By Jim Woods
Some people play golf. Some people play tennis.
And while I certainly understand the appeal of these great activities, I prefer to engage in recreational activities that are, shall we say, a little more extreme.
Another way to describe my proclivities is the way many of my friends and family do, and that is to just say that, “Well, Jim’s just a little bit crazy.”
Now, I know what my friends and family mean when they say I’m a little crazy. And I know that they don’t mean that in the clinical sense. What they do mean is that the recreational activities I engage in are usually relatively high-risk, and often come with an intensity factor that’s a little bit high on the extreme scale.
Tactical marksmanship, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and high-intensity training to build muscular size and strength are some of these activities. Yet there are even more extreme arrows in my recreational quiver.
I bring this up, because some of the greatest insights I’ve gleaned about myself, including insights on risk taking, risk management — even the meaning of life itself — have come to me while engaged in extreme pursuits.
Moreover, these insights have helped me become a more skillful writer, entrepreneur, investor… and just a more well-rounded Renaissance Man.
Perhaps most importantly, I suspect some of these insights can help you do the same.
For many years, I was really into motorcycles, and not just riding motorcycles around on the weekends exploring the country. My motorcycle pursuits involved sport bikes and, in particular, road racing bikes. These are the bikes that go really, really fast, and the bikes that require you to lean off of them and drag your knee on the ground to go really fast around turns.
In other words, they are the kind of motorcycles that can get you into a lot of trouble, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So, when I decided to buy my first road racing bike in the mid-2000s, I didn’t just go to the dealership, jump on the prettiest model and ride off the lot with abandon. Instead, I did my research on what was the best model of road race bike for riders just getting into the sport.
Then, I researched which training facilities were considered the most effective, and the ones that stressed safety first. I also made sure I researched the right safety equipment, including which brands offered the best protection in the event of the inevitable crash.
It was only after doing this due diligence on what the sport requires to be able to excel, stay relatively safe and really enjoy the experience that I actually embarked on the motorcycle road race journey.
It is this kind of thorough due diligence that I bring to the rest of my personal life, and to my professional life as an investment newsletter writer.
Yet, aside from the lesson of proper due diligence, I think the real lessons one learns in life are those garnered under heavy stress. You see, it’s the presence of stress — literally life-threatening stress — that teaches us a lot about ourselves, our resolve and our ability to focus our minds on a singular task.
That’s the lesson I learned after participating in several motorcycle road racing “track days.” This is where you go out with a group of riders of similar experience and try to do your best lap times around a professional race track.
The track where I really learned a lot was the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California. This track has one of the longest straightaways in road racing, and experienced riders regularly reach speeds north of 170 mph.
After several “timid” laps around the track reaching top speeds of 130, then 140 and then 150 mph, I finally felt comfortable enough to open up my machine to see what she could really do. Yet this decision came toward the end of the day, and my brakes weren’t working as well as they had been early in the session.
I found this out quickly, as I spun up the engine on the Honda CBR 1000, hitting an exhilarating 168 mph on the front straight before applying the front brake — only to find that I was getting little response.
Moreover, as I looked ahead, there was a pack of riders in front of me who were slowing down for the next turn, a task I should have already done seconds before. I decided there was only a couple of things I could do. I could apply both the front and rear brakes as hard as I could, hoping the bike would slow enough for me to pull off the racing line, or I could dump the bike while going about 160 mph and risk severe injury (but still managing to avoid my fellow riders).
My decision had to be split second, and as you can imagine, it was under extreme duress. I opted to trust my equipment, and my training, by pumping the lever that controls the front brake, downshifting into a lower gear to slow the bike down and gently but steadily applying the rear brake to help slow the bike and steady the chassis. The maneuver worked, and I was able to guide the bike — and myself — back into pit lane safely.
That day, I learned to A) Trust my equipment, B) Trust my training and C) Trust my judgement under stress.
If I had panicked and opted to get off the bike, the consequences could have been disastrous.
So, the next time you’re faced with a situation where a potential calamity quickly approaches, trust your due diligence, trust your training (i.e. your accumulated knowledge) and, above all, trust your judgment and wisdom.
It is the knowledge of self and confidence in your own decisions that will carry you through times of acute stress.
Whether that stress is manufactured by your “crazy” choice to ride a motorcycle really, really fast, or whether that stress is created by an investment you’ve made in the equity markets, or in a business, or anywhere in your personal life, what will get you through is a clear mind, good preparation… and trust in your good judgment.
In the name of the best within us,
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