We all feel like we run in circles sometimes. Jeff Gordon does it for a living. The 36-year-old NASCAR legend races and trains almost every day, clocking speeds of 180+ miles per hour, for hours at a time.
Unlike most of us, who can afford a little a daydreaming when our daily routine gets a bit dull, distractions for Gordon can be deadly. He needs his mind focused at all times on his car, on the track, and on the other racers surrounding him.
Gordon has been racing for three decades, for half of that time in NASCAR's most competitive racing series, now called the Sprint Cup. He's racked up more championships and first place finishes than all but a few other drivers. Recently, we talked with Gordon, about what drives him to win and what keeps him focused -- both on the track and off. There are plenty of lessons here for those of us who stick to the posted speed limits.
1. Keep your cool. And embrace your fear. At speeds approaching - and sometimes exceeding - 200 mph, Gordon's heart races nearly as fast as he does. Add to that the 3 g's of force that he and other drivers strain against through the banked curves of many NASCAR tracks and you get quite a punishing - and aerobic - workout.
How does he manage it? Racers are "conditioned" by constant practice, says Gordon, until "you're relaxed, your heart rate is adjusted, as is your breathing." Fear is also a big part of what keeps him from losing control. "Fear keeps you from pushing the car too hard over the edge and into the wall."
Fill up with the best fuel.Over the past few years, Gordon has learned that properly fueling his body is as important as properly fueling his #24 Chevy. A trip to a nutritionist at the behest of his wife, model Ingrid Vandebosch, set him on the right track. Nowadays, he passes on red meat in favor of fish and vegetables (though he still makes room for Rocky Road ice cream).
For racers like Gordon, a good diet won't just protect against disease; it can be a lifesaver on the track as well. "Diet makes a huge difference in terms of being able to maintain alertness," says Roberta Anding, RD, a sports nutritionist at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine in Houston. "For athletes like Gordon, who have their lives on the line, losing focus can be fatal."
Stay focused - winning comes second. To keep competitive, Gordon concentrates on driving his best rather than being the best. That's an important distinction, says sports psychologist Jerry May, PhD, a specialist in sports psychology and professor emeritus at the University of Nevada-Reno, and it's one we can all learn from: "The majority of focus our needs to be on the process, not the result," says May. "We can spend too much time thinking about the past and worrying about the future."
As Gordon puts it, "I don't think anyone's the best. You might be the best one day and the next you have to strive to stay up there."
4. Separate work and home. "You always think you are busy until you have a child," says the four-time Sprint Cup champion, whose first and so far only child, Ella Sofia, just turned 1. One thing that has helps him balance his professional and personal lives is learning that what happens on the track needs to stay on the track.
"If you have a great weekend, you're on a high," Gordon says. "When it's a bad day, you just want to get away from the track. But no matter how good or bad my day was, coming home, it's all put aside. You don't have a choice."
Give back to others. "Achievement-oriented people achieve," says May. "But they have to balance their lives. Most achievement-oriented people spend a lot more time on their profession than other people." Not Gordon. For years, Gordon has put his own success to work for others.
In 1999, he founded the Jeff Gordon Foundation, which raises money to help children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Every race weekend, in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he grants a child's wish to meet him. That puts Gordon in the winner's circle even when he's not the first to cross the finish line.
For the full story on Jeff Gordon's health regimen, his foundation, new fatherhood, and balancing life on and off the track, look in your doctor's office for WebMD the Magazine's July/August 2008 issue. Or read the story online now.