Motorcycle Racing, Target Fixation, and Reaching Your Goals

I try not to talk about racing motorcycles at business events, but occasionally, it’s the most apt metaphor for discussion topics. I recently attended Monday Morning Brews. While it sounds like a gathering of morning beer drinkers, it’s actually a great business networking event. Unlike many of these types of events, Monday Morning Brews takes place outdoors when the weather allows, which is a nice change from the usual conference rooms.

The discussion question for the day was “How do you maintain focus on your goals rather than looking at your competitors?”

This immediately brought me back to the racetrack. There’s a phenomenon in racing called target fixation, and it’s an extension of the concept that the motorcycle goes where you’re looking.

Imagine, if you will, racing down the front straight of your local racetrack and your most immediate competitor is in front of you. Obviously, you want to catch them and beat them to the finish. You fall in behind them and start to follow. You’re close behind them on every corner. You’re focused on the tail of that bike.

They run wide in the next corner.

You do, too.

Why did that happen? You became fixated on the motorcycle in front of you, and the principal of target fixation says that you will go where that bike goes.

This is something they teach in race school. You don’t look at the bike in front of you, you look for the gaps where you want to go. But the reason they teach this isn’t about racecraft, it’s about safety.

Target fixation is so powerful that if the rider in front of you runs off track and crashes, you’re likely to follow them. When I see a bike go off track in front of me, I have a voice in my head that shouts “DO NOT LOOK THAT DIRECTION!” (Aside: I don’t know if that voice is in my head or if I’m actually shouting to myself in my helmet. It could go either way, really.)

How do you overcome target fixation? You look where you want to go, not where your competitors are going. If you watch your competitors, you’re going to follow them.

You might follow them right into a crash.

Photo credit: Highside Photo, LLC!

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