I think most people would say that they always try their best to do as well as they can when they race.
I don't dispute this.
But we often have a sense that certain other sailors are better than us, and that they will eventually catch and overtake us if we happen to be ahead of them in a race. This belief has a large percentage of self-fulfilling prophecy about it. If you believe they will catch and overtake you then that is what is likely to happen.
The problem is that it is very hard to overturn this belief. If someone has beaten you in every single race for the last 3 years, it doesn't seem very realistic to start believing that you are better than them. In fact, it is pretty much impossible to actually believe that you are suddenly better than someone who always beats you. It feels delusional.
So how do you turn these situations around?
It's tricky, but there are some simple things you can do that might help get past this problem.
One such trick is to have a thought process prepared for these situations. I described a couple of situations in an earlier post of circumstances just like this. I like to think that now, if I unexpectedly rounded the first mark "up amongst the chocolates" in a high quality fleet, my first thought would be this:
"I sailed well enough to be in this position, so there's no reason why I can't sail well enough to stay in this position."
I've actually worked hard to make this an automatic thought whenever I'm doing better at something than I expected I would. There's nothing delusional about this thought, and it doesn't suggest that I'm better than the guys I'm now beating. But, importantly, it doesn't suggest that they are better than me. It is just a reminder that this is where I am, and there's no reason to think things are going to go wrong.
Of course, it can be difficult to avoid other thoughts creeping in. Maybe you banged a corner on the first beat and it miraculously paid off. No matter. You still had to sail fast enough to get the benefit of your gamble. And remember, you made the decision to bang the corner and got it right. It's not necessarily something you want to do every race, but there's no need to beat yourself up for making a good decision.
So the next time you round the first mark well ahead of your place in the pecking order don't think about all the reasons you shouldn't be there, try to remember all the reasons that you deserve to be there. And deserve to stay there.