Incremental Changes Lead to Success

Doing all or nothing often feels easier than making minor adjustments. Often doing all is the only thing that feels like a real change, but the investment of time and energy puts enormous pressure on us, which may not be feasible given our other responsibilities. An all or nothing approach takes less focus and fewer decisions than a moderate approach. All or nothing also gives us an excuse—“I’d do all if I only had more time, was younger or in better shape. But I don’t, so I’ll do nothing.”

There’s No Time to Practice

Anyone who’s read these blogs knows that I haven’t yet found a good substitute for practice. And this holds true whether you’re trying to develop boat handling skills, learning the rules, reading the wind or maintaining an emotional equilibrium. In fact I haven’t found anything that gives equal return for the time and energy invested.

So the question for me as a Laser sailor and as a coach of executives who are trying to develop more productive habits is why don’t we all practice more often and more effectively? The number one reason I hear is that “I don’t have the time.” This is a complex issue and its complexity makes room for all sorts of legitimate and spurious excuses.

How Do You Get to the Line on Time?

If you want to improve your racing results, a great place to start is to practice the boat handling that will allow you to be on the line at the horn. The skills you practice to improve your starting will also pay dividends at marks and other boat on boat situations.

It takes a certain amount of nerve to challenge for a front row seat in a fleet start. If it’s still early in your racing career, you will probably need to push against emotions that can easily distract or dishearten you and create hesitancy. And being successful in claiming a spot in the disorder of a fleet start requires practice of the skills you’ll need to maneuver in the fluid peeking order before the horn sounds.

In the past I’ve talked a bit about the bias we all have against loss. If you can push against that bias and you still find yourself hesitant to mix it up then there are skills you may want to practice. Take the following examples as a checklist to get you started in your research toward developing the necessary skills.

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Practice Repeat-Intervals

You can probably get away from work a bit early for Wednesday night races, and you’re willing to grab a few hours away from the family for the Sunday series. There’s not much chance you will have time to practice most weeks. To be good at Laser sailing takes practice. When do you have time for that?

Adjust your thinking. You almost always have time to “warm up” prior to the first horn. Use that time to do short, intensive repeat-intervals. Instead of settling into your Laser by reaching away from the beach out to the starting area or sorting out your lines while you casually tack toward the committee boat, make a conscious decision to do a specific number of repeats of a boat handling move.

Fear of Loss Overrides a Better Shot at Winning

At every racing clinic we hold at the club I repeat my mantra, “Get closer to the line at the start!”

Many novice racers let their fear of being over early inhibit them from getting into a competitive position for the start. The apparent disorder of a fleet start seems to erase most good advice from peoples’ minds, so when I advise I concentrate on one or two ideas that are most likely to improve the racing experience. “Stay close to the line,” is my basic starting advice.

Like a Plastic Bag Slowing Your Thinking Down

If you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to recover from a bad start or from missing a critical wind shift, you’re probably further sabotaging your possibilities of success. Allow that feeling to take over and you’re now facing two separate problems—poor position compared to your competitors, and potentially diminished capacity to think and make good strategic choices. The poor position is obvious and quantifiable; the diminished capacity is often an unrecognized drag—like a plastic bag on your Laser’s dagger board.

The Advantages of Goal Setting

Most of us are bombarded with work and personal projects. A number of these regularly fall off our radar or we park them in a holding pen for future consideration. Often these neglected projects are ones with longer-range outcomes. We naturally tend to focus on things that generate a feeling of urgency in us, and something out there 30 to 60 days just isn’t as likely to grab our attention.

If a long-range project is also a totally personal project, it is even easier to let it slip and slip until we’re up against a hard deadline and personal endeavor usually don’t have the urgency a work or family project has. Your desires around racing your Laser may be threatening to slide out of sight. Setting specific goals increases the odds you will actually remember what you wish you had done while you still have time to accomplish growth in your skills and physical conditioning.

Formal Protests or Not?

When our club holds a Laser regatta we always announce where and when the protest hearing will be held—usually in the middle of the lake at midnight, no boats allowed. Protest hearings interrupt the flow of awards, refreshments and packing up all the traveling Lasers, so we really want protests to be settled on the water.

What we’ve discovered is that this approach doesn’t set the right attitude for a few of the sailors. These competitors don’t seem to be able to handle the responsibility of learning the rules, accepting responsibility for their transgressions—accidental or purposeful—and taking their penalty. These same sailors often are very vocal about their right of way. From the outside it looks like they are more interested in winning or aggressively claiming a tactical advantage then in playing by the rules.

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Winning Is A Short–Term Goal

Most of us have a tremendous pull toward chasing short-term goals. We let right-now goals distract us from more important longer-term objectives. This normal trait is accentuated in people with less ability to regulate their attention—those who are distractible, high energy, more impulsive, less disciplined.

Accomplishments that are close in time to now, which fill our vision with urgency, which promises more immediate riches—perhaps of the fame and glory type—drown out important, more distant purposes. Every day at work I coach executives to filter through their urgent tasks for those of most importance.

Tis the Season to Prepare

The old bumper sticker says, “Cheat the nursing home, die in your Laser.” My take on it is, “Sail a Laser, Stay Healthy.”

If you have passed age 35, the age where you’re eligible for Maser status in the Laser fleet, you’re most likely beginning to be challenged by weight gain and muscle loss. One of the key reasons to sail a Laser is to crowd yourself into staying in better shape. As the spring season approaches it’s time to up your commitment to being in sailing shape. Here are a few simple ideas that can kick start your season.

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