionals often note this ‘above-average’ phenomenon among students and most often, among the least capable. Why?
Perhaps we, as humans, have a subconscious tendency to compare ourselves to those less capable than ourselves, while attributing our mistakes to factors beyond our control, and ignore evidence that contradicts our feelings. Charbis and Simons write of our ‘love of confidence,’ the human need to feel confident in our endeavors. Can this happen to you?
“Gorilla” quotes Charles Darwin in the segment; “Unskilled and Unaware of It:”
“…ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” This can help us understand why, often, those who are the least skilled are the most likely to think better of themselves than they should. Riders will less skill are subject to disproportionately experiencing the Illusion of Confidence, and in our riding world, this can get us badly hurt – or worse. Charbis and Simons’ exhaustive research seems to confirm this, summarizing; “The incompetent face two significant hurdles. First, they are below average in ability. Second, since they don’t realize they are below average, they are unlikely to take steps to improve their ability.” They then pose the question: “Would training incompetent people to be more skilled improve the own understanding of their own skill levels?” Good news: The answer is yes!
While riders with lesser capabilities tend to compare themselves to those below them on the skill hierarchy, as riders acquire greater skills, the tendency diminishes and sometimes even reverses; riders begin comparing themselves to those of greater skill, and subconsciously adjust their confidence in their own sills to a more realistic level. As humans, we often discover that the more we know about a subject, the more we begin to realize we don’t know. What you and I, responsible motorcyclists, really need is that accurate understanding of our present skill levels; let’s call it Calibrated Confidence
Interestingly, additional research (‘Contemporary Attitudes Toward Motorcycle Riding Safety and Riding Risk Factors’ Robert Rowe, Irwin Broh & Associates) finds a link between riders with high-mileage and riding experience, maturity, and financial and career success; folks like this seem to be more likely to have upwardly-displaced confidence in their riding abilities; in the current riding community, these demographics are pretty much the norm. Up until now, perhaps you’ve thought; “Not me! I know my own abilities.” Perhaps. Probably. But it might be worth some reflective thought.
Another useful way to think of the subject comes from the MSF’s Advanced RiderCourse; they call it Risk Offset. It’s the difference between a riders’ skill-level and his or her risk-acceptance level, and how it may be mis-calibrated. Give that some thought.
Once we become aware of the Illusions of Confidence, we can better understand what confidence really means to us. Sure, we love to be self-confident in whatever we do. For good reason, because confidence helps us perform better. Occasionally, when we find that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into a tough situation, it’s our deep, well-reasoned and experienced understanding – we assume it is accurate - of our capabilities, willfully and consciously applied, that makes the final difference – “I can do this; I’ve done it well before. I’ll do it well this time, too. I know how to do this; I don’t intend to fail.” Is this just a psychological parlor trick we can play on ourselves, the ‘fake it until you can make it’ advice of some self-help books? Or, can this consciously positive mindset make a difference? Of course, this assumes the rider does have that critical and accurate understanding of his or her present skill levels – calibrated confidence.
Remember the imaginary fellow about to ride over the foot-wide bridge? He’s shown, for tens of thousands of miles and more, that he can steer the machine within the narrow parameters, but how do you think his muscle-memories and motor-skills, his programmed movements that are well-established through training, purposeful practice and long experience, will operate if the riders loses a substantial degree of self-confidence in his ability to competently traverse the board over the broken bridge? How would YOUR muscles probably respond? Would you even make the attempt? Why? Why not? Please don’t.
So, we can understand that mis-calibrated over-confidence can be a risk-factor; these riders can, and too frequently do allow themselves into situations that are above their proven skill level – negative Risk Offset - and that can hurt. But calibrated confidence is a critical asset.
Science helps us understand more about the mind-body connection. Let’s call the part of the brain that operates the muscles the Muscle Operations Bureau; it’s located on the Subconscious Floor of the Brain Building. Much, but not all, of our muscle-movements occur without much or any conscious thought; of course, Central Command, the conscious, thinking part of the brain on the top floor of the Brain Building, can and sometimes does actively and consciously direct the muscle operations – overriding the MOB’s normal programs - particularly when learning a new physical skill, or when a difficult situation arises – like the foot-wide bridge. If Central Command has a strong sense of self-confidence, the muscles generally work far better, respond precisely, softly and smoothly, than they will if Central Command suddenly thinks, “Whoa! This looks really bad! I don’t know if I can do this! But, Mister or Ms. Rider, you HAVE done it before, for thousands of miles! What’s the problem? It’s a Crisis of Confidence.
Now we can see that UNDER-confidence is also a risk-factor, as well as over-confidence. Under-confidence can prevent us from performing up to our proven abilities, and over-confidence can lead a rider to get into situations that are over the rider’s head. What is critically needed is that accurate understanding of our present skill level - that calibrated confidence. How can we gain increased and well-calibrated confidence?
Well, purposeful practice seems to be a really good prescription. It might be self-directed purposeful practice while riding, repetitively performing a technique, evaluating the intrinsic feedback, and refining the technique on next rep. Of course, purposeful practice must also be correct practice; else the rider gets really good at riding badly. Here’s another avenue.
Professional training. Be it a RiderCourse, training course, training tour, track-school or private instruction, you will perform your skills in front of a trained instructor or coach who will objectively indentify and help you correct the bad, and refine the good – and help you achieve that critical accurate understanding of where you are, right now, in your progressive development – help you calibrate your confidence.
Keith Code’s California Superbike School Training: Noted author and track-school operator, the venerable Keith Code, will be bringing a unique rider education and training opportunity to Bloomsburg. Courses will be offered on Friday and Saturday, July 23-24. For scheduling, course information and registration, contact: (323) 224-2734 www.superbikeschool.com.
RiderCourses from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation: In addition to the well-known entry-level Basic RiderCourse, the MSF offers Sponsors and Programs curricula that includes an intermediate Experienced RiderCourse (now referred to as BRC2), The Advanced RiderCourse, RiderCourses that focus on Trikes and Scooters, and new and challenging police-style tight maneuvering. Check www.msf-use.org for more information.
Stayin’ Safe LLC Mini Tours: Using one-way radio coaching in real time, on public highways, riders learn how to read the road, creatively predicting risks and hazards both seen and unseen. Students will also practice intermediate and more advanced physical riding techniques, such as trail-braking, overlapping brake-and-throttle, and aggressive braking. To register, contact Stayin’ Safe at: (724) 771-2269 www.stayinsafe.com.
Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic: Students progressively learn, practice and discuss the finer points of competent cornering and maneuvering at higher speeds. The unique curriculum helps riders reset their personal ‘Tilt-O-Meter’ to produce greater calibrated confidence in both abilities of the motorcycle and rider. Total Control discusses the principle that knowledge can displace fear, and offers practical guidance. www.totalcontroltraining.com.
RawHyde Off-Pavement Training: Riders of Adventure Touring bikes will learn the finer points needed to safely and confidently maneuver these heavy but extremely competent machines over a variety of surfaces, such as dirt, sand, gravel, mud and much more. Your GS is up to the task; how about you? To register, contact www.rawhyde-offroad.com (661) 993-9942.
In addition to the opportunities mention above, check the Internet, as well as the Training Resourses link on the home page of MotoSafe.
The Principle Centered Rider builds his or her riding strategies, tactics and techniques under the overriding principle of; “Ride my motorcycle, have lots of fun, and don’t get hurt.” Take the time and spend a few shekels to calibrate your personal confidence level, and improve your mental, visual and physical riding skills. And, get a copy of “The Invisible Gorilla - And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.” Check out the sidebar for exciting information. You’ll become a better human being, as well as a better rider. Ride often, ride safe…think!