The Driver And The Coach: The Secret To Productivity, Success And Sanity 

 February 28, 2019

By  Stephen Hnilica

We're always looking to get somewhere in life, let's call that destination "Success" for lack of a better word.

If you stick with me, you'll learn the secret to achieving your "success", whatever that looks like for you. And as a bonus, you'll learn how to avoid life and death situations in Thailand.

My girlfriend and I travel full time (Homeless-With-Money is much better than Homeless-Without-Money, I've been both).

When in South East Asia, we take Ubers just about everywhere that we can't walk to and NEVER drive ourselves (Even if it's 100+ miles).


The traffic in SE Asia is congested and insane. It feels like a game of "Who's line is it anyway?". The rules are made up and lives don't matter.

Cars drift defensively through a sea of swerving motorcycles and scooters, while the odd pedestrian has to "frogger" their way through the street.

Changes in traffic happen so fast, there is no time to react.

So, how do millions of Asian drivers avoid hundreds of life and death situations every time they take the car out for a spin?

Mad Skills Or Just Madness?

When you get to the major leagues in baseball, and you're up at bat, the ball will come so fast, that you have to be able to decide when and how to swing before the ball ever leaves the pitcher's hand. This decision isn't a conscious decision. It's done completely by instinct.

If you're playing at the competitive level of Go, the deceptively simple Asian strategy game, you can't think your moves through. There's literally more possible board combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. When asked why they made certain moves, world class Go players all have the same response as you did when asked why you did that keg stand in college: "It just felt right".

With Go players, and baseball players, many would say they've got "good instincts" or "they're so talented". Not so much for Asian drivers, or your legendary college years.

In reality, what's happening is that our subconscious mind is reacting before we can actually think about what we're doing.

The 3 Levels Of Consciousness

3 Levels Of Consciousness

There's 3 levels of our thinking-consciousness (Yes, there are non-thinking parts, but that's for another post) and each play a huge role in our success:

Our conscious mind takes about 900ms to respond to a stimulus.
Our amygdala, the emotional center of our brain takes about 500ms.
Our brain stem (our brain's connection to our body) takes 10ms to respond to sound, 150ms to respond to touch, and 200ms to respond to sight.

It takes us about 1/5 of a second for our brain to begin to register what's happening. Then it takes our subconscious 1/2 a second to begin reacting to that, and a little less than 1 second for us to begin thinking about what's happening.

This is why people say things like "Before I knew what was happening my keg stand turned into a keg flip and I was laying on my back with beer running down my face."

In the case of the Go player, it's OK though, because they've taken the time to train this subconscious response.

So, this brings me back to the question of why don't most Asians die in driving in Asia?

Meet The Madman At The Wheel

The brain compensates for this slow reaction time with a powerful prediction engine, let's call this instincts or intuition.

The same way that the baseball player predicts when the ball will leave the hand of the pitcher, Asian drivers predict when someone will do something monumentally stupid, and decide how to avoid it, without ever thinking about it.

This prediction engine is what's making our decisions. Not consciously of course. By the time any information reaches our conscious mind, we experience it as emotions and often try to justify why our subconscious made it's decision. We say things like "it just feels right", or "I got a bad feeling about this...". Though, not all of us are as well trained as Han Solo (which is why Han shot first).

Our body is our car. We're not consciously driving our car, we're just along for the ride. Ever try consciously raising your heart rate?

If our body is our vehicle, then our emotions drive us, make our decisions and determine our actions. Our conscious mind is the passenger, who is just along for the ride.

So, if we're not in conscious control of our decisions or actions, how can we possibly be successful?

How do we get where we want to go?

This whole "consciousness as passenger" set up is perfect when we're trying to avoid life or death situations, but what happens when we try to take rational actions towards our goals, like building a business, losing weight, or getting good grades? There's no app giving our driver turn-by-turn directions for where we want to go.

This is where our prediction engine begins to fail us. The challenge with our prediction engine is that it's only job is to survive, reproduce, and have fun, and it doesn't care so much about anything else. Ever notice how almost all advertising use fear, sex or entertainment? That's because they know who's at the wheel.

Go players and baseball players spend years, often decades, training their instincts, moderating their emotional reactions to happen for the right cues. This training directs the subconscious mind to associate certain actions with certain cues that allows us to associate survival, reproduction or fun.

Their subconscious is like a London taxi driver that can get from one address to any other address in London from memory without the use of a GPS or map (Google it, it's insane).

Harnessing The Madman's 400ms Advantage

Tony Dungee, an American football coach, is famous for this type of focus in his training. His entire strategy is based on that 400ms advantage. If his players can react faster than the other team can think, then they will win every play. If they can win every play, then they'll win every game.

Most people believe they are the driver of their own car. we blame ourselves for every failure, every faux pas, every bad decisions. We end up saying "This is just who I am, and I am a failure. 1-Star. My driving sucked, I couldn't stay on course, I took lots of wrong turns, and my car was dirty and in need of maintenance that I've just been "too busy" to get around to."

When our brains make an emotional decision and decides to act on it, we're just along for the ride. When you get in that Uber in Bangkok, and you might end up in a white knuckle panic as the car is flying at 45 down the shoulder on the highway, 2 inches from a wall and 4 inches from a line of stagnant cars because your driver didn't feel like waiting in traffic.

When this happened to me, was I upset at myself for making such a poor decision? No, I was constantly encouraging my driver to become sane.

Most of us are trying to be the driver, when in reality, most of us are sitting in the back seat terrified that a scooter will break from the traffic and jump out in front of us. Then we beat ourselves up for having a 1 star riding experience.

When The Driver Meets The Coach

When we take the "Tony Dungee" approach, we don't position our conscious mind as the "passenger", we're the driver's coach. We can't control what the driver is doing, but we can come up with plans, figure out directions, see traffic jams, make decisions in advance, set goals and create rewards that encourage our driver to perform at it's best.

When we stop focusing on being a good driver, and instead focus on coaching our driver to be better, we can control the overall direction of our lives, without blaming ourselves for the moment to moment madness of our driver.

When we realize that our responsibility is to our training for the future and not to our present actions, how we interact with the world and with ourselves becomes massively more positive.

Our goals aren't "lose 20 lbs". It's "find a healthy lifestyle that I can love and live forever". With that goal, it doesn't matter if we have a piece of chocolate in the short term.

If our goal turns from "make a million dollars" to "create massive value for others", it changes our relationship with our employees, coworkers, and prospects.

When our goal shifts from "get good grades" to "Prepare myself to be valuable in an ever changing market place and love what I do", suddenly we start making decisions based on what we're going to enjoy, or what will actually prepare us for the future. Once you have that perspective, you realize why Steve Jobs took a calligraphy class, or why really understanding calculus is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.

We are not the driver, but we can chart the course, and tell the driver where to look. Every so often, our driver might take a detour to a monkey cave, but that's a story for another time.

Stephen Hnilica

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